The Truth Behind William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
“A Tragedy must not be the spectacle of a perfectly good man brought from prosperity to adversity. For this merely shocks us”-Aristotle-300bc (pg. 229,Shakespearean criticism, vol. 3)
Thesis: William Shakespeare, one of the greatest dramatists in the world, has been famous and well known since the early 1600’s. Some of his greatest works have been reproduced hundreds of times. He wrote poems, sonnets, plays, tragedies, histories, and comedies. Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most famed and remembered tragedies. All of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies have tragic heroes and several dark, disturbing endings. This pattern also includes Hamlet. The play of Hamlet is completely based on deception, lies, selfishness, and fear. During this essay, I will specify key incidents throughout the play to prove that tragic heroes have tragic endings, that had the truth been told time and again than many deaths could have been prevented. Also how Shakespeare places Ophelia in the wrong era, and about miscommunications can affect peoples out look on life.
All of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes also have tragic endings. Hamlet, for example, cannot let go of his father’s death; therefore trapping him in a time warp or parallel universe he created himself in his own mind “He kept pretending he was insane even after he was sure that Claudius killed his father (Pg. 1, The Tragedy of Hamlet, unknown).” Had Hamlet not gone insane in the first place, maybe he would not have died or had his stepfather attempt to kill him.If only Hamlet had told others aside from Horatio the truth about him knowing of his fathers murder than perhaps Hamlet may have had some hopes of survival. Yet right off the bat the play is opened with two immediate lies: one, Hamlet’s father was murdered by his brother, not of natural causes; two, Hamlet learns the truth and also tells no one of it or that he is just pretending to be crazy.
Hamlet lies, his uncle lies, Ophelia lies, Ophelia’s father Polonius lies to her, Laertes, Hamlet’s friend’s lie to him, the priest lies at Ophelia’s burial, and even his mother Gertrude lies of her love to the uncle/husband Claudius. Every one lies about something significant in the duration of the play. All of the characters lost their true love, sanity, families, and worst of all, they lost themselves. In the end, no one won accept Fortinbras.
George Stubbes states that in all of his (Shakespeare’s) noble passions, the female characters are out of their timelines. They do not fit into their surroundings with the women of the period that they are supposed to be written in. In Shakespeare’s plays, “almost all his young women (who are designed as good characters) are made to behave with modesty and decency peculiar to those times, and which are of such pleasing simplicity as seem too ignorant and unmeaning in our well taught knowing age”. (George Stubbes, Shakespearean Criticism, Vol. 1, Pg. 76). Yes, Ophelia does carry those characteristics. She behaves like a well-educated, respected women, and as a crazy whore in others. Shakespeare places her in one extreme to the next; than he has her commit suicide due to her fathers death and or perhaps due to what she thinks is the loss of her true love Hamlet. No one really knows for sure. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch quotes Aristotle numerous times to make it clear how he feels about Shakespeare’s tragedies. “A hero of Tragic Drama must, whatever else he miss, engage our sympathy; that, however gross his error or grievous his frailty, it must not exclude our feeling that he is a man like ourselves” -Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.
Some also say Shakespeare used a lot of miscommunication in his tragedies to insure the downfall of the hero. I believe if Hamlet would have just told his mother straight forward how he felt and what he knew for a fact about the death of his father then maybe he too would be alive. Instead he yells at her “frailty thy name is woman!” (14 Act 1 Scene 2 Line 146), and never really fills her in on the truth. Ophelia may not have killed her self if she only knew how Hamlet really felt about her. Hamlet never just told Ophelia his love was real and she never asked about what her father told her when stating he didn’t love her and accused Hamlet of using her. “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum”(131 Act 5 Scene 1 Line 272)- to bad she never really knew and that neither did their families till the end.
Hamlet is a prime example of a piece of Shakespeare’s finest and most memorable works. During Hamlet the entire family dies and the kingdom is taken over by the enemy. No one lives on to live happily ever after and no one continues the legacy. Hamlet never becomes king, his mother does not see the light until it is to late, Ophelia does not get prince charming and no one wins in the end. The tragedy of Hamlet in the end lead to a tragic, gory ending for all who were involved and Shakespeare never gave any real hope from the get go. All of Shakespeare’s tragedies have the main characters die and every one who is left is unhappy and never the same after the traumatic experience which also is held true in Hamlet. Which all-just goes back to all tragedies have tragic heroes that in turn have tragic endings. Shakespeare had system that worked and he stuck to it, if you observe and really read between the lines in MacBeth and Romeo & Juliet, than you will see that all of the basics of the plots are similar and relate. In fact, he was a genius in my opinion to have the ability to camouflage the same basic skeleton of a story and reproduce it repeatedly as something different and new. Shakespeare had a gift to have the ability to just produce the tragedies and teach people a lesson in life of what is wrong. He had the ability to wake people up to the reality of life and what is going on around them. Stephen King stated once in an interview that there are no new stories just, just William Shakespeare’s original masterpieces retold and rewrote. In conclusion, I feel that William Shakespeare is an extremely talented individual and his writings all have a valuable lesson to be taught. His priceless works will be reproduced and treasured for centuries to come.
-Aristotle-Shakespearean Criticism, Vol.3 PG, 229-300bc, Temple High Library
-Tragedy of Hamlet-Unknown, HTTP://www.planetpapers.com/count.cgi (If this doesn’t directly work try planet www.papers.com and search for Hamlet)
-George Stubbes- Shakespearean Criticism, Vol. 1 PG, 7 (essay date 1813)
-Stephen King-interview I saw one day on a program on A&E about the top 100 people of the century.