Hamlet Critical Studies HSC English
- Hesitant language through feminine endings of iambic pentameter, disjointed prose and the oscillations between two extremes ‘Now I could drink hot blood’ and ‘Am I a coward?’ show Hamlet’s dilemma: to be a Medieval avenger or a Renaissance man?
- Another dilemma to think about is Ophelia’s divided loyalty between her lover and her father.
- She doesn’t really have much of a choice here – by the values of the time she must obey her father but she still feels responsible for Hamlet’s madness and therefore her father’s death.
- Loyalty is first questioned through the “o’erhasty marriage”. Gertrude is considered disloyal to her first husband by Hamlet.
- Claudius has also committed one of the worst acts of disloyalty – murdering his brother.
- Horatio is an incredibly loyal friend, even putting off his desire for suicide to tell Hamlet’s story after he’s gone.
- Horatio is the foil character for Rozencrantz and Guilderstern, who spy on Hamlet for the king. Hamlet recognises their disloyalty and deception in the “Would you play upon this pipe?” scene.
- Hamlet also tests Ophelia’s loyalty when he asks “Where is your father?” Ophelia answers “At home my lord.” Even though Polonius is eavesdropping on their conversation.
- In response, Hamlet begins the “Get thee to a nunnery” rant which echoes his phrase about Gertrude: “Frailty thy name is woman!”
- Hamlet accuses all women of being weak and disloyal but this is rather unfair of him.
- Ophelia has to act within the socially acceptable rules for women and daughters.
- He may also be wronging Gertrude. Perhaps her first husband wasn’t as nice as Hamlet has mythologised.
- Marcellus begins this theme by describing the setting as corrupt: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark!”
- The dead king describes his “murder most foul” which invokes the idea of the Great Chain of Being which is now corrupted.
- Hamlet suggests that incest has corrupted his mother, because in marriage, husband and wife are one flesh, so Hamlet says she has married her brother, not her brother-in-law
- Rozencrantz, Guilderstern and Laertes are corrupted by Claudius’ influence into becoming either attempted or successful murderers.
- Hamlet too is corrupted by his quest, rashly stabbing Polonius and dragging his whole kingdom to chaos for personal reasons.
Appearance vs Reality
- Hamlet puts on an “antic disposition” but as the play continues, we wonder whether or not it is an act.
- The Players shock Hamlet with their ability to fake emotions, and they become central to figuring out if Claudius is faking his innocence: “The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
- Hamlet also comments on the fakeness of the theatre, referring to the “overhanging firmament” which was in reality, the awning on the Globe’s stage.
- This gives Hamlet’s existential speeches an extra edge, as though he can pierce into the reality of things with his sharp mind.
- In a similar train of thought, Hamlet realises how pointless the pomp and ceremony of rulership is: he considers how Great Caesar became dust in time and explains to Claudius how a king “may proceed through the gullet of a beggar.”