Hamlet: Modern Perspective Themes (Neill Essay)

I. “Hamlet’s capacity to accommodate the most bafflingly different readings.” A mirror up to each age’s anxieties (307-311)Delicate romanticismDeath wish of Europe’s World War IThe Authoritarian Rise of FascismDespair in the nuclear ageMurderous politics of revengeHyper Surveillance in 2015
II. Outer Play of Revenge vs Inner Play Philosophical Conflict (309) Who’s there? (the infamous opening line) reverberates through the ages
III. Surveillance (311-316) Taking justice into one’s own handsSurvival in an Authoritarian State: “eye” and “ear”: recurring images/symbols
IV. Hamlet: Memory and Speaking the Unspeakable (316-320) Not being able to speak openly: destructive secretsRegulation of SpeechResulting in ParanoiaLinguistic Prison vs virtual “prison”, recurring imageOphelia’s Madness
V. To Tell My Story: Unfinished Hamlet or (Hamlet Interrupted) (320-322)V. The Undiscovered Country: Secrets on Life and Death (323-325) The dual role of the gravedigger: “begins working the same day Hamlet is born”
Appearance versus Reality “Than is my deed to my most painted word” (Claudius)”The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” (Hamlet)”One may smile, and smile, and still be a villain” (Hamlet)”As perchance hereafter, shall think meet to put an antic disposition on’t” (Hamlet)”To be honest as this world goes, is to one man picked out of ten thousand” (Hamlet)”Yet he knew me at first, a said I was a fishmonger” (Polonius)”God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another” (Ophelia)Scene 3.2 – Hamlet distrusts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because they are spying on him
Sin and Salvation “Oh my offence is rank, it smells to heaven” (Claudius)”What form of prayer can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?” (Claudius)”Be soft as sinews as a new-born baby” (Claudius)”To be or not to be, that is the question” (Hamlet)”Oh that this this too solid flesh would melt, that and resolve itself into dew!” (Claudius)”My words fly up, my thoughts remain blow; without thoughts never to heaven go.” (Claudius)
Madness and Melancholy “Though this be madness, there is method in’t.” (Polonius)”That I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft” (Hamlet)”How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable to me seem all the uses of the land.” (Hamlet)”All’s ill here around my heart.” (Hamlet)”To put an antic disposition on.” (Hamlet)
Women “Get thee to a nunnery… why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners” (Hamlet)”Frailty thy name is woman” (Hamlet)”My lord, you made me believe so” (Ophelia)”I have a daughter – have while she is mine” (Polonius)”That in obedience hath my daughter shown me” (Polonius)”I shall obey you.” (Ophelia)”The Lady doth protest too much methinks.” (Gertrude)”Lose your heart, or your chase treasure open.” (Laertes)
Politics and Society “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Marcellus)”The ulcerous place, whilst rank corruption… infects unseen” (Hamlet)”I am justly killed with mine own treachery” (Laertes)”Mirth in funeral… dirth in marriage” (Claudius)”Most foul, strange and unnatural” (Ghost)
Revenge and Revenge Tragedy “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder… murder most foul, strange and unnatural.” (Ghost)”Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest.” (Ghost)”A bloody deed? Almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king and marry his brother.” (Hamlet)”Oh from this moment forth, My thoughts be bloody or nothing worth.” (Hamlet)”Only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father” (Laertes)
Action, Procrastination, and Ambition (End of Scene 2.2) – Hamlet’s soliloquy about his father’s death and revenge, Hamlet doesn’t know if he should do the moral thing (no revenge) or should follow his heart (revenge),(Scene 2.2) – Rosencrantz: “Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream”. “Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow”, Hamlet follows by talking about beggars bodies – if ambition is a shadow, then beggars “without” ambition must be real,(Scene 3.1) – To be or not to be soliloquy, Hamlet deals with the question about killing himself (taking action) or enduring through life,(Scene 3.2) – Hamlet tells the player how to deliver the play (proper motivations for taking action?)
Life and Death Scene 3.4 – Polonius’ death,Scene 3.1 – “To be or not to be” soliloquy – references suicide, depression, why should I keep living?,(Scene 2.2) – Gertrude: “I doubt it is no other but the main, / His father’s death and our o’erhasty marriage”. – Gertrude is beginning to realize that King Hamlet’s death (and her marriage) is the root of Hamlet’s problems,pg. 113-144 (End of Scene 2.2) – Hamlet’s soliloquy about his father’s death and revenge, Hamlet doesn’t know if he should do the moral thing (no revenge) or should follow his heart (revenge)
Corruption and Morality Scene 3.4 – Hamlet and Queen talk – Hamlet talks about all the corruption and immortality Queen has done, she’s upset, Scene 3.3 – King Claudius talks about everything immoral he has done, yet says that he will keep doing it because it’s advantageous/beneficial,(Beginning of Scene 2.2) – King calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out what’s wrong with Hamlet – acts selfishly because he doesn’t actually care about Hamlet,(End of Scene 2.2) – Hamlet’s soliloquy about his father’s death and revenge, Hamlet doesn’t know if he should do the moral thing (no revenge) or should follow his heart (revenge)
Appearance vs. reality definition how many people in the play are playing a part and how many are sincere? Who’s spying? Who are the liars and who can you trust?• Characters in disguise• Who is the person really?
Corruption vs. morality definition who behaves for moral and ethical reasons, and who behaves for his/her own interests? Look for expressions of or descriptions of disease and decay, of rottenness, etc.
Life and death definition What’s worth tolerating and living for/through? What does it mean to be alive and what are the responsibilities associated with living? Look for references to suicide, murder, and death
Action, procrastination, and ambition definition When should one take action and when should one wait? When should one be cautious? What are the proper motivations for taking action?
The nature of Humanity definition What makes us better than the animals? Are we? What aspects of human nature seem to distinguish us and make us unique as humans?• What makes a person a person, different from animal
Nature of Humanity Fraility, thy name is woman”o Hamlet questions her commitment to her husband, devotion to past, morality with husband, seemed to love her, women are morally weak – adulterous • Is it a gender-related question? o An animal would mourn more than she does