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S lEImGIllI$lH[
Take Home Final - Part I
January 15, 1991
Mr. McSweeney
DUE: Tuesday, January 22, 1991
Do One of the following

I But we can find, if we return to the play itself, more in Shakespeare's conception
of Hamlet's character than an embodiment, however profound, of the difference
(between appearance and reality. (The difference between appearance and reality

himself; Polonious, the ghost, the King, all mention it in one way or another;
(isthecontinually referred
frequency with to images
which throughout the play by
of painting, of other
coveringpeople besidesdiseases
up hidden Hamlet are
used is another illustration of its prevalence; and it is the central idea of Hamlet's
m.~~~~Cit~9I1sin the qr~ve.y.ar.d..) Shakespeare had made severafeariierexperiments
with the development of character; in portraying Romeo and Prince Hal, among
others. he had shown his ability to make a hero change.. as the result of the play's
.'--
action. But just as ..------ ----
Hamlet Ulustrates both a more expanded and a , more fused
control of dramatic convention an~nat beJ.ief than the earlier plays, so it
shows a greater mastery of hOw to describe the growth, inside dramatic limits, of
a hero. This can be clearly seen if we examine, in order ,rHamlet I s great
(solil~qUies.
the chaos of hisWhen we first
thought and see Hamlet
feeling alone, heinisthe
is reflected emotionally
grammaticalin chaos
pieces, of and
his
/utterances; before he can finish a sentence some new agonizing disruptive thought
:explodes to distract his mind. The order of the world, of the state, and of the
individual are all in pieces and the chaotic grammar reflects the universal chaos
of his thought. The same is true of his second great soliloquy, the one beginning:

0, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!


.
in which he burst into violent self-depreciation as he thinks of the difference
between stage-playing and real action. But even in this speech, at the end, he
pulls himself together and orders his thought to plan the testing of the king.
Planned action takes the place, as it had not before, of emotional desperation.

In the soliloquy that follows (as far as the audience is concerned, about three
minutes later), the "To be or not to be" soliloquy, we see a Hamlet who is able
to generalize on a new level. No longer is there a grammatical torrent, and no
longer is Hamlet thinking about~.~~nce as opposed to I).Q.n.=~~l~~~_ only in
relation to himself; he has grown, psychologically and philosophically, so that he
can think of the problem more universally. In the first soliloquy it was "This too
too solid flesh"--Hamlet's own -- about which he was concerned. Now, as the play
reaches its center, it is no longer" I", but "we" --aUl1l,UnaIti,ty--that he reflects
upon: "When we have shuffled off this mortar-coiL •• " ..

With these suggestions as a beginning, trace the development of Hamlet's character


through the play from an upset frustrated and confused schoolboy in Act I to a
.J!1atureman in Act V, when he finally comes to grips with Claudius. Quote from
anywhere in the text you wish to show the changes Hamlet is forced to undergo, but
concentrate on his soliloquies. In the end Hamlet must come to grips with a reality
which shapes him rather than his first act conceptions :that he, by force of will,
can force reality to his own conceptions. Stress those moments when Hamlet sees
things, especially people, as they are rather than in the idealistic images he has
been taught to believe in.
.a
Discuss as fully as you can the tragic conflict suggested by the fOllowing paragraph
and show how it destroys Hamlet. Argue that the destruction is either Aristotlean
or Renaissance.

I suggest that we can understand Hamlet best by realizing that in the play Shakespeare
for the first time used to the full the conflict between the two views of man's nature
which was so deeply felt in his age. One side was the pictLre of a man as he should
~be--it was bright, orderly and optimistic. ~-
On the other was the picture of man as he
is--it was full of darkness and chaos. Shakespeare puts an awareness of this con-
trast into the character of Hamlet, and his having done so is one of the main reasons
for tl...amlet's greatness. Previously Shakespeare had used the tradliional beliefs
descriptively as part of the background--the sun is compared to the king, the human
bc?dyis compared to the state--and there is no question as to whether the beliefs
are true. But in Hamlet, they are not in the background, they are an essential
part of the hero's consciousness I and his discovery that they are not true I his
awareness of the conflict between what theory taught and what experience proves I
wreck.s him. Shak.espeare had used the difference between appearance anQ..reality
as a dramatic device many times before I but never like this I and.-never in such
close relation to the thought and feeling of his time.

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Hamlet Final - Part I - Take Home

II
If Hamlet is not content with the simple soldierly code of honor, it is because
he sees too deeply and skeptically into that cosmic setting of human life which
Shakespeare's theater symbolically represented. He sees beyond the tiny human
involvements of the foreground to the social order indicated by the stage house
facade and, above that, to the order in the stars implied by the canopy over his
head. This is especially clear in his first scene with Rosencrantz and Guilden-
stern (Act II, scene 2). It is in this scene that he m~kes the great speech on
man which Tillyard quotes as an exposition of the traditional ordered universe.
But the speech ends bitterly: "And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"

Though Hamlet accepts this order, he does not know where he belongs in it;
he is not even sure which way is up. He would have felt the forces of that remark
of Heracleitus which Eliot uses as an epigraph to Burnt Norton: "The way up and
the way down are one and the same." His intellect plays over the world of the
religious tradition with an all dissolving irony like that of Montaigne in the
Apologie de Raimond Debonde: A truly double-edged irony, for he can neither
do with nor do without the ancient moral and cosmic order.

That is why he has a despairing fellow-feeling for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.


He knows them for little trimmers, neither for God nor for the Devil, but" for
themselves," like the dim figures in Dante's Limbo: "indifferent children of the
earth", "Fortune's Privates," as they call themselves. He is himself anything
but indifferent, yet he does not at that moment know how to care, and so he
feels himself, like them, lost between "greatness", and the chill of more
bodily "weight" and utter faithlessness at the bottom of the universe. Thus he
is troubled with "bad dreams".

How does Hemlet resolve his place in the ordered Elizabethan universe and what
factors contribute to his finding his place in the sup? Be as specific as you can
is your reply.
22 .January 1991

It is perhaps the nature of human beings to

control. Man wants to bel ieve that he can control his destiny,

that he can be the master of his own fate. We begin with a

feel ing that we can be anything -~ an astronaut, a doctor, a

ball et star'. But with age comes the hesitant real ization that we

do not always have this power, unforeseen happenings combine with

startl ing recognitions that leave us feel ing powerless. And after

this, we gradually see a need for action, whatever the outcome.

This is the cycl e which Haml et foll bws in Sh':3.kespeaF'el.:;


l!mit"'F"'or~

up to naturi:=1.
II

second stage of revisionment, of recognition. His mother married

i···,:i.s unc'if::,) t(iO~:;Pfuneral


"I:,,'j·-··e shoes were o'ld,'! (:!.,,:2,,1L!·,~),,) i::\nd
~ .

his prophetic soul suspects his Uncle Claudius is to blame for

the f unet""'a
1 • Soon, two friends betray him and his girlfriend is

less than forthcoming. Hamlet begins to see that regardless of

his action, people in his 1 ife do not always 1 ive up to his

'=~{pectations. WOF"5e yet, they' sometimes pretend. ThEY "pl ay"

the part.

This spurs Hamlet to find that things are not always what

they seem. Throughout thE play, though, Hamlet has a consistent,

if overzealous, abil ity to see through facades. As he says,


U'-' I -,
;:;eems, maoam: I knov·J nc:::t Iseen1s.·IH (1.2.76) He then confront:;

• his mother with his bel ief that she only plays the part of the

mourning widow, and the related bel isf that hE is true to his
ShCH"iing. Eschewing F'olonius' t~em,,:\rktrh3.t the "clc,thes oft
pl'-'OC 1aim the man," he indi cates that his gl~i ef goes beyond his
"inky cloak" and "5.ui ts of woe" <.*ndhe is "denoted tr'uly" by', the
"actions tha,t a man might play'." Such talk is IrJr'itten off by the
"less, tha,n kind" I<ing a,s "unmanly grief."
Hamlet carries this g~ief and revisioning with him into his

f ir~,;t sol i 1oquy. He assai 1s the ent ire "Llnweeded garden" of t.he
wOI~1
d that all O~·JS
such horr'id and weak people to gr·ow. But
Hamlet stops short of announcing other people suffer as much as
he. He attacks all men, but relates misfortune only to himself.
At the s5a,me
time, he ack nowl edges his impotency"; 21,S he "mi_lst ho'l d
(ny' t.CjngLlE a II (1.2 .1~58)

In his second sol iloquy, the "Dram of evil" speech, Hamlet


argues that too many people will cite one fault as a reason to

bel ieve someone full y c:ot~rupt, ever#,.s thissimpl y a "vicious


mole of n.atw-·e in them." (1.4.26) Confused and bitter, Hamlet
looks at a general problem of humanity, but again falls short of
seeing the e'ffect of thi5, beyond his personal interest.
In fact, throughout the speech, he seems hypocritical Just
as other nations consider Denmark a poor state because of the
"dr'a,m of evi 1 ," Hamlet i: inds no val LIP. in those who ha,'/e made some
mistakes, some of which were beyond control. He shm",s the
tendency among the young to depend on a double-standard while
judging the world.
After his father's ghost leaves him, Hamlet reflects on the
..
ghost's advice and speaks passionately of achieving revenge
against hi'::; "smil in':;;!, damned villain" (Jf an uncle.
bc:;th with Claudius a.nd the I!perniciou.·::5" Ger-·tr-·ude. ~
,r,e 1S
.

now determined to abandon his past, to "wipe away all pressures

past ~" (1.5.100) and r'emember" the "'JOrds of his unc 1e. He

continues his diatribe against false appearances, declaring that


"one may smile, and smile, and be a villain." (1.5.108)
J
Hamlet's next important speech appears in Act II, after
Rosenct""·a.ntz 2.ind Gui 1denstet""'n revEi:j,l. they "were sent for'. I!

I (2.2.300) He describes his forgoing of "all custom of e:-;ercises,"


l
as he loses his mirth. Since he wiped away all trivial fond
records, Hamlet sees the world as worse than an unweeded garden.

No~"" it {'s a
r
TaU '
i and pestilent
congre·;;;at i on of va.por··s." These vapors have mCl.dehim 1o~;e i ntet"est

in what \!oJ5.S
be 1i evec:! to be the "par-'agon o·f an i ma1s , I! i. E. man.
It is not.hing mot-'E than "a qLlintessence of dus.t.!I At the E.~nd,

Hamlet impl ies he knows that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz will

betray hi0. Returning to his comment about grinning villains,

Hamlet sayssai-·ca5ticc.".11 y, "Though by your" gt-inning '.:-lOU f::;E::'em


to
-:;a..y so. II ( 2 It:;~,.31 9 )

Hamlet remains in his confusion and despair throughout his

"r-OgLle and peas.ant '51ave" sol i 1oquy. He is dec15.I'"'in9 his f-·ernot-·se


because of the impassioned reactions of a player while performing

a speech. With "Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect, A

broken voice, and his whole function suiting With forms to his

imaginary problems than Hamlet is to his real ones.



-=.:::> Haml~t~eitet"".at.e~" hi'::5 impotency e;{pre·::.5sec.i ·f i r'st
Saol i 1Dql.lY, t.his. ti.me feel ing "unpt"'egn2."'l.ntof my cause, and ca.n 55.',.'
nothin,g .Il (2.2 ,,58t)-'''581) He continue=.' his fall into sel f·--dis····

paragement, I·-·eal
iz in9 "what ",inCl.S'5" he is (2.2.595), and that he

"!DU'st, 1 ik e a ~'\lhor"e,
Ltnpack my he,art with wor'ds, and f a.l1 a-

cursing 1 ike a vet~y d!r·ab." (2.2.594-598) Recovering from this

discovery of his own inaction, he calls together his brains and

sketches a plan to catch his uncle.

At last, Hamlet understands his spineless words and is

prepared to back them with action. One questions his resolve,

though, as he seems to merely be repeating his "wipe away the

custom of exercises speech.!' But Hamlet does fol low through in

Act ,'""

...:; , S~ene 2, and appears elated with his actions' SLtc:c:ess .

His next sol iloquy (3.1) shows Hamlet readying himself for

action, but at the same time he contemplates abandoning the whole

effort. This time, however, he sees that all men face the same

universal questions. All men, face confl ict, and the courses of

action are often unappeal ing. Indicating his wider scope, he

begins this spei-'2ch"To be, 01- not to be" (3.1.56), not "Am lor-

am I not," The indecis;ic:m c1 ima:<es at this point, when H<:<inl et

contemplates the value in taking arms or suffering. He admits

his. pr"ob1err.O:l.nd
the pr'ob1em of a 11 man -- that "consc i ~.:?ilce
does.

make cowar'd~" of us· all." (3.1.83) Fearing that he wi]'; "lOSE the

name of C:l,ction,"HO:l.mletattacks, Ophel U.i with his. "Hllbi';;luOUS


cl~ies

of "Get thee to a nunnet-'y," and lea"',Ieshero"~PoloniLi':::.i)-s.nd


thE' King

s.hocked.

Soon after, he confronts Ros.encrantz and Guildenstern with


'.
his new found bravery. He makes a fool of Guildenstern after

badgering him to play the recorder. He concludes that he is not


twice faced with his own mortal ity.

These two occasions, Hamlet's unexpected return from England

(specifically his sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to death}

and his experience in the graveyard, transform him into a man of

action. The gravedigger shows Hamlet that all men meet the same

fate, ~·jhether~they werce emperors or court jester~s. Conf ident in

the "special pr"'ovidence in the fall of a sparF'D~\i,1!(~:5.2.220-·221),

rods confr~ontation with Laet~tes C:l.ssu.r··es


HC:l.m1
t~t thC:l.t"The cat ~"oji
11

mew, .and the dc'S) will ha.ve his day," (5.1.294) the motive and thE

cue for pa.ssion s~"Jell ~'ljithinhim, embol dening him for C:l.ction.

After Laertes blames Claudius for everything, Hamlet

forgives Laertes, kills the unnatural King, and dies himself.

The death of all those who made Hamlet's 1 ife tempestuous --

Polonius, Ophel ia, Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius -- cleans,

In his last
pei~%a5 i
stet~ 1 iz es, the F'otten state 0'( Denmad::.
words, Hamlet bestows the throne u.pon Fortinbras, a man who

throughout the play is completely removed from the main plot.

The cacaphony of betrayals and false portrayals gives way to

order, and the rest is silence .

..
II ea",;::'
er to play upon than .::.,
pipe,~ Ii ,:':l,ne!
though the pa ir cou 1 ,j 'f n?t
;....'
him p12l.YLlpon" Illin
t.hey llCannc.it. t=
Though Rosen-
r '
crantz and Guildenstern are from t.he formidable or 19l.tr-e

Claudius, Hamlet gradually moves up the power ladder, earl ier

violently chastising Ophel ia, then humil iating Guildenstern,

kill ing Polonius, and finally terrifying Gertrude.

But Hamlet's insecurity and inaction resurge just as he

prepares to kill Claudius. The occasion seems perfect his


uncle is defenseless, no one is around -- and yet if he murders

Hamlet reluctantly

decides ~o wait until Claudius is in a less sanctified state,

such as "in the incestuous pleasure of his bed, or at game

Thus Hamlet prolongs his and Shakespea~e's

play, preferring to wait. for another chance at murder.

His encounter' ~'"J ith his mother has Ham] at Ii speak i ng dagger's ~II

as well as plunging them. He begins by comparing his father to

the gCJds, ,,,,,nd


his, un::1e tC:1c; "mi Idewed ear'.II (:].4.65) Hamlet

then directs his fury directly at his mother, searching for an-

answers about her involvement with Claudius. Finally, he asks

Before he leaves, Hamlet reflects on the

sweetnes:;.;;"ioJhen in one 1 in>.?tlo'JO


ct"'a+ts:,
dii'·'ec:tly
meet.." Hamlet

here shows he is will ing to face physical or intellectual

confrontation with Claudius.

By Act IV, Scene iv, Hamlet. seems to have lost all faith in
'. the virtue of man. Man is nGt~ he bel ieves, inherently good. He

sees '50 ma.ny ~\jho,:':<.11


Oio'J
"':.:.lodl
ike !'~ea,SGnTc.fu.''5tin U.'::. unussed,"
(4,4,38-'39 J so m.::\ny
~·iholC 2, ij to USE·ethat "one pat~t wisdom," i~n

example of these people are those responsible for the attack on

the "eggshell" o·f Pc,lish 1.:=.mL Haml et is incap;;.ble of stopping

20,000 men who will die "foF" a trick of fame." But the speec/"'j

brings abowt a third declaration of resolve when Hamlet concludes

t.hat from that. moment. forward, his "thoughts be bloody, or be

not.hing wor-th,"

Regardless of these bloody thoughts, Hamlet often perceives

his life as be'/ond hi·:;:;


cont.rol: "The sl ings and c\!~-rowso·f

outr'agebus fortune" and "How all occasions do in-Fc)t~ma(;;ainst me",

but hi,:;:; Dllm action (ot" inaction) leads to his. collapse. He ha:;:;

the opportunity to ki11 Claudius, but cedes it.

Claudius' premature ascension was independent of Hamlet's

influence, but. his hold on that throne was not. It is not mOt~al

debate which keeps Hamlet from exacting revenge. It is ct~ippl ing

indec is iem. He does not th ink, "t1urdet~ i. s wr'ong," but r'at.her'

mu!"'det~nOv-J"this \/illain sends to heaven." (3.2.77)

Aristotle bel ieved that man's actions, not fate, brings true

If action leads to a reversal of fortune, and the

protagonist faces a recognition, any good man becomes tragic.

Both Hamlet's action and i(~lac~ion reverse his for-·tune, while he

real izes that Ophel ia, Getrude, and ClaudiLls are not as pure as

he had e~{pected "

At the same time, Hamlet must choose between two worlds: the

structure of tradition or the disorder of the Renaissance. Man


-. l.c

as~should be is lost, and man as he is emerges. Rising with him

are new doubts and fears, new shocks to the flesh, and Hamlet
(joes not alwc\ys feel pr-'ep2u-'t:~d
+':0cope irJi+.:h
t.hen·,)
~f1t.ilhe t·::.

twice faced with his own mortal ity.

These two occasions, Hamlet's unexpected return from England

(specifically his sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to death}


and his experience in the graveyard, transform him into a man of

action. The gravedigger shows Hamlet that all men meet the same

fate, whe+':herthey were emperors or court jesters. Confident in

the "spec ial pf"ovidence in the fall of a sparrow, II C::.2 .220- ..221) ,

his confrontat ion IN ith Laet~tes a.ssures Ha.mlet V'lat II The cat wi 1 1

mew, and the do'; wi.ll have his day," (5.1.294) the mcd:ive and the

cue for passion swell within him, emboldening him for action.

After Laertes blames Claudius for everything, Hamlet

forgives Laertes, kills the unnatural King, and dies himself.

The death of all those who made Hamlet's 1 ife tempestuous --

Polonius, Ophel ia, Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius -- cleans,

pet~%a5 ster'i1 i. ze's, the rotten state of Denmat~k. In his last


words, Hamlet bestows the throne upon Fortinbras, a man who

throughout the play is completely removed from the main plot.

The cacaphony of betrayals and false portrayals gives way to

order, and the rest is silence .