Hamlet’s character as a Tragedy
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A tragedy is when something awful has happened, in this case, Hamlet’s father, Old Hamlet, has died. A ‘Revenge Tragedy’ is set. Hamlet’s mission is to avenge his father’s death. A ‘Revenge Tragedy’ is always a very exciting theme for a story and that is why it was popular in Elizabethan times and still appeals to audiences of stage and film productions nowadays. In the first scene there is a threat of invasion, when the guards are absolutely terrified about the ghost’s appearance, it also creates a puzzle about whose the ghost is and why he has returned (because ghosts usually mean bad news).
There is a lot of tension because the audience isn’t really sure what is going to happen. Audiences of both stage and film productions nowadays still like to see this sort of atmosphere created because it ‘grips’ them to the story/play. Also, horror stories are as popular with audiences of today as they always have been. This scene is set for horror, via the ghost. This is why revenge tragedy is important to the Elizabethan audience and today’s audience. I am going to investigate three scenes from Hamlet.
The first time we actually meet Hamlet (Act One, Scene Two), just before the play (Act Three, Scene Two) and the Graveyard Scene (Act Five, Scene One). The second scene shifts to the Court. This scene provides us with more information and creates further suspense. The atmosphere lifts a bit because we learn about Hamlet – in mourning for his father. It helps the audience understand his mourning, as Hamlet’s long speech in this scene is interesting with his use of adjectives. His language here is amazing and quite poetic.
For example, during his speech he says, “Nor customary suits of solemn back, Nor windy suspiration of forced breath, No, nor the fruitful river in the eye. ” In the first two lines there, he is using the work ‘of’ to describe. In the last line, ‘the fruitful river in the eye’ obviously means (somewhere along the lines) ‘to cry’ or ‘eyes watering’. He then says, “Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,” Hamlet is saying that he has just mentioned some of his grief, but could go on mentioning it in all types of forms, moods, and shapes. This means he is feeling an awful lot of grief for his father at the moment, and makes him want to and determined to get revenge for his father’s death.
He ends his speech with a little rhyme, “But I have that within which passes show – These but the trappings and the suits of woe. ” The main features of Hamlet’s soliloquies are – complex ideas, the expression of doubt, concern and emotion, the use of imagery and a very specialised vocabulary. His use of language is amazing. Through this the audience can see why Hamlet is the main character. The first soliloquy, speech, “O that this too too solid flesh would melt… ” This is spoken after his father-in-law, Claudius, has declared his marriage to Hamlet’s mother Gertrude.
Here Hamlet expresses his disgust at the way the world now seems to him. The first sentence contains an elaborate metaphor, comparing his flesh to a block of ice, melting and then becoming a vapour, (‘dew’). He uses a string of adjectives to express his disgust (‘weary, stale, flat and unprofitable’). He then uses emotive language to express his emotion in the use of the words ‘rank and gross’. The scene is highly dramatic and Hamlet’s language is a vivid contract to the confident and formal language of Claudius, whom Hamlet hates.
This kind of story line is used in lots of films and productions nowadays because it is a popular type with the audience. Moving on to act Three, Scene Two, this is where Hamlet has written a scene for actors to perform a play. One scene in the play directly mimics the murder of his father. In this scene Hamlet expresses in many ways his deep friendship with Horatio. Hamlet’s speech here describes his emotions, as they trap him. He says, “A man that fortunes buffets and rewards Hast tane with equal thanks. ” The audience can see all of Hamlet’s emotions spilling out as he says these words.
He is probably very emotional because of his father’s death and he is now recreating it in a play he is writing. “There is a play tonight before the King: One scene of it comes near the circumstance Which I have told thee of my father’s death. ” Hamlet establishes Claudius’ guilt when Claudius asks, “How fares our cousin Hamlet? ” Hamlet promised Horatio to be ‘idle’, and deliberately interprets ‘fares’ as meaning ‘feeds’, so he replies as if Claudius has asked him what he has eaten, “Excellent i’faith, of the chameleon’s dish: I eat the air, Promise – crammed. You cannot feed capons so. ”
Hamlet explains that he eats the air of the chameleon (lizard) that it ate when is was alive, and explains that you cannot feed capons (fat chickens) air because they wouldn’t be fat. To the audience and characters in the play, this is a sign of madness from Hamlet as, by saying these words, he has absolutely baffled them. The stage is set up for the audience to watch the ‘dumb show’ and the characters are set sitting down ready to watch the play. Hamlet follows up ‘acting mad’ by teasing and being offensive to his mother after she says, “Come hither my dear Hamlet, sit by me. ” Hamlet then offends his mother by saying, No good mother, here’s metal more attractive. ”
He is saying that Ophelia is more attractive than his mother and sits next to Ophelia instead. Hamlet proceeds to make offensive comments to her, all of which Ophelia tries to respond to appropriately. Hamlet is using puns and is trying to amuse the characters surrounding him. The atmosphere is one of puzzlement as the audience is still baffled about why Hamlet is acting in this way. During this scene the audience is attracted by the strange behaviour of the characters, and wondering how the characters regard Hamlet in this scene of madness.
Shakespeare’s dramatic achievement in this scene is very good – he succeeds in graphically describing Hamlet’s behaviour. The final scene I am going to investigate is the Graveyard Scene (Act Five, Scene One). This scene begins with a calm atmosphere. The audience is ready for something new to happen. The atmosphere is yet still emotional from the death of Ophelia. In this scene, Shakespeare presents Hamlet’s emotional side and there is again much use of emotional language. Before Hamlet enters the scene, we see (in the film) two gravediggers (clowns) digging our Ophelia’s grave, Is she to be buried in Christian burial that wilfully seeks her own salvation. ”
They are discussing the fact that Ophelia drowned herself, and therefore should not receive a Christian burial under Christian law. However, one gravedigger points out that the coroner has declared it a natural death rather than a suicide, and therefore they must dig a grave for her, “I tell thee she is and therefore make her grave straight the crowner hath sat, On her, and finds it Christian burial. ” Hamlet does not know about Ophelia’s death yet, so the audience will expect more drama from Hamlet – what will his reaction be?
It is obvious that he will be upset, so the audience will perceive what his reaction will be. The story line is fascinating and just as likely to interest an audience of today as an Elizabethan audience. When Hamlet and Horatio enter the scene, Hamlet talks to a gravedigger and his emotions start when the gravedigger shows him the decayed skull of his childhood companion, the jester, Yorick, who was once so full of life is now merely a skull.
“Alas poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio, a fellow infinite jest, of most excellent fancy, He hath Borne me on his back a thousand times… Here Hamlet explains he loved Yorick for he used to make him laugh and he gave him ‘piggy backs’ when he was young. This makes the audience imagine what Yorick was like and Shakespeare creates good describing words for Hamlet’s speech to help the audience to picture Yorick. When the scene is set out for Ophelia’s funeral, Hamlet wonders whose corpse Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and other attendants are carrying with them to the grave. This is where the scene brings out Hamlet’s intellectual curiosity and his speculative powers. “Who is thy fellow? ”
Hamlet is trying to find out who is in the coffin. He overhears Laertes arguing with the priest about the last rights, and this is when the film/story tells the audience it is about time to find out what Hamlet’s reaction will be to the death of Ophelia. Hamlet goes mad at the news. He says, “What, the fair Ophelia! ” And cry’s, as his mother tries to comfort him. My view on Hamlet’s character at this stage is that he has dramatically changed throughout the play through madness. He didn’t really express his love verbally for Ophelia, and he did treat her badly and use her at times.
Now she is dead, he mentions, “I loved Ophelia; forty-thousand brothers Could not with all their quantity of love Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her? ” This is where staging helps bring out the meaning of how much Hamlet loves Ophelia. Hamlet argues with Laertes that his love for Ophelia was infinitely greater than his. There again, in the quote above, Shakespeare uses a metaphor to describe Hamlet’s emotions. Hamlet is a compelling character, his actions and thoughts are continually analysed and this probably, more than anything else, is the reason for Hamlet’s enduring appeal.