Hamlet Sample Essay
Here is an example which has focused mainly on universality and thematic analysis. Consider whether or not you think it answers the question appropriately.
Consider the value of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for contemporary readers.
Shakespeare’s early 17th century dramatic play Hamlet possesses universality, thus offers significant value for contemporary readers through conveying themes and ideas which remain relevant today. Hamlet explores the concepts of moral corruption, the changing notion of revenge and appearance versus reality. Considering these themes within an Elizabethan and early 21st century context allows for different perspectives of ideas that are relevant to society, thus is highly valuable for contemporary readers.
The changing perceptions of revenge are explored, highlighting the transition between medieval and renaissance values. This offers significant value to the contemporary reader due to the questions of morality it raises, particularly within a constantly changing society. King Hamlet, Fortinbras and Laertes are seen to embody medieval values, where revenge is necessary for the restoration of order “the fat weed that rots itself on Lethe wharf wouldst thou not stir in this”. Mythical allusions create a dramatic impact, associating revenge with feudal values, and thus representing the importance of revenge to restore order in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan context. This notion is strengthened in the character of Fortinbras, who “Craves the conveyance of a promised march/Over his kingdom”. Enjambment intensifies the feudal perspective, highlights his rapid flow of thoughts and focus on action to seek revenge. This offers significant value to the contemporary reader because we see a different perspective of an idea that is relevant to society.
However, King Hamlet, Fortinbras and Laertes are juxtaposed with Prince Hamlet who questions the morality of revenge. The changing perspective of revenge is explored, particularly as Hamlet occupies a society with increasingly humanistic values. “Had he the motive and cue for passion that I have?…Am I a coward?”. Rhetorical questions reveal Hamlets internal conflict, giving an alternate point of view. This provides value for contemporary readers, as being caught in the transition between dissimilar values is relevant today. Hamlets thoughts are strengthened in his verse “o cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”, highlighting his internal conflict through the rhyming scheme. Hyphens further illustrate his fractured flow of thoughts from being caught in the transition of values. As contemporary readers, we’re able to see the timeless nature and different views of revenge, thus Hamlet offers significant value.
The difficulty of distinguishing between appearance and reality is also explored in Hamlet, providing value to the contemporary reader due to its universal relevance, particularly in the 21st century. Shakespeare explores this through the motif of madness in the contrast between Hamlets antic disposition and Ophelia’s madness. Hamlets seeming façade of madness provides significant value in a visually reliant audience such as today, through questioning the true nature of appearances. He is shown to have “a look so piteous purport as if he had been loosed out of hell”. The simile creates vivid imagery, suggesting appearances need to be questioned whether they are illusory or reflect reality. Hamlet is juxtaposed with Ophelia who “hears there’s tricks I’th’world, and hems, and beats her heart”. Sibilance explores the sustained nature of her madness in contrast to Hamlets’, which varies depending on his company. Thus, the constantly shifting nature of appearance and reality offers significant value to contemporary readers.
This theme is also evident in “The Murder of Gonzago”; the play within the play. This provides value to contemporary readers because it offers a critique of this theme through the motif of acting. Appearance and reality are blurred, thus questioning society’s stance and understanding of this. “frighted with false fire?…lights, lights, lights!”. The doubling of language is extended to reveal the inconsistencies of characters due to the conflict between appearance and reality, which is further reinforced by the questions in the prose. Metaphor is used to expose this theme embodying Claudius who “may be a devil- and…hath power t’assume a pleasing shape, which links appearance and reality, despite their dissimilarity. Therefore, Hamlet presents considerable value to the contemporary reader due to the relevance of distinguishing between appearance and reality.
Moral corruption is a central concern to the play, and is very much applicable to contemporary readers, which offers a deeper appreciation and insight to the value of Hamlet. This is evident in the portrayal of Claudius through the debatable nature of his ascension the throne. The recurring motif of the instability and decay of Denmark as a result of this conveys a sense of his moral corruption “black and gained spots as will not leave their tinct”, where disease imagery provides a dramatic metaphor of Claudius. Another facet of his moral corruption comes to life in his incestuous relationship with Gertrude “such an act that blurs the grace and blush of modesty”, using antithesis to highlight their relationship as being founded upon moral corruption. “Modesty” and virtue” are personified, allowing vivid imagery of how this theme diminishes an individuals morals. Hence, Hamlet provides constructive value to contemporary readers through insight of this theme.
Polonius also represents this theme, whose treatment of Ophelia to spy on Hamlet for personal gain exposes another facet of moral corruption, and thus offers value to contemporary readers. “I’ll loose my daughter to him. Be you and I behind an arras then”. The short sentence structures characterize his obsequious mindset and the use of “loose” emphasizes his treatment of Ophelia similar to an object highlights a few features of moral corruption. This is also conveyed through spying on Laertes “put on him what forgeries you may please…such wanton, wild and usual slips”. Alliteration and sibilance highlight the stealthy nature of Polonius’s character, thus revealing him to be morally corrupt. Therefore, moral corruption is shown to provide significant value to contemporary readers due to its multifaceted attributes.
Hamlet presents significant value to the contemporary reader through exploring appearance and reality, moral corruption and the changing perceptions of revenge. The universality of these themes is evident throughout time, thus allowing contemporary readers to reflect on different perspectives. Valuable ideas can be extrapolated from the themes, which provide significant value for the contemporary reader.
Intertextual Connections: Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice
How does a comparative study of Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice bring to the fore ideas and values relevant to the lives of women in society?
The ideas and values relevant to the lives of women in society have become more complex over time, as evident through the numerous values and ideas that are still prominent within contemporary society, from the 18th century. The 1980s epistolary novel Letters to Alice by Fay Weldon and Jane Austen’s 1790s novel Pride and Prejudice bring to the fore these ideas and values in contrasting contexts, through the exploration of attitudes of women and society had towards advice, education and relationships. Austen’s context highly valued the social conduct of women, but Weldon’s contemporary context reflects a relaxed attitude to social conduct. The importance of education and familial relationships has remained, but has changed in how they are perceived by society, thus affecting the lives of women. Thus, the comparative study of these texts allows the reader to gain deeper insight into how the issues affecting the lives of women have altered or been sustained throughout time.
The values of receiving and giving advice between women permeate Letters to Alice and Pride and Prejudice, highlighting this value as relevant to women’s lives as time progresses, because it allows them to have a secure future. The formal epistolary structure of Letters to Alice provides a means of presenting advice that’s uncommon within contemporary society, and establishes Aunt Fay as representative of her 1980s context. The mentoring relationship between Alice and Fay is founded through giving advice within letters: “what others say are your faults… may it be carried to the extremes, you strengths, virtues”. Weldon’s juxtaposition of Fay’s advice against criticism of Alice enforces the importance of sharing advice between women as writers in the twentieth century, as she believes it is difficult to obtain meaningful advice and criticism in the 21st century. This can also be viewed as the flow of advice moving down the familial social structure based on age, revealing that advice is only allowed to be given by older women – meaning that there is a kind of traditionalist matriarchal structure still present within female communities. Sharing advice between women is also prevalent within Pride and Prejudice, highlighting this as a continuous value relevant to women’s lives. Letters provide symbolism of the close relationships between characters, as it was more confidential than public speech and not always subject to strict social conduct. The importance of sharing advice between women is seen through this medium of correspondence, and also reflects advice passing down the familial social structure. Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth’s close relationship gives evidence to this facet of women’s lives in Austen’s early Victorian context. “Lizzy, this must go no farther than yourself, or Jane at most”. Mrs. Gardiner’s instructive tone, acting in her nieces best interests, emphasizes the close nature of their relationship – an exception to social norms, as in Austen’s context, relationships were largely created for the ulterior motive of financial security. Thus the value of sharing advice is seen to be relevant to women’s lives, past and present, in the study of Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice.
The role/importance of education for women in society recurs throughout Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice, although different reasons exist why this significant value is relevant to women’s lives. Austen’s attention to the level of education was driven by the notion of marriage. In her patriarchal English context, it is stressed that a woman “must possess” an “improvement of her mind by extensive reading”. Darcy’s dialogue reiterates the need for education to increase the likelihood of a marriage proposal. Frequent public and private speech concerning this issue demonstrates to contemporary readers that the only way a woman could financially secure her future was through marriage: “reasons for marrying…one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother’s decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to”. Thus, Pride and Prejudice highlights education as an integral part of women’s lives in the 18th century. Letters to Alice concurs “being elegantly and well developed” and a study of “the classics” dominated women’s lives in Austen’s tine, due to marriage prospects. However, Weldon contrasts this with the contemporary understanding of education for women. It is valued because it “enlightens”, and “you are changed yet unchanged!” The oxymoron embodies the shift and alteration of attitudes in society, resulting in a greater appreciation of the value of education for women. The extended metaphor of the “City of Invention… is all, really, education is about” furthers Aunt Fay’s argument of the significance education holds for women today because it can help break out of traditional roles and discover their potential, in contrast to Fay’s sister, who is portrayed in a negative light. Therefore, the changing nature of the importance of education in Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice is relevant to the lives of women in society.
The value of familial relationships with and between women dominates Letters to Alice and Pride and Prejudice. Familial relationships are tested in times of conflict, as seen in Aunt Fay and Enid’s relationship in Letters to Alice: “it is time we patched up this quarrel…we may even be reunited”. Weldon’s use of didacticism is evident of the imperative value of familial relationships in her context where family is significant in shaping an individual, regardless of conflict. This value is further seen in Fay and Alice’s relationship: “trying to help her… see my letters as seed flung upon ground in need of literary fertilizer”. Weldon’s metaphor demonstrates the contemporary perspective of familial relationships, revealing them as relevant to the lives of women, which is influenced by the positive family values instilled by literature in her context. Familial relationships are seen to be less concerned with marriage and financial status, thus reflecting Weldon’s context, where the independence of women is highly valued. The attitudes towards familial relationships have altered significantly, when looking back at Pride and Prejudice. Characters seek to distance themselves from taboo issues, particularly concerning women, which is evident in Lydia’s elopement. Her scandal deeply affects the family’s relationships and risks their social standing, which in turn jeopardizes the marriage prospects of her sisters. Mr. Collins is representative of the general attitudes towards familial relationships in times of conflict “the death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison…leave her”. We are shown through juxtaposition, the strict social conduct towards familial relationships in Austen’s context, thus highlighting relationships as being based on one’s public actions. Therefore, it can be seen that familial attitudes and relationships have undergone great change over time for women.
Social conduct and etiquette for women dominate Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice. The importance of these values for women in Austen’s context is difficult to understand from a contemporary perspective – it was a dominating part of society, even at the expense of individual emotions: “politeness, warred, as always, with desperation”. Weldon’s awareness deepens the intensity behind dialogue within Pride and Prejudice, knowing the possible hidden tension resulting from the strict social etiquette expected of women. Weldon juxtaposes this to the attitudes to women’s social conduct of the 20th century “it is better to be sexually experienced than innocent”, where sex is a commodity, not virginity. The brief listing contrasts the change in social expectations of women, revealing them to have shifted to the other direction over time. While in Pride and Prejudice, formal introductions are required: “it will be impossible for us to visit him, if you don’t”, emphasizing the women’s need to follow social conduct and men. Thus it is evident that although social etiquette for women is still valued, it has become a different focus.
Although I was aware of the general context of Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice, the comparative study of the texts has shown me the change and lasting issues relevant to women’s lives in society- education, advice, relationships and social conduct. The comparative study of the texts together has significant synergistic value, allowing the reader to make informed judgments about the ideas and values pervading the lives of women in both contexts. These connections bring to life the values which have shaped women in literature, and influenced generations over time.
Here is an example of a band 6 Hamlet essay. You may notice some imperfections as you read it, but remember that you are not expected to write a ‘perfect’ essay during the exam. As you read it, consider whether you think it contains a clear thesis and directly answers the question.
2012 HSC Question:
An inherent tension between confrontation and resolution is revealed through characterisation in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
To what extent does your interpretation align with this view?
A philosophical rendering of the everyday leads to a tension between reflection and action. In Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy play Hamlet, this is highlighted through the characterisation of Hamlet himself, and his engagement with the philosophical and academic concerns of Elizabethan England through his interactions with Horatio. By drawing on elements of this, and contrasting them with contextual concerns about religion and spirituality, Hamlet is constructed as a deeply meditative play, which finds itself continuously delayed and stunted in its attempts to reach fruition.
The use of delay to create a play which happens outside of ‘reality’ and thus remains internalised and wrought with anaphasia is most evident in the characterisation of Hamlet. Hamlet’s diction is littered with binary oppositions, such as in his opening line “a little more than kin and less than kind”, indicating that he inhabits and speaks within a space where the constant state of flux has rendered ideas without opposition unpalatable. Hamlet’s inability to speak without binary oppositions is directly related to his inability to act, and this is shown in his soliloquy, “to be or not to be, that is the question”, where the binary oppositions of existence and selfhood are placed in the sphere of movement, only to cause further inaction, adding to the overall delay of the play. It is this delay in the action which causes Act 5 Scene 2 to erupt with such bloodshed, as shown through the repetitious stage directions: “He dies”, and “dies” are repeated four times in the scene. And yet, even in the single scene of action in this play, these deaths, too, are delayed.
Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet all speak between receiving their final wounds and dying, indicating that it is the loss of speech, rather than loss of life, that is the most crucial part of mankind, and will be lost in death. In addition to this, despite the question of whether or not to kill Claudius functioning within the play as a metaphor for the question of whether or not existence is worthwhile, it is Claudius who is the last to die (barring Hamlet), delaying resolution even in a moment of confrontation. This delay and its cause has been widely attributed to the Elizabethan guilt complex, and obsession with “the functions of conscience and especially its morbid preoccupation with past sins and omissions” (Reed, 1958). By obsessing over the dangers of inaction, Hamlet creates further delay for himself, ultimately halting any action or resolution that the play could come to.
See also: Literary Techniques – Techniques for Analysing a Written Text.
The power of academic and philosophical engagement with issues of morality and political structure is an undeniable force in the conclusion of Hamlet. The relationship between Hamlet and Horatio is one of academic engagement, as shown through Horatio’s continual allusions to the rendering of Caesar’s death in the Shakespearian version of the story, which was written concurrently with Hamlet, such as in his description of the ghost’s appearance “in the most high and palmy state of Rome/a little ere the mightiest Julius fell”. This dialogue with history and politics is emphasised through the vehicle of this friendship, and, in using this, Shakespeare questions the virility of the Danish political system and the role of the monarchy. This parallel between Rome after the assassination of Caesar and the rapidly-declining political system of Denmark is furthered by Horatio’s return to this metaphor in the final scene “I am more antique Roman than a Dane”. Through this juxtaposition the audience is forced to call into question Hamlet’s role in the Julius Caesar parallel, creating yet another layer of separation between Hamlet and the audience.
It is in Hamlet’s conversations with Horatio that his philosophical musings are most prominent, and through this we can see Horatio as an agent both of Hamlet’s conscience, and of the play’s delay. In John Quincy Adam’s analysis of the play, he points at the friendship between Hamlet and Horatio as being crucial to the development of Hamlet’s moral code which is only the result of “a mind cultivated by the learning acquirable at a university, combining intelligence and sensibility” (Adams, 1839). By characterising Horatio as the intellectual force within the play, and subsequently the source of socio-political commentary, Shakespeare adds to the moral and cultural instability of the play in a manner which results in further delay of confrontation or resolution.
Fatalism plays an important role in understanding the tension between action and inaction in Hamlet. From the appearance of the ghost, Hamlet’s course of action is inevitable within the tropes of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy and the Greek tragedy roots that it is drawn from. However, he resists this role by delaying taking action, and as a result, the play can be read as being in perpetual tension between the restoration of natural order and the resistance of that restoration.
The apostrophe of “out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune!” shows Hamlet’s resistance of what he perceives to be the only path available to him. In Act 5 Scene 2, when Hamlet finally takes action, he begins to refer to himself in the third person, a bizarre subversion of a play which previously obsessed with the use of “I”. This switching of mode of speech indicates that it is only though the abandonment of his self-identity, and thus moral code, that he is able to complete the actions which divine providence demands of him. This is supported by Dwery’s reading of the play’s resolution, where he argues that “Hamlet recognizes the inevitability of death, accepting his father’s death and recognising his own unavoidable fate.” (Dwery, 2004) By understanding the contextual concerns with the nature and role of fate and divinity in the everyday, a deeper understanding of the character of Hamlet emerges.
The tension between action and inaction in Hamlet stem from the contextual role of fate, which forces Hamlet into a position where he repeatedly delays himself, until his self-identity is erased, and he performs the actions which fate requires of him. My interpretation of the delay highlights the contribution of socio-political forces to the delay, and ultimately the tension which permeates the play, which is depicted through the characterisation of Hamlet and Horatio.
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