Exam Board: AQA
Seeing as a lot of people found the Lyrical Ballad thread quite useful, seems like a good idea to do the same for Hamlet.
We need to post quite a few more essays though, I haven't seen many on this site!
Once again, please do not post in this thread unless it is with an essay!
Please write what grade your essay was when posting, thanks.
Women in Hamlet - LiNk - A
Hamlet in Act I - thomsd
Shakespeare uses the play Hamlet to subtly reflect the subordinate position of women in Elizabethan England society, where husbands and fathers strictly controlled the lives of wives and daughters. Women’s statuses were generally subject to the tyranny of patriarchy. Their rights were tightly restricted on many levels; legally, socially and economically. This is shown within the play as Gertrude and Ophelia have little or no power or autonomy. Like their Elizabethan counterparts, they are subject to the authority of men. However, it is worth mentioning the fact that during the time the play was performed in 1901, England had been successful ruled for forty-three years by a women, Elizabeth I; a strong influential monarch who reigned without the aid of a male counterpart.
At the beginning of the play, we get a very biased insight into the character of Gertrude and how those around her perceive her. This is because Hamlet and the ghost of Hamlet are both very biased as they feel a sense of injustice at Gertrude's marriage to Claudius, her brother-in-law. For example, Gertrude is chiefly seen as very uncaring and "unrighteous," as the "incestuous" marriage, according to Hamlet, was carried out with "dexterity" and scarcely a month after King Hamlet's death. Hamlet makes clear his disapproval of the marriage by asking how she can go from his father to his brother, “ would step from this to this”. This reference is delivered in a nasty, stressed tone showing how he is using his mother to vent his anger on showing a lack of respect for her. She asks him to stop twice by saying “Hamlet speak no more” but he continues indicating that he is gaining some sort of joy seeing his mother feeling bad and weak. This depiction makes the audience form a very strong opinion of Gertrude from the outset. It creates an ominous feeling about Gertrude as the first insight we get into her character is given by people who have been hurt by her in some way. This suggests that she is someone to watch out for and that Gertrude is weak and unable to live without a man who can provide self-protection. Hamlet personifies this when he says that "frailty" is "woman" and thus a theme that indicates women are weak runs through the play. “Frailty – thy name is woman,” no longer applies to the women of the 21st Century as there are more or less equal opportunities for men and women now, and everyone has the same education and job opportunities no matter what sex you may be.
The other female Character in “Hamlet” Ophelia is also controlled and directed by the males around her, where Shakespeare has deliberately made her a “pawn”. An example is when she is told by Polonius that she cannot love Hamlet “do not believe his vows for they are brokers”. Today we would expect Ophelia to argue her love for Hamlet but she just agrees “I shall obey, my lord” shows that she feels pressured to agree with Polonius and that he has the power to tell her what to do. His telling Ophelia of who she can love shows a lack of respect for her feelings and shows us that he sees her as an object that he has control over. By Ophelia using “my lord”, it shows two things, firstly she has respect for Polonius and that he is abusing this respect and secondly with the respect she shows it indicates that he has control over her, as she just wants to avoid conflict with him and agrees to what he says to do this.
Ophelia seems to be a submissive, weak character that has retained a childlike innocence and naivety; Polonius calls her a “green girl”. The use of the colour green may suggest that she is inexperienced and immature, hence placing her as inferior to him. She demonstrates what an Elizabethan audience would have deemed an admirable loyalty to her father, Polonius. Ophelia has relied on men for guidance since the death of her mother when she was an infant, and in the absence of the three dominant men in her life, Ophelia is lost. This combined with her guilt at rejecting Hamlet, which she sees as the direct cause of his insanity, and the subsequent death of her father, causes her to become insane also.
This suggests to the audience that females in general are lost without men, and that they lack the knowledge and initiative to do anything without male guidance, hence placing females in a subsidiary position to men.
Both of these passages show men dominating women mentally and verbally. Shakespeare has given neither woman the poetic balance of the male speech, nor the wit. A example of this can be seen when Gertrude says “more matter with less art”, which means that what she says is more important than how she says it, giving the impression that she is aware that her language is inferior compared to the males in the play, adding to the feeling of subordination. Throughout “Hamlet” Shakespeare gives the males in the play a superior grip on the English language, which shows men are more intellectual than women and therefore more intelligent, shown in the interchange below between Gertrude and Hamlet:
In the questioning by Hamlet to Ophelia later on, Hamlet almost mocks Ophelia with his comments – “Ha, Ha! Are you honest?”, followed by “are you fair”, it is clear that he knows the truth but wants to make Ophelia feel the weaker one. This type of conversation clearly resembles a mockery females as Hamlet doesn’t believe Ophelia is on the same intellectual level to be spoke to properly. A modern audience would find it hard to except that Hamlets intention here was to make Ophelia feel used emotionally, sexually and to patronise her with his superior intellect would be seen as insulting. His actions would be frowned upon and discouraged in modern society as it degrades women.
Ophelia generally exhibits all her emotions. This suggests that Ophelia is naïve and exposed as her weak spots are on display and suggests her purity in the way she is overwhelmed by Hamlet's sexual advances. In this way, Shakespeare contrasts the innocence and purity of Ophelia to Gertrude's impurity and false virtue. The character of Ophelia contrasts other Shakespearean women in the way Ophelia always does as she is told. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet puts her lover before her father whereas Ophelia does the opposite. This would have a profound effect on the audience, as the subtle change in the portrayal of female characters would reflect the complex situation in England. This is because being a female, Elizabeth I caused apprehension by being on the throne, and Shakespeare reflected this apprehension through the female characters in Hamlet.
In conclusion, even though Ophelia and Gertrude have relatively small parts, their roles are pivotal in Hamlet. This is because Shakespeare uses their characters in many ways. By only having, two poorly developed female characters it shows how in “Hamlet” women are seen as less important and weaker. Actions of the males towards the females create a feeling of injustice towards the women characters. I think that Ophelia essentially tried to please all those around her, ends up being unsuccessful and consequently becomes a victim of all the events in the rest of the play. In this way, Shakespeare manages to contrast the innocence of Ophelia to the rest of the characters who all are portrayed as having some sinful flaws, but in keeping with the traditional view of women, is seen as being weaker than men. In my opinion, Shakespeare intentionally made Gertrude's character ambiguous, to appeal to the different classes of people who would have seen the performance in the 16th Century. This is because she is a character that can be sympathised with, but more prominently, someone that is easily criticized. This fallible characteristic reminds us that Gertrude is merely trying to survive in an oppressed world and so should not constantly be judged. This is effectively shown when Gertrude is first introduced and emulates the role in society that women were supposed to conform to during the 16th century. In this way, Shakespeare manages to make the characters more lifelike, through their respective weaknesses and strengths as characters.The final point to make about the way Shakespeare presents women is the fact that Ophelia is the only character driven to suicide, and that she is one of only two women in the play. This is possible another way for Shakespeare to make his point that women are by far the weaker sexes. Overall I believe Shakespeare makes the female characters weak for two reasons, one is shows the subordination of women in his society and secondly it makes Hamlets character seem more powerful and intelligent than he maybe was.
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- Thread Starter
- 07-06-2008 11:58
- Thread Starter
- 07-06-2008 11:59
How does Shakespeare present Hamlet in Act 1? By Thomsd
The first act of a play is essential for the development of themes which will be used consistently through the text to enhance the plot. Shakespeare presents certain themes in the first act of Hamlet, which create an expectance of war and strife between nations, which dramatically creates an atmosphere for the audience. The mystical illusion of the ghost is a reoccurring motif which foreshadows ‘some strange eruption to our state’. The audience immediately identifies the play to be a tragedy, linking death with the ghost which would be dramatically effective for an Elizabethan audience, using character to focus the attention of the audience to important political issues between Norway and Denmark.
Hamlet is first introduced in Act 1 scene 2 with his reaction to Claudius presenting a negative relationship between these two characters as Hamlet believes his family is ‘A little more kin, and less than kind’. The use of alliteration on the ‘k’ and the ‘l’ provides a focus on the conflict between Claudius and Hamlet, as Hamlet’s mourning for his father is seen as a natural occurrence with political troubles at the forefront of Claudius’s speech. Claudius understands that Hamlet’s grief is still recent, but Shakespeare uses colour as a metaphor in ‘our dear brothers death The memory be green’, to provide to meanings to Claudius’s statement. The first interpretation of ‘green’ is that the death is recent, but it also shows Hamlet’s jealousy of Claudius’s power as he is ‘the most immediate to our throne’. This creates the element of corruption as Hamlet should be the heir to the throne, which develops the conflict between both characters. Hamlet is not willing to accept Claudius as his father, which is what Claudius looks for as ‘and think of us As a father’, which is seen to be developing with Claudius’s marriage to Hamlet’s mother Gertrude.
Hamlet is presented in the second scene to be melancholy, with Shakespeare using metaphor in colourful imagery to describe his black attire as a ‘nightly colour’, used by Gertrude to illustrate her view of her son’s grief. Gertrude views Hamlets grief as abnormal questioning Hamlet as to ‘why it seems so particular with thee’, which is ironic as Gertrude is a main part of his grief in that she married so quickly after her husbands death. Hamlet replies to his mothers questioning with aggression as ‘Seems Madam? Nay,it is: I know not seems:’ illustrates Hamlet’s true grief for his father as he has to live with his grief. Shakespeare uses the repetition of ‘nor’ in Hamlet’s speech to further develop Hamlet’s sorrow, which creates an increased tone of anger which explains that Hamlets physical grief as seen as ‘the trappings and the suits of woe’ are not the full extent of his grief, as his mental depression is seen to take hold of his life as ‘They are actions that a man might play: But I have that within, which passeth show’. Shakespeare uses the effective metaphor ‘Nor, nor the fruitful river in the eye’ and ‘inky cloak’ to further develop Hamlet’s melancholy appearance which creates an empathetic response from the audience, as they can see Hamlet’s mental state is not good. This is further represented in the first of Hamlet’s soliloquies in Act 1.
A soliloquy is used dramatically by a playwright to intensify the audiences understanding of a protagonist, which lets the audience understand the internal thoughts of the character, which the other characters do not know. Hamlet’s first soliloquy in Act 1 is a passionate speech in which Hamlet’s artificial dialogue between himself and Claudius is contrasted with an outpouring of anger which vividly places Hamlet’s bereavement at the centre of the audiences thoughts of Hamlet. Shakespeare has included the notion of suicide to dramatically show that Hamlet is deeply troubled by his father’s death and his mother’s marriage to Claudius. The inclusion of religion to an Elizabethan audience would have been crucial, as suicide is seen to be against the will of God and would prevent you from going to heaven. The inclusion of Hamlet thinking of suicide further develops his despair, as ‘His canon’ gainst self-slaughter. O God, O God!’ On stage these blasphemous outbursts would be dramatically significant, as the tone of the soliloquy changes from self pity to outrage, as his mother’s marriage to Claudius has destroyed his memories of his parents love. Hamlet views his life as ‘an unweeded garden That grows to seed: things rank and gross in nature. Shakespeare has used negative imagery to present a tone of suppression which is linked to his mother’s quick marriage to Claudius. The use of Greek mythology as ‘like Niobe, all tears’ contrasts Gertrude’s grief for the past king with her marriage to the king within a month. This can be seen to be a cause for Hamlet’s anger as ‘With such dexterity to incestuous sheets’ uses alliteration on the‘s’ to linguistically focus the audiences attention to Hamlets opinion of his mother. Within the soliloquy Hamlet’s view of Claudius is contrasted with his view of his father as he was ‘so excellent a King that was to this Hyperion to a satyr’, which illustrates Claudius as a beast which is used effectively to present Hamlet’s dislike for Claudius.
In contrast to the view of a depressed and suicidal Hamlet, scene contrasts these emotions with the relationship between himself and Ophelia. Laertes is presented with an advisory speech to Ophelia in which he believes Hamlet’s love is a youthful infatuation and warns Othelia to be careful of Hamlet as ‘Or lose your heart; or your chaste treasure open’. The use of metaphor conveys Laertes view of Hamlet, compared to Othelia who believes his love for her is true as ‘He hath my Lord of late, made many tenders Of his affection for me’. The inclusion of Hamlets attention to romance can be contrasted with his hatred for Claudius, displaying two different emotions to his character. The audience may argue that Hamlet is becoming insane, with mixed emotions of love and hatred twisting his thoughts to revenge.
The last two scenes of this act are a powerful end to the Act, as Hamlet talks with the ghost and understands his father’s death. In scene 4 Hamlet responds to the ghost as ‘I’ll call thee Hamlet, King,father, royal dane’. This illustrates that Hamlet believes in what Horatio has told him, searching for his father and linking his belief with the theme of spirituality. Shakespeare has used metaphor ‘why thy canoniz’d bones hearsed in death have burst their cerements’ to create a supernatural element to the play in which an Elizabethan audience would have found spirituality dramatic. In scene 5 Hamlet’s belief of his fathers ghost is further developed as he immediately wants revenge for his father’s death ‘Haste, haste me to know it, that I with wings as swift’. The metaphoric use of speed suggests Hamlet’s deep resentment for his father’s killer and his strong relationship which he had with the late king. Hamlet’s soliloquy at the end of this act is as passionate as the first, with the aggressive and unrelenting revenge which he wants for his father. The passage shows Hamlet’s increased outrage for his mother ‘Oh villain, Villian, smiling damned villain!’, which expresses resentment through repetition. The last lines of this soliloquy firmly place Hamlet’s desire to revenge for his father, using repetition of the ghosts final words ‘It is; Adieu, adieu, remember me; I have sworn’t’ using French influence to show his intentions.
In conclusion Hamlet is presented to have contrasted sides to his character, revenge and anger for Gertrude and Claudius with contrasted love for Ophelia and his father. This act is a pivotal start in analyzing Hamlets actions for the rest of the play.
- 07-06-2008 12:14
you might want to specify exam boards because question structure will be different although genral points will still be the same
this is from aqa a and is very similar to one of the questios from jan 08 although the quotations are a bit different
Polonius is a tedious old fool, ‘declining into dotage’, as Johnson observed.
Polonius is a pillar of Elsinore society, respected by both Claudius and Gertrude; and if he is not so clever as he thinks, he is cleverer than he seems.
What justification is there in the text to support these two views?
What is your opinion of the way Shakespeare presents Polonius?
Polonius is a member of Claudius’s court and is one of his advisers; he is the father of Ophelia around whom much of Hamlet’s madness is thought to originate. He has a tendency to pontificate which can lead to him being seen as a fool but is still respected by Claudius and Gertrude and is involved in much of the plotting and deception that they use to try and discover the cause of his madness.
Polonius continually pontificates in almost every occasion that he talks, when Laertes prepares to leave to return to university Polonius chides him for taking too long. However Polonius then detains his son further with lots of advice that is confused and rambling this is ironic as it could probably be condensed to a few sentences which would allow Laertes to leave with the speed that Polonius encourages. Polonius often becomes lost when talking asking questions such as ‘what was I about to say?’ Indeed Gertrude is prompted to instruct him when he is reporting to her his ideas of what has caused Hamlet’s madness to use ‘more matter less art’. In this way Polonius plays the fool as he over complicates his speech which makes it often confusing to other characters.
On the other hand whatever irregularities of speech Polonius uses he is still a respected member of Claudius’ court. He often speaks directly to the King and Queen something lesser servants would not be able to do and further to this he is intimately involved with their plans to discover the cause of Hamlet’s madness. He is allowed to suggest plans of his own and often shapes the opinion of the court. This shows him to be a pillar of society respected by those in power.
Yet Claudius and perhaps to a lesser extent Gertrude are corrupt so is their opinion worth very much? Claudius may suspect that Hamlet knows of his father’s murder and so to allow Polonius to convince people that the ‘madness wherein he now reigns’ is caused by him telling Ophelia to reject Hamlet’s affections. It would suit Claudius to cover up his own guilt by allowing Polonius to prattle on and thus reduce suspicion. Therefore Claudius may not respect Polonius but may use him for his own corrupt ends.
Polonius himself initiates the plots to spy on Hamlet so is not led into such corrupt by Claudius indicating that he has his own agenda that he is working to perhaps trying to get a higher status within the court. He suggests that he should hide behind the arras when Hamlet is summoned to Gertrude’s closet and in this foolishness he is killed. The madness of hamlet is of little real concern for Polonius, if he was concerned for the effect it had on Ophelia he would surely entreat the king and queen to keep Hamlet away from her instead he uses her to prove the cause of Hamlet’s madness. Polonius is foolish and self obsessed he thinks little of the feelings of his only daughter when she must reject the man she loves and involves himself in a drama that is not his own. Hamlet’s words after killing Polonius ‘thou findst to be too busy is some danger’ have a certain poetic justice as Polonius makes himself busy by involving himself in these schemes and it has led to his death. So his plotting is part of his foolishness.
However Polonius may be concerned for Hamlet’s welfare as he has gone mad seemingly with out cause other than his father’s death and his mothers ‘over hasty marriage.’ This concern for Hamlet indicates his loyalty to Gertrude and Claudius which would be a very respectable trait in a member of the court this makes him a pillar of the community. Even is his loyalties are somewhat misaligned as he discounts the feelings of his own daughter in concern for her spurned lover he is still a good man and a pillar of society.
But the sacrifice of his only daughter in his bid to be useful and loyal to the royal court is foolish and ultimately leads to his death. He believes he is being clever and insightful in seeing the true cause of Hamlets madness but this reveals his self importance as he believes that he has caused the madness through his instructions to Ophelia. This is ironic given that at least at the beginning Hamlet is merely putting on an ‘antic disposition’ that has little to do with Polonius and is about revenging his father. Polonius is foolish to value his position with the king and queen above his own daughter.
Although Polonius may sacrifice Ophelia to his plots with Claudius and send Reynaldo to spy on Laertes it is clear that both of his children love him. After the death of Polonius Ophelia descends into madness and laments that he will never ‘come again’ and Laertes returns to Denmark and confronts Claudius directly. Whatever the audience’s perception of Polonius his children obviously love him and that must mean that he is in some ways a pillar of society. Ophelia in particular could feel resentment towards him for forcing her to refuse Hamlets and causing her much distress by placing her in Hamlet’s path yet she eventually kills herself from her grief this strength of feeling shows that Polonius was a beloved father.
Hamlet in his ‘madness’ often uses much wordplay and puns to ridicule Polonius. He calls him a ‘fishmonger’ implying that he benefits from the earnings of prostitutes or that he smells of the corruption of Claudius. Polonius is too foolish to understand this insult and believes instead this is part of Hamlet’s madness not realising him to be ‘mad in craft’ he takes his words at face value and misses the intricate word play that Hamlet employs. Hamlet also shows Polonius to be a simple yes man with no real desire to point out the truth. Hamlet claims that a cloud looks like first a camel and then a whale. Polonius agrees with each change of creature even though they could not be more different thus showing the audience Polonius’s tendency to agree with those he seeks to impress.
On balance hamlet’s words to Polonius are often insulting and overly harsh Polonius has done little to personally offend Hamlet but his words do not reflect this. This could indicate that Hamlet is not seeking to send up Polonius’s character but merely to present his madness as more real. By insulting a pillar of the community hamlet create more impact with his words and makes himself seem mad rather than mad ‘north north west’.
Polonius could be said to be a comic parody of Hamlet himself. Polonius often gets confused and over thinks things involved in the meanings of words. He becomes lost in his thoughts and pontificates. This has a certain parallel with hamlets own soliloquies which are often full of emotion and fraught. Hamlet understands the fragile complexity of things and Polonius is like an exaggerated pompous version of hamlet who over emphasises things and deviates from his meaning. This shows him as foolish particularly when compared to Hamlet who is not a comic figure within the play but is instead viewed as an introspective wounded soul.
But in all of Polonius's digressions there are some genuinely insightful comments that he does not realise the importance of, for example when talking to Hamlet he claims, ‘though this is madness there’s method int.’ he does not realise it but he has summed up Hamlet’s feigned madness. On another occasion he tells the king he will ‘find where truth is hid though it were hid indeed within the centre.’ This is again insightful as the truth is indeed within the centre of the court as Claudius knows the truth of his ‘murder most foul’. So although Polonius may say foolish ‘prating’ things a lot of the time there are truly insightful comments in his expostulations.
So while in many respects Polonius is a ‘prating knave’ he is also respected by the royal court and loved by his children. He is a developed character, the only member of Claudius’s retinue to be so and therefore there are different sides to his character as he has different relationships with different characters. Hamlet views him in a low esteem but if hamlet loved Ophelia then his opinions towards Polonius may be tainted by bitterness as Polonius told Ophelia to reject hamlet. As Polonius is not a one dimensional character but has different aspects of his character different readers of the play will view him differently and no one interpretation will be entirely correct or representative of Polonius.