Hamlet/english history/blank verse/religion mythology

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I am writing an essay discussing these elements of Hamlet. But I had a really hard time understanding Hamlet in the first place. Can anyone help me with few central points about how English history, blank verse, and especially religion and mythology tie in to the whole play? Also, a simplified version of how the supporting characters are related to the play would be helpful. (I.E. I know how Claudius, the Queen, Hamlet, Ophelia, are all related, I'm not sure how Polonius, etc. tie in)

-- Tiffany Rooney (tiffynay@yahoo.com), December 04, 2001


Holy hell, is this an essay or a book you're supposed to write?! Don't worry about not getting it first go. I first read HAMLET more than 10 years ago and it took me half a day with a dictionary to figure out that "To be or not to be ..." was about suicide. But I've kept reading it since then, and I keep finding more and more layers in it. I really suggest you meet with and talk to your teacher: make a list and ask the teacher all the questions you can think of about the play and the essay question, and get the teacher to explain (and perhaps narrow down) the essay question. Also, get the teacher to some books or articles you can read to help you with your essay question. Here are some general things though:

English history: the play refers to specific events, eg the war of the theatresn and the popularity of companies of child actors (II.ii.324-358), perhaps to Henry VII's marriage to his older brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon, and perhaps to Elizabeth I's refusal to marry Phillip of Spain, who had been her sister Queen Mary's husband. It also refers to more general issues, eg the ongoing protestant - catholic problem in 16th and 17th century England, education, structuring of society and social behaviour, the very real practice of reusing graves, often after as little as seven years. Your teacher should direct you to reading material on these references. The play can be used as a primary source document for studying the English Renaissance; and I even did a university exam paper on how it relates to the Renaissance in Italy. The play is a product of its period, and reflects that period in what it depicts of prejudices, philosophy, society, etc.

Blank verse: a poetic metrical pattern of lines of unrhyming iambic pantameter (ie, basically, lines of poetry which don't rhyme and which have 10 syllables to a line). It is the metrical form which most closely resembles natural speech. But it is heightened above natural speech because it is poetically measured and holds powerful imagery comfortably. WS uses it a lot, as well as prose (normal speech, not poetry), and more rarely, rhyming and other forms of verse. Whatever form he choses for a particular scene, speech or line, it is chosen for a reason. The forms in which his characters speak indicate their class / education / emotional state/ interpersonal relations / tone. Verse is considered more cultured, educated, upper class, well-bred, dignified, politely formal.

So it's really interesting to notice in the play where scenes or characters switch or slip from blank verse into prose or the other way about. For eg., Hamlet speak in verse to Horatio, but prose to his other supposed friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Do you think this indicates the greater respect and regard he has for Horatio? In III.i Hamlet and Ophelia begin speaking in verse, but gradually slip into prose - first Hamlet and then Ophelia: to me this indicates several things. He demonstrates decreased respect for her and extreme personal distress as she appears to reject him and he harangues her. His ability to speak in verse goes out the window with his self-possession. She, in following suit, indicates her dependence on the leadership of men, and also that in an odd way they are in harmony with each other even when they are at odds. In contrast, when Hamlet harangues his mother in III.iv, he stays speaking in verse: I feel this is because no matter what she does or is, she is the queen and his parent, and it is conditioned and ingrained in him that he must therefore treat her with respect. So he "speak[s] daggers to her" but he does so in verse. Etc.

Religion and mythology: as always in Shakespeare, quite complex and involved. Briefly, look closely through the whole play at what is said about ghosts (both their nature and what their coming can mean), the afterlife, suicide, Ophelia's death and burial, the sanctity of marriage, purgatory, Claudius' killing of Hamlet's father without the last rites, and Hamlet's desire to kill Claudius the same way in III.iii.76-95. Also note the famed "fall of a sparrow" speech in V.ii.215-220. The reference here is to Matthew 10.28-31 and the speech shows Hamlet acknowledging a Divine Power ordering events on earth, a commonplace Renaissance religious philosophy. Again, your teacher should guide you here.

God, I've nearly written a book. Sorry.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), December 04, 2001.

Heavens, Catherine! You are much braver than I to take on such broad topics!

Seriously, Tiffany, you've got to narrow it down a bit. Think about specific questions or points you wish to discuss. Otherwise, you'll never get it finished in time.

Hamlet is a big play to tackle without a plan of attack.


-- mikken (mikken@neo.rr.com), December 04, 2001.

Yes! I can for a price!!!

-- Bill Gradvings (shepard83@aol.com), March 13, 2002.

What's the going rate? I'd like to know, for when the next person emails me asking for help with their masters thesis. :)

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), March 13, 2002.

well, polonius contributes to the play as a know-it-all and a suck-up who shows a love for his childern but cares about his reputation even more then his own childern. he only seems to care about what all above him think, asking the king "what he thinks of (him). as polonius dies, there is osric thatcomes to replace him,an example would be the taking off and putting on the hat as he speaks with hamlet. hamlet and ophelias madness also show that there is no one that is to be trusted in the world. in scene 1 of act 1, they show that fransisco is "sick at heart", and this sickness spreads throughout the whole play, effecting the whole kingdom in the end. ~thats about it,there is definetely more, i just dont have time. hope this helps.

-- (userk1729@aol.com), December 15, 2002.

Woah, woah, woah. Slow down. Is this a question or a PhD? Are you sure that you wern't given a more specific question? Anyway, concerning religion, firstly refer to each one of Hamlet's soliloquies. Hamlet has a very unstable mood. He keeps contradicting his beliefs. But in terms of English history, he is also a symbol of the situation of the church in Elizabethan England (ignore the fact that he is danish.). But the country was full of schisms on religion. I'm not a primary source, so you should look into some bibliography. Keep in mind (and look into this as well) that the play is a critique of religion. Anyway, gotta go.

-- John Smith (and_hai32@e-garfield.com), January 07, 2004.

polonius is claudius' pet gossip. polonius advises the king and clues him in to all the juicy gossip of the court, notice how the first person he goes to after ophelia's account of hamlets little episode of "dropping trou", is claudius. at the same time offering explainations on why hamlet might be acting this way. in the bok "gertrude and claudius", which is about life at the danish court before hamlet 1 died, polonius was the primary factor in keeping gertrude and claudius's affair secret.

to ophelia, obviously, he is her father and it has been speculated that she is a good little daddy's girl, as she ran to him immeadately after hamlet sdtarts acting crazy and tells him the whole thing, as well as later she agrees to help polonius spy on hamlet in the "get theee to a nunnery" scene.

secondly, i too am conducting a paper on how biblical and mythological referances enfluence hamlet. so far i have some stufdf on cain and abel (claudius and hamlet1) the "man was made from dust" idea, hamlet refers to this alot, and that claudius is a satyr while hamlet1 (in prince hamlet's eyes) was like a sun god. (hyperion specifically)

email me if you get any more advice on the topic as relating to mythology or religion!

-- elizabeth wise (zabchan@yahoo.com), January 04, 2005.

On mythology, there is of course the big Hecuba, Priam, Troy, etc., reference in II.ii, with the players.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), January 05, 2005.

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