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Hamlet Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet (1996).

Performer Heritage
Marina Spiazzi, Marina Tavella,
Margaret Layton © 2016
Hamlet

1. Sources
• Hamlet is based on the
story of Amleth in
Historia Danica (12th
Century) by Saxo
Grammaticus where the
hero pretends he is mad
to avenge his father’s
murder.
• Shakespeare kept the
murder of the king a
secret and used the ghost
to reveal it to Prince Eugene Delacroix, Hamlet Sees the Ghost of His Father,
Hamlet. 1825. Krakow, Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

2. The setting
The late Middle Ages (14th and 15th centuries)

The royal castle in Elsinore, a city in Denmark

WHY DENMARK?

Like England, it was a Protestant country.


The subplot deals with a possible war against Norway
sense of menace from another country increases the
tension and sets the mood of the play.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

3. The main situation

• Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark and studies in


Wittenberg, Germany.

• During his absence from Denmark, his father died


and his uncle Claudius succeeded to the throne
and married his mother.

• Hamlet returns to Denmark and is greatly upset.

• He is concerned about his mother’s quick marriage,


his uncle’s sitting on the throne, and his own fate.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

4. The character of Hamlet

The real psychological


dimension of the play lies
in Hamlet’s use of
language.

He is the most talkative


of all Shakespeare’s
characters.

Nikolay Lazarev as Hamlet on stage at the


Theatre of the Russian Army in Moscow, 2006.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

4. The character of Hamlet

Ambiguity is the most striking


characteristic of Hamlet’s language.

Everything he says
is conveyed through
• metaphor;
• simile;
• wordplay.

His words have


a hidden meaning. Nikolay Lazarev as Hamlet on stage at the
Theatre of the Russian Army in Moscow, 2006.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

4. The character of Hamlet


He has many roles in the play
he does not believe in:

• the [non]-revenger
in a revenge play;

• the [non]-heir to the throne;

• the [non]-lover of the heroine;

• the [non]-son to the [non]-


father. Hamlet holds the skull of Yorick in the graveyard
scene from the 1948 film adaptation of Hamlet.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

4. Hamlet’s melancholy

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

5. Claudius

• He is Hamlet’s uncle.

• He is guilty of killing the king, his own brother.

• He becomes Hamlet’s stepfather when he hurriedly


marries his mother Gertrude, whom he seems to love.

• He becomes king by election of the nobles when King


Hamlet dies.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

5. Claudius

• He is a man of action who coldly plans Hamlet’s


murder and has no moral doubts.

• He manipulates everyone in the play: Gertrude,


Ophelia, Polonius, Laertes, and Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern.

• He is the villain but Shakespeare shows he has


a conscience when he tries to pray.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

6. The ghost

• Hamlet’s father, whose


name was also Hamlet.

• Hamlet talks to him and


finds out the truth about
his father’s death.

• Hamlet wants to confirm


the true identity of the
ghost before.
Eugene Delacroix, Hamlet Sees the Ghost of His Father, 1825.
Krakow, Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

7. The minor characters

GERTRUDE Hamlet’s mother and the queen.


POLONIUS the Principal Secretary of State, the father
of Ophelia and Laertes. Hamlet does not trust him.
HORATIO Hamlet’s best friend and confidant.
OPHELIA Hamlet’s tragic love. Her madness contrasts
with Hamlet’s pretended madness.
LAERTES A student at the University of Paris, he comes
back to avenge his father’s death and finally kills Hamlet
with a poisoned sword.
Performer Heritage
Hamlet

8. The chain of being


• The Elizabethans believed in the
natural order determined by a
great chain of being.
• The chain was organised in a
series of hierarchical links with
God at the top.
• The king was at the top of the
human level.
• Any disruption in the chain had
consequent effects on the natural
order of things.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

9. Regicide
and the chain of being
The Elizabethans believed that
• the king was appointed by God to embody order
and stability;
• the murder of the king disrupted the chain of being,
brought about the collapse of order and universal
disaster;
• the ghost of a murdered person could return to ask for
revenge on his murderer;
• the Devil could appear on earth and take on many forms,
including that of a ghost.
Performer Heritage
Hamlet

10. Themes

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Hamlet

11. A play-within-the-play

The Murder of Gonzago

organised by Hamlet to expose his father’s murderer;

interesting expedient because it turns the actors into an audience

dealing with the background to the tragedy.

Performer Heritage
Hamlet

12. Hamlet
and the tragedy of revenge
Revenge
tragedies The avenger has a close
relationship with the Hamlet
audience through soliloquies

• a sexual or violent crime is • follows the conventions


committed against a family of the tragedy of revenge
member
• the hero exacts the • shows greater
revenge psychological penetration
• he has a period of doubt
• a ghost appears to get the • focuses on the theme
avenger carry out his task of doubt and uncertainty

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