Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In reagrds to Caliban.

The character of Caliban isn't like any other character we've come across in class this semester. Sure, we have delved into fairies and potions in our earlier readings but nothing quite like Caliban. I find him particularly interesting, he's probably my biggest motivation to keep reading the play out of all the characters in The Tempest. I think that derives from a lack of solid information about his character.

He reveals his background story in the first act of the play. Explaining how Prospero thought his mother was evil and how he found him locked up. Upon Prospero "freeing" Caliban, he became enslaved too him, Prospero regarded this as his payment for his kind deed. It proves to have made Caliban bitter and resentful of Prospero, and we see this in his language towards him. After Prospero takes Miranda with him to talk with Caliban they begin to harass each other and around 1.2.327 "As wicked dew as e'er my mother brushed With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen Drop on you both! A southwest blow on ye And blister you all o'er!" They most certainly are not teasing each other as some people do with good friends. Their is a genuine hatred between them and Caliban expands our understanding of this hatred further in the third act when he tried to plot with Antonio and Sebastian to kill Prospero in his sleep. Though, Caliban is not exactly a hero or a perfect person, and Prospero's harsh treatment of him isnt entirely unjustified. We learn towards the end of the second act in the first scene that Caliban tried to rape Miranda, Prospero's daughter. That distorts an idea of who is right and who is wrong, also raising the question of good and evil.

Caliban's appearance is something I find intriguing as well. He is described by Stephano as being a man-fish which only puts a slew of sundry images into me head. I scoured the internet to find some images of him and found all kinds of interpretations. I also learned that he might not have necessarily been a monster but possibly a disfigured person.Perhaps being locked up in a small space while his body was growing had done something to his bone structure, who knows, but he does have psychical differences. Another thing that caught my attention, I learned Caliban is an anagram for the Spanish word cannibal, and in in the English Romani language it translates to "black" or "with blackness." Both of these ideas begin to point fingers at who is evil and who is good. The attempted rape, the disfigurement, and cannibal anagram and name translation hint too much that Caliban might be a strong source of evil in this play.

Shakespeare: The Great American Author

Though the title of this post is exaggerative, many of the events and themes in The Tempest reflect some of the tropes associated with early America. In a time where the presence of the new world was a mysterious and strange prospect to Europeans, Shakespeare plays on the world's curiosities of America and raises questions of its savage setting in conflict with its civilized invaders.

Shakespeare definitely plays up the mysterious quality of the new world by imbuing it with a supernatural and mystical quality. Every character that inhabits the island at the start of the play has a mystical quality to their nature. Prospero was exiled there for his practice of mysticism, Caliban is the son of a banished witch, and Ariel and the other spirits are natural inhabitants. Miranda is arguable the only character who lacks a supernaturalness. Though she is the daughter or Prospero, she does not seem to inherit an interest in magic, or at least she is ignorant of it. Being born on the island, I would argue that she might represent a more settled future for the new world. Her love for Ferdinand could represent a new generation that will settle and tame these wild lands.

Caliban, of course, represents an American native. His character listing is "a savage and deformed native of the island". In Shakespeare's time the idea of the "savages" of the new world brought many curiosities to the nature of the less civilized natives, which the playwright cultivated in the character. By Prospero, or the Europeans, Caliban was educated and knowledged of "civilization", just as the real natives. European colonists sought to educate these natives and bring them into their lifestyle. Eventually, natives resisted the europeans' control causing strife between the two groups. And as Caliban overstepped Prospero in endevouring Miranda, he was cast from a student to a slave as punishment. Caliban cursing "This is my island!" echoes the voice felt by natives from colonization.

One other minor connection to American ideals in the play is the roles of Trinculo and Stefano. In a world without kings, these two lower class fools take the drastic transformation in "masters" of Caliban. This new world didn't have empires or rulers, and the colonists who eventually came were a low class society. Though Shakespeare plays the idea up to a comedic plot, these two represent the lack of class that existed in the new world.


A Look Back

In this episode of Forgetful Tyler actually blogging, I would like to (finally) take a look back at the blog posts that I have completed in the time of this course. To start, my experience with blogging has almost always taken the same route each and every time: wild enthusiasm at the beginning degenerating into "oh wait, I have one of these?" It's happened to me with Blogspot, Twitter, Tumblr, and even that old relic of a music Myspace page. Perhaps I missed the boat on the internet as a social tool and I still see it as an emporium of funny cat pictures. Perhaps I need to buy a planner so I don't forget to blog for the sake of followers, a portfolio of writing or, my goodness, my GPA! Whatever the case is, as a writer I should find a way to better connect myself to this tool. It's the future, after-all.

"Meaningful LOLs" was a great opening blast. Shots at Mel Gibson, a videoclip where everyone thought I was one of the actors, I noticed Shakespeare's awesome use of contrast in A Midsummer Night's Dream. "Hollywood Shakespeare" took the wonderful turn where I discovered my research paper topic (the comparison between Hollywood and BBC handling of Shakespearean works) and found myself intrigued with how the big screen handles the works of the Bard. "Game of Catch-Up" found me pondering the absolute evil of King Richard III (and possibly being the first academic scholar to use the term "gnarliest" in a description).

And all the sudden, I see that as the semester raged on, my enthusiasm for blogging vanished as per my star-crossed relationship with social tools. Neverminding the possibility of a late-night shock of Tyler humor hitting the blog in this last two weeks, I find myself on the fence about this tool. As awesome as it is to have a venue to consistently write about Shakespearean works as I digest them, it gets pretty daunting to consistently keep a solid voice all throughout without falling into the world of dreadful posts. I'll figure you out, blogging. One day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Caliban & Miranda

Like Othello, Caliban is a character who is always being characterized/acted upon by others. We first meet him indirectly,  through Prospero, as “Caliban, my slave,” and Miranda as “a villain, sir” who she “do[es] not love to look on.” The very first words that follow his name brand him as a slave and villain. This identification of the character through the descriptions of others continues when he meets Trinculo and Stefano. Act II provides us with a deluge of  nouns with which Caliban is designated: fish, islander, dead Indian, devil, savage, a present, cat, servant, moon-calf, subject, and most often, monster. His identity transforms from that of an animal to something supernatural to a definitive and lesser “other.” Stefano and Trinculo never once affirm Caliban as a man, (indeed when Trinculo utters the word in relation to him it is followed by a question mark and Stefano’s use of it is “man-monster”), while Caliban only identifies himself as such when he’s addressing Prospero, telling him to “get a new man” -- meaning get a new slave. The word’s signification, then, is changed when applied to him: it does not mean “man” as in “human being” but “man” as in servant, as in being who is able to be bounded. (Caliban also calls himself Cacaliban; where does his name come from? Did Sycorax give it to him, or is it something Prospero imposed on him?) The irony of Trinculo associating Caliban to an animal (and the play’s general characterization of him as being close to nature, which is illustrated through his willingness to show both Prospero and Stefano how to live on the island) is that Caliban is being tortured and tormented by that very nature. Prospero uses the supposed abundance of the island--which Gonzalo fantasizes will sustain his utopia of idleness--and animals/nature (apes, hedgehogs, adders) against “his slave”  in order to control him.    
Caliban’s dehumanization is highlighted by the fact that both Trinculo and Stefano immediately see him in terms of profit: Trinculo affirms that if he were in England he would display him so that he could fetch “a piece of silver” and even though Stefano does not mistake him for an animal he still understands that “he shall pay for him that hath him, and soundly.” Both commodify him, both immediately recognize him for the profit that can be derived from him and so his ownership of self never even has the chance to be questioned--he is immediately and always belonging to others. Their fascination with Caliban’s body (“Legged like a man and his fins like arms!” “some monster of the isles with four legs”) and their insistence on displaying him for scopophilic fulfillment in return for monetary gain recalls the historical practices of early modern England, where natives would be brought over to the motherland to be ogled and marveled at, which in turn reminds me of the popularity of travel narratives in the 18th century. In fact, much of this play is reminding me of Robinson Crusoe, a text that was written over a hundred years later.
Like when Antonio remarks that “past is prologue,” Trinculo’s and Stefano’s interactions with Caliban are constrained by the past: they act towards him the way they know their fellow Englishmen have acted in similar situations. Likewise, Caliban’s past experiences with Prospero dictate his interactions with the two fools. He only knows Prospero as someone who exerts power over him, someone who hurts him. When the two fools don’t hurt him, then, they are comparably much better thanProspero--they are gods, and if they are gods and he already serves Prospero, then the only relationship he can have with them is also one of servitude. Interestingly, while everyone else in the play is trying to attain power, Caliban at first seems to be giving power/submitting to it by calling Stefano his god. A closer look will reveal that he may actually be doing the exact opposite: by calling Stefano his god he rejects Prospero and establishes his own agency. Also, he’s using Stefano to get rid of Prospero (“Revenge it on him”); he’s so far been unable to kill Prospero and now he wants this newcomer to do it for him. This is emphasized by how he gets his “god’ to punish Trinculo. He uses a kind of divide-and-conquer technique with the two, wherein he allocates more power to Stefano, thereby giving Stefano the right to enforce that power over Trinculo, as evidenced by when he demands that Stefano “give him blows/And take his bottle from him,” which makes Trinculo lower in hierarchy than even Caliban. As subject he must show deference to Stefano, but as leader/King, Stefano has responsibilities he must see to, the same responsibilities that Prospero ignored when he was Duke of Milan, and the same responsibilities Gonzalo hilariously divests himself of in his utopia. It makes me question Stefano’s claim that “His daughter and I will be king and queen.” If Caliban would not allow Prospero to own the island, then would he allow Stefano? I cannot help but notice how much “monster” sounds like “master.”


Both Caliban and Miranda are subject to Prospero. While Miranda calls him “father” Caliban calls him “master” and the only thing that keeps the two words from being synonyms is that Prospero pets one while he tortures the other. Just as he determined Caliban’s relationship with Stefano and Trinculo, he determines Miranda’s relationship with Fredinand. He doesn’t simply determine it, he orchestrates it. What is most disturbing about their relationship is that Prospero controls her desire (like Oberon did to Titania in AMND) and  she is not free to relieve that desire ("At mine unworthiness that dare not offer/What I desire to give, and much less take/What I shall die to want.”) Like Caliban, Miranda has tangible worth. She is valued for her virginity and she is aware of it: “my modesty, the jewel of my dower.” But how did Miranda come to value her “modesty” so? Was it because Caliban tried to rape her? That certainly colors it, but I believe it is also because Prospero taught her to value it. We have been emphasizing how Miranda has taught Caliban to speak and how that is in effect a way of controlling his identity and his worldview. But who taught Miranda? She was a baby when she came to the island. Prospero taught her. Prospero gives language to both Miranda and Caliban, and like his paradoxical relationship with Ariel in which he sets him free only to enslave him again, his “gift” allows his Miranda and Caliban to speak while simultaneously marking them as living within the world he's constructed. Their language is a tool of both subjugation and insubordination. Caliban curses as a way to lay claim to a language that is not his own; Miranda does the same by disobeying her father by giving her love to Ferdinand. It is a hollow claim on her part, because in the end she is simply doing as he wants her to, but the crucial fact is that she remains unaware of this; in her mind she really is rebelling against him. Unfortunately she seems to be establishing another disturbing relationship with a male in which she’ll either marry Ferdinand or "die [his] maid." He has similar sentiments for her, and I have to ask, is there no way to express love without making oneself subservient to the loved one?


Throughout the play it is Caliban who is portrayed by various characters as “the other.” However, they also recognize him as a native of the island. Caliban insists that the island is his, that Prospero stole it from him. If when we are in England foreigners who come to the country are made to be others, then why is it that on this island the foreigners who arrive are still the norm against which the native is measured? Should not Prospero, Miranda, Stefano, etc, with their initial ignorance about survival on the island and their preoccupation with the world outside of the island be the “others” in The Tempest? Or does the island remain simply a representation/metaphor for England itself? 

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Within the first two acts of the play we are given conflicting views of the island. Because of this, one can't help but to wonder if there is a reason for this or if Shakespeare is just trying to confuse us? While the men are all shipwrecked on the same island, you wouldn't know that by their descriptions of it because they all see it differently. So much to so that they actually argue with each other over what it actually looks like, even though they are all there together. For example, although Adrian perceives the island to be "uninhabitable, and almost inaccessible" (2.1.38), he continues to point out that the air breathes upon them "most sweetly" (2.1.46). However, Sebastian is quick to differ when he replies, "As if it had lungs, and rotten ones" (2.1.48). Antonio seems to side more with Sebastian than Adrian because he comments that the island is "perfumed by a fen" (2.1.49), meaning a bog. However, Gonzalo's positive outlook leads him to see the island as "advantageous to life"(2.1.50). And the difference in opinions continues when Gonzalo comments, "How lush and lusty the grass looks! How green!" yet Antonio sees the grass as "tawny" (2.1.43-45), meaning brown in color.
The conflicting point of views can be seen as confusing to the reader but I think that is why Shakespeare chooses to do so. The uncertainty of the setting adds to the wonder of the island and the overall feeling and tone of the play. The Tempest revolves around magic and mystery and both are heightened through Shakespeare's use of ambiguity. The island can be seen as some sort of majestic realm and as a reader, we are also given the opportunity to use our imaginations as to what the island looks like. Just like the characters of the play, I'm sure that we all have our own ideas and images of what it looks like in our heads, and I think that Shakespeare intended to do so.

Power struggles

Shakespeare starts off the Tempest differently than the previous plays we have read this semester. We learn right off the bat that social status means nothing during a shipwreck when the boatswain speaks to Gonzalo. He merely states that Gonzalo is no better than anyone else on the boat during the fierce storm and unless he plans on helping than he needs to take his place back to his cabin. I find this a bit odd only due to the fact that the storm along with the shipwreck took place because Prospero lost his high social status and decided to fight for it. It's as if Shakespeare is toying with the idea that social status isn't always permanent.

Shakespeare also has Prospero using magic which is what got him into the mess he is in in the first place. He was forced out of his kingdom along with his daughter, Miranda, by ship which is what brought him to the island where he now resides. The funny thing is that it was his studying of magic that made his brother take control and become the duke. However, it is interesting to see that it may just be the magic that will gain Prospero back his title. It's almost as if Shakespeare is guiding us to see how Prospero's revenge is somewhat ironic. The people that follow Antonio all happened to be on the ship and are now segrated among the island that Prospero occupys.

It will be interesting to see if Prospero's plan will follow through or if his little sidekick, Ariel will make a mistake. It all comes down to who wants the power and control more. Antonio was sneaky enough to steal the title of Duke from his brother, but it seems that Prospero refuses to let it go, no matter the expense. He's determined to win even if it means using his naive daughter to get what he wants. We'll find out who's the sneakier of the two. I think at this point Prospero may have the upper hand.

All The King's Horses and All The King's Men

All The King’s Horses and All The King’s Men

It seems that even being shipwrecked doesn’t stop some men from being just what they are. This scene right here in Act 2 scene one serves two purposes along its dialogue. It is said by they themselves that Antonio is not usually serious: “I am more serious than my custom” (2.1.215). Which shows that he’s usually joking around, which is shown by Antonio and Sebastian earlier in the scene. Gonzolo is trying to comfort Alonso, the king because they have obviously just been shipwrecked. The normal thing to do would be to try and comfort each other. The usual reaction, which Alonso shows when he worries about his son, is to wonder who else has survived this tragedy.

Instead Antonio and Sebastian seem to be having a good ol’ time. They are, in asides, making jokes and bets. At one point Antonio says this “Fie, what a spendthrift is he of his tongue!” (2.1.23-24). He says this about Gonzalo about his efforts to comfort he king and even says he could tell his time by this man’s speech, seeing as he speaks constantly even though Alonso doesn’t seem to want to hear it or be comforted by it.

This seems familiar to us, the two men on the side joking around and making bets. It is, in a way, a theme that transcends time because we still see it in books and movies to this day. Some things simply do not change as time goes on. It also provides a bit of a comic interlude. All we had known, truly, about Antonio before was that he was an usurping brother who took the rightful Duke-ship from his brother and sent him to this island that he is currently on. This in a way, confirms the nature we had begun to suspect in the way that he and Sebastian make fun of a person trying to comfort their king. It shows that he is not the most kind hearted person, more prone to causing jokes, making bets and the like.

He also lectures Sebastian not to be lazy. He says that lazy people end up at the bottom of the pile, when otherwise they would be at the top of the heap. This seems to be Antonio’s way of seeing things, and reinforces how he ended up with the title of Duke from his brother. Instead of just taking the title temporarily from his brother while he studied his books like Antonio was supposed to, he instead worked hard and took it from his brother. If he had been lazy he would not have been able to take this away.

So this scene serves two purposes. It shows that some things will never change no matter how much time goes on. This is shown by how the theme of the two men joking around stays strong in this. It also serves to reinforce Antonio’s character. It shows us that he indeed seems the sort to have been able to take the title of Duke from Prospero. It makes his character a set one, which is important.

Magic: Why here? Why Now?

While reading the Tempest I cannot stop comparing this story to that of The Tragety of Othello, The Moore of Venice. Within that play there was a point in which that Othello was accused of witchcraft to win the love of the sweet Desdemona; more importantly, the accusation of such meant the fall of Othello from power. Within “The Tempest” I am inclined to notice the lack of concern and repercussions for those who do practice some type of magic within this play
Propspero admits within the first scene that he is the cause of the storm in which had just occurred. At no point from that point on is he threatened or judged because of such. Also, there is the magical character Ariel who is not hunted down at any point (however Ariel tends to remind me of the magical characters within “Mid-Summer Night’s Dream” and how they were also accepted). Prospero in Act III again is part of a magical alliance with Ariel and again there is no hint towards a problem for Prospero for this alliance.
The inclusion of magic within Comedy’s like “Mid-Summer” is somewhat easily accepted due to the light humor of the entire play itself. However, the inclusion of magic within a Tragedy is somewhat less clear when trying to understand the relationship between what is acceptable or real for that matter. Within “The Tempest” the inclusion of magic continually adds to the plot in ways that were merely touched upon within “Othello”. It is my wonder as to whether or not magic should be within this play and if it should be included then what are the reasons that it was not accepted within “Othello”? I have come to a few short conclusions.
The inclusion of magic within this play adds a slight mystery to the tragedy that is not apparent in any of the other plays that Shakespeare has written. As such this is increasing the intrigue for those who are reading or watching this play. Magic can always be an author’s aid when he/she wants to add something different into the story, because of such “The Tempest” has another layer of intrigue within it. Another reason could have been that due to the abnormality of the first scene, Shakespeare wanted to continue the idea of abnormality into the story itself. Thus, magic was inserted into the story line.
I do not believe that there is no specific reason for Shakespeare to add magic into this specific play. My only question is why.

Ominous beginnings

The start of Shakespeare's play The Tempest is different from other plays we have read this semester. The storm at the beginning of the play leaves the audience with an ominous feeling. As discussed in class when one comes upon any sort of storm in what they are reading the mood of the piece of in this case the play changes.
To have a storm at the opening of the play makes me feel that the remainder of the play is going to be either a pleasing ending or one of many problems to come. Not often do you see the storm come first but it is usual calm before a storm which leads me to believe that maybe the order had been reversed and because of this storm at the start we may come across happier endings.
What also came to mind as I read this opening act of The Tempest was our in class assignment for creating the scene from Richard III. Most people picked the scene to take place on a stormy evening which gave the scene more of an impact on it's audience which is another thing that I felt the opening act of The Tempest did.
Will this storm lead to happier endings or is it just a sign of more problems to come? This powerful and different act has brought a great deal of questions to be answered.

Shakespeare: Poet, Author, Playwright...Psychological Theorist?

I’m the oldest of four children and have always loved hearing little anecdotes or length descriptions about the faults and virtues of those in my similar position as firstborn. In my Adolescent Psychology course, I further delved into the behavioral patterns of children based on their birth order through the theories of Alfred Adler. According to Adler, firstborns often spend their formative years as the sole child, and in this position are constantly fussed over by their parents. With the arrival of the next child, the first born is suddenly no longer their parents’ only concern, and they often spend the remainder of their lives constantly requiring their parents’ recognition and approval. Adler also describes second-born children as being competitive and acutely aware of their older sibling’s superior status as firstborn. At the same time, second-born children are also aware of their ability to “de-throne” their older sibling. Could Adler have based his theories on birth order around The Tempest’s Prospero and Antonio?

Prospero is described in The Persons of the Play, as being “the rightful Duke of Milan,” a position he held via primogeniture (3064). Prospero enjoyed many of the fineries that come with being a Duke and the firstborn child. He was well liked by the people of Milan and enjoyed studying “the liberal arts” (1.2.73) while he had his brother, Antonio, care for his “state” (1.2.70). Prosper never considered his brother would usurp his power, being that he was so loved by Prospero. Like Adler’s theory, Prospero believed this love was enough. In relating this story to his daughter, Miranda, Prospero exposes his birth order further in his constant need for attention and agreement. Throughout his story he repeatedly questions Miranda, asking “Dost thou attend me?” (1.2.78), “Thou attend’st not!” (1.2.87), “Dost thou hear?” (1.2.106). Despite Miranda showing no signs of inattention, he continually insists that she reinforce her interest in his story.

Antonio, too, shows signs of fulfilling Adler’s theory regarding the second-born child. It is obvious that Prospero loved his brother and was content in his studies while Antonio controlled is affairs, but this is not enough for Antonio, the “false brother” (1.2.92). Antonio chooses to act on Prospero’s unassuming behavior and seizes the opportunity to bring down his brother. Prospero relates how Antonio, who “having into truth, by telling oft / Made such a sinner of his memory / To credit his own lie, he did believe / he was indeed the Duke” (1.2.100-03), easily lied about his true nature to his brother in order to get what he wanted . Through primogeniture, Antonio has been denied the dukedom of Milan, but instead of simply murdering his brother and taking over the throne, he chooses instead to villainously lie and deceive Prospero and then casts him and his young daughter out to sea.

How is it that Shakespeare’s Prospero and Antonio possess characteristics that fall in line with Alfred Adler’s theories, hundreds of years before he created them? It is obvious to me that Shakespeare is a literary master, but his concepts and depictions of human nature are so incredibly well formed that he may as well be considered a psychologist! It makes you wonder who really inspired Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson and other noted psychologists?

Magic

The Tempest is a unique play in the Shakespeare canon for throughout it embodies the element of magic. Prospero has long studied the magical arts and seems to be well learned. He is a very interesting character for it is hard for one to say whether his intentions are good or not. Yes, he was wrongfully exiled from his Dukedom, but at times he seems to abuse his power. As he recounts the story of their journeys to Miranda, it seems that he forcefully puts her to sleep so that he may conduct his business with Ariel, one of his magical servants, without her knowledge.
Ariel is also a very interesting figure in this play. He is in the service of Prospero for he is the one who relieved him of his previous containment, but at times one gets the feeling that Prospero is a little over bearing. "Dost thou forget / from what a torment I did free thee?" 1.2 299-300, he asks him in a conversation which he seems to be letting Ariel to not forget what he owes Prospero.
The treatment of Caliban is also very intriguing. While the treatment he receives is justified, for at one time he attempted to rape Miranda, Caliban represents more than what is seen at the surface. As Oscar Wilde famously coined, "The nineteenth- century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth- century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass." Caliban can come to represent, in many ways, a lower or middle class of population; people who are not necessarily affluent or rich. The hard working people of a society who don't receive the proper respect, in comparison to the upper class, being Ariel. The struggle between these two, while at the same time in opposition to Prospero, but still abiding by his rule, sets up a very interesting scenario not given its proper due in this play.
Noting that this play takes place in the span of one day, unlike most other of Shakespeare's plays, combined with the players we have met and what they represent, this play is showing itself to be one of the more intriguing ones to come from the pen of William and I know for a fact that it does not disappoint.

Sound it out

From its opening sequence’s stage directions “On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard.” (Act 1. 1.1), it immediately catapults the audience into a world where events are already in motion. Shakespeare does not send in pages or lords or witches to clue us in with word. He thrusts past the phonological into sounds. Although these sounds have no place in our phonology they still hold meaning! There is language within the thunderstorm. A thunderstorm means danger, mystery, possibility, chance, and destruction. Shakespeare destroys the world of the characters on the boat and sets the audience up to be rebuilt all by having a thunder storm as the first aural experience had by the audience.
Moving away from simple stage directions and into the words themselves, the phonemes hold weight. It is argued by actor, teacher, director and author John Basil of the American Globe Theatre, that the sounds are equally if not more important than words themselves in Shakespeare (Will Power, Basil). It’s not just the words that manifest into meaning but an entire sound scape that engulfs the audience in thought and emotion. Take a look at Prospero reprimanding Ariel in 1.2:
"This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child
And here was left by the sailors. Thou, my slave,
As thou report'st thyself, wast then her servant;
And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorr'd commands,
Refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee,
By help of her more potent ministers
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprison'd thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years; within which space she died
And left thee there; where thou didst vent thy groans
As fast as mill-wheels strike. Then was this island--
Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp hag-born--not honour'd with
A human shape."

I've italicized the consonant sounds of "p" "b" and "t"( in the final position only). It's fun to look at the sounds "p" and "b" together because in phonetics they are considered cognates of one another. Meanings they are identical in how they are formed and produced the only difference between them is one is given vibration ("b"), and one is not("p"). They are both bilabial plosives, or rather produced by "the lips are closing and blocking the expulsion of air from the mouth; the lips are then opened and the air rushes out." ( http://teflworldwiki.com/index.php?title=Bilabial_Plosives).Think about the letter "t" in isolation, if you create the sound enough times eventually it begins to sound like spitting! Adding this sound to the ends of the word creates the effect of spitting your words out. With the use of all of the bilabials and final ts in this speech Prospero appears to be exploding and spitting with Ariel. Perhaps it is time to stop thinking of Shakespeare as an playwright and begin to think about him as a sound designer.

The struggle to power

Throughout our readings this semester, the struggle for power has been evident in many of Shakespeare’s plays. In Richard III and Hamlet actions of power hungry characters dominates the plot. As we begin reading The Tempest similar actions have developed which insinuate a usurpation of power by family members. Is it any coincidence that in each of these plays a brother seeks to take another siblings power as ruler? In Richard III Richard of Gloucester schemes in eliminating contenders for the throne. Not only does he kill his brother but his nephews as well. In Hamlet King Hamlets brother Claudius kills him in order to gain power as ruler of Denmark. Lastly in The Tempest we see Antonio take his brother Prospero’s position as Duke of Milan. It is interesting to note that in each of these instances it is a brother usurping another brother’s power and authority. Specifically however I think is the role in which revenge plays in all these acts of usurpation. In each of these plays there lies a certain amount of jealousy which correspondingly drives the character to overthrow the other. Specifically in The Tempest Antonio’s jealousy of Prospero’s hierarchy and status is a driving factor in his siege. In act 1 scene 2 Prospero recounts his brother’s siege,

He was indeed the Duke. Out o’th substitution,

And executing th’outward face of royalty

With all prerogative, hence his ambition growing- (1.2.103-105)

Prospero continues in explaining that his brother would eventually completely take over his duties as Duke, having him banished and exiled. These actions and this usurpation are significant elements to the plot of The Tempest. Without this Prospero would not be on the island causing havoc and chaos. This chaos is a mode of revenge, something which we can assume will continue throughout our reading of this play. Similarly are the instigating factors in both Richard and Claudius’s actions. I think that the way Shakespeare has jealously, power struggle and revenge work together creates the exciting and driving force behind each of these plays. The drive for revenge in each of these plays is what excites the drama and instigates the action. Similarly the power struggle between family members creates an interesting dramatic element. Hamlets need to avenge his father’s death instigates the deaths of many others and creates the excitement of the play. Richards need to have revenge on all those who had wronged him and to simply pursue negative behaviors due to greed drive the action in Richard III. Without the struggle for power none of these plays would have been written nor be exciting. The struggle to power is an important element of these plays and I think are important and defining characteristics to Shakespeare’s work.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hamlet Origins

I thought this was kind of interesting when i came upon it. I had no idea that Shakespeare got the idea for Hamlet from a Norse Legend so i figured it might be nice to share it with y'all if you didn't know either.


I got this from: Shakespeare Online

Sources for Hamlet
Hamlet is based on a Norse legend composed by Saxo Grammaticus in Latin around 1200 AD. The sixteen books that comprise Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum, or History of the Danes, tell of the rise and fall of the great rulers of Denmark, and the tale of Amleth, Saxo's Hamlet, is recounted in books three and four. In Saxo's version, King Rorik of the Danes places his trust in two brothers, Orvendil and Fengi. The brothers are appointed to rule over Jutland, and Orvendil weds the king's beautiful daughter, Geruth. They have a son, Amleth. But Fengi, lusting after Orvendil's new bride and longing to become the sole ruler of Jutland, kills his brother, marries Geruth, and declares himself king over the land. Amleth is desperately afraid, and feigns madness to keep from getting murdered. He plans revenge against his uncle and becomes the new and rightful king of Jutland. Saxo's story was first printed in Paris in 1514, and Francois de Belleforest translated it into French in 1570, as part of his collection of tragic legends, Histoires Tragiques. Saxo's text did not appear in English until 1608, so either Shakespeare was fluent in French or he used another English source based on the French translation. Generally, it is accepted that Shakespeare used the earlier play based on this Norse legend by Thomas Kyd, called the Ur-Hamlet. There is no surviving copy of the Ur-Hamlet and the only information known about the play is that it was performed on the London stage; that it was a tragedy; that there was a character in the play named Hamlet; and a ghost who cried "Hamlet, revenge!"



Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/hamletsources.html

Female Relationships in Hamlet

I've had some difficulty trying to expand the flurry of fragments that intrigued me in Hamlet into a full blog. To finally take a stab at it, I was considering the way Shakespeare portrays relationships between women, starting from the relationship between Gertrude and Ophelia. Gertrude is the one to break the news that Opehlia has died, "There is a willow grows aslant a brook...therewith fantastic garlands did she make...till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death" (4.7, 139). Gertrude mourns Ophelia, yet it seems to me that Gertrude is another character who failed Ophelia by not reaching out to her before it was too late.

Both Gertrude and Ophelia had received harsh treatment from the males of the play, namely Hamlet, who viciously ridiculed Ophelia to "join a nunnery" (ie, "You're a skank.") and equivalently insulted Gertrude, "As bad as kill a king and marry his brother" (3.4, 25). Gertrude and Ophelia have been name-called and overpowered by their male counterparts comparably. However, there are fewer scenes of the two women commiserating with one another or sharing their woes, as Desdemona and her attendant, Emilia, would discuss their theories of vexing husbands and men in Desdemona's bed chamber.
Gertrude may have been honestly oblivious to Ophelia's plight and grieving, for Gertrude admitted that she was expecting to lay flowers at Ophelia's bridal bed but surely not at her funeral. Even so, I am disappointed in the lack of camaraderie between the two women- they could have formed an alliance that would have strengthened them both.

Picking up on Shakespearean References
In my English Literature II class we are onto the modernist period of writing and just finished reading T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land". In one of the poem's, "A Game of Chess", the barroom scene of a labor-class woman insensitively revealing the private life of her friend, Lil. The narrator divulges extremely personal details of Lil's disjointed marraige,
but get to my Shakespearean point, the poem concludes with the narrator and girlfriends departing with "good byes" which echo Ophelia's farewell prior to her suicide, "good night, ladies, good night sweet ladies, good night, good night."
In the context of the poem, Eliot was drawing from the emotionally-charged scene of "Hamlet" in order to convey his own female characters in a bleak and dire world.

What stood out to me was the opportunity to see Shakespeare through the eyes of another writer. The in-depth analysis of Shakespeare's works that comes from our class I consider invaluable, but within a Shakespeare-concentrated class I sometimes forget how far reaching Shakespeare's characters and themes touched others besides myself and how often he is echoed in subsequent great works literature for centuries after.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Church of Denmark

Søren Kierkegaard is said to be the “father of existentialism.” But this post is not about existentialism, its about the church. The church is a character in Hamlet and has a great deal of influence on the events and emotions evoked in the play. The ghost has come back because he was not given his last rights, last confession, or a proper burial. Laertes and his “followers” are outraged that Polonius has not been given a proper burial. All these rules about burial and afterlife are imposed by the church. Kierkegaard is Danish (like Hamlet) and wrote about his thoughts on the Church of Denmark. The Church of Denmark was like a government institution that was funded by taxes that everyone paid. Therefore making everyone a Christian because they all paid the tax and were both individually and collectively supporting the church. For Kierkegaard this was like being a Christian out of obligation not out of faith. I found that discussion particularly interesting when relating it to Hamlet. Is everyone up in arms out of faith or obligation??? For the characters that see the ghost, seeing is now believing and one could argue that they are propelled to action out of faith. But for those who have not seen the ghost and do not have any evidential proof, I have to question their motives. Are they angry that tradition has been ignored? Are they outraged because they don’t want to look bad in the eyes of society and the church? Or do they act out of faith and devotion? These are also interesting actors choices if one were to play the role of Laertes or Hamlet.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Everyone's out for Revenge

While reading "Hamlet" I have realized that 'revenge' is a theme that constantly seems to pop up. It's one of the larger themes of the play and ultimately plays a role in the stories development. Revenge also appears to have a lot of control over the actions of several characters in the play.

The play starts out with King Hamlet's ghost asking that his son Hamlet avenge his death by killing King Claudius, his murderer. When Hamlet finds out the truth behind his fathers death he pretty much vows to take his revenge. Just killing Claudius isn't enough though, he needs to go to hell for what he's done in order to become king. Although Hamlet intentionally acts like he's crazy, i do believe that his need for revenge eventually drives him to true insanity. Revenge begins to cloud his judgement and he eventually ends up killing an innocent man. Hamlet doesn't seem to harbor any guilt for his reckless murder of Polonius and even hides the body, pretty much denying polonius a proper burial.

This is where 'revenge' becomes a cycle. Laertes wants revenge for his fathers death and so he now targets Hamlet. Laertes' need for revenge turns him into a tool for Claudius's use. Now Claudius will be able to get rid of Hamlet by using Laertes, Claudius is probably thinking that he will get out of this whole situation squeaky clean. But we haven't read up to that point yet so who's to say how it will all turn out.

Forthinbras is another character controlled by revenge. He wants to avenge his fathers death by going to war with Denmark and killing Claudius. His uncle finds out about his plans and temporarily sends him to jail until he decides to target Poland instead. I personally don't believe he's just going to let go of his revenge and fight for a seemingly useless piece of land in Poland. I get the feeling that Denmark is still his ultimate target. I can't say for sure but that's what would make the most sense to me.

Thus the power of 'Revenge' once it gets a hold of you, it fully controls your actions and clouds your better judgement.

Hamlet: A Hero or Not A Hero (That Is The Question!)

The majority of the plays we have read this semester have had clearly defined roles of protagonists and antagonists. For instance, King Richard III was as crooked as his back and Othello stood as the foreigner led astray by emotions. However, our current play of Hamlet raises some interesting questions about the namesake character. With Claudius firmly in place as the guaranteed evil, does this immediately thrust the Danish prince into the position of hero? It seems like a given, but as per usual Shakespearean way, a wrench or three has been thrown into the system.

Unlike your typical hero, a general malaise hangs over Hamlet like hideous curtains; he is consistently down and out and wearing his emotions on his sleeves, shoulders and belt-buckle. Does this create a challenge in gaining the admiration of the audience? A more determined, headstrong figure might possibly do the job, but I feel that Hamlet sits on the fence between revengeful nephew and sad sap who could kill either the villain or himself at any given moment. This, I feel, compromises his standing as the classical hero of the story.

In addition, there is also the issue about his interpretation of the ghost's desire to "remember him." Hamlet takes this as a means to avenge the death of his father, but the question of reliability arises. Is the ghost's insistence of the good kind, or is it laden with a sort of evil that comes as baggage with the paranormal. Spirits in Shakespearean plays often come with an omen of death; is the death in question only Claudius or the entirety of Denmark's royalty? I feel this mucks up the idea of Hamlet being a hero. Only of the absolute tragic kind can a hero's action lead to pure destruction on all sides.

So, I shoot the question out to the entire Shakespeare class and, since this is the internet, the whole wide world: is Hamlet a true heroic figure?

The Ladies

As I was thinking about my blog post for this week, I realized that there is one major component of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark that I’m pretty disappointed in – the women. Throughout the readings, I think I’ve been expecting Queen Gertrude and Ophelia to come out of the background and make some sort of profound difference in the turn of events of this play. This is the first play this semester in which I actually dislike the female characters. There is not one woman in all of them that I found myself really siding against, even when it comes to the slightly exasperating and oblivious characters like Helena and Hermia. When it comes to Gertrude and Ophelia, however, I’m thoroughly annoyed.

Gertrude is a puppet. I felt for Hamlet when he grieved over how quickly his mother remarried, but I had hope that perhaps Gertrude was forced into it and would redeem herself in the end. She seems to be doing the opposite. When Hamlet kills Polonius, instead of protecting the son she publicly claims to love so much, she runs directly to Claudius to tell him what has happened. She has complete power to keep anyone from finding out that Hamlet had anything to do with the death, but instead she is extremely quick to ensure the destruction of Hamlet’s reputation and life by confessing his deed to her new king. It’s not that I don’t like seeing a female villain (in fact, that would be very intriguing). The problem I have with Gertrude is that she does nothing for herself, and all her bad deeds seem to stem from a man. Even if she became one of Shakespeare’s most evil characters, if she did it on her own I would not resent her so much. Instead, she does everything Claudius wants her to do, and is so easily manipulated.

This brings me to Ophelia, who is wimpy and pathetic. Literally everything she does in this play revolves around Hamlet. The scene where her father and brother tell her not to fall in love with him, the scene when Ophelia interacts with the “mad” Hamlet, the fact that she goes insane over something Hamlet has done: it’s all about him! Even when Polonius and Laertes discuss her, it’s regarding Hamlet. It kills me that this woman has such little identity of her own. At the end of this reading of Act IV, she kills herself because Hamlet has killed her father, and I’m left feeling very confused as to why she is in this play at all. Before I even read the play, I knew the name Ophelia, so I expected her to have more of an impact on things, but I can’t help but dislike her at this point for being so unimportant. Both Gertrude and Ophelia have disappointed me now, but as the play finishes up, at least Gertrude has a chance to redeem herself a bit.

Suspect Characters

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is an interesting study in story structure. Othello and Richard III begin with the direction of the plot in the first scene of Act I. Richard and Iago let the audience know their intent from the start. They are men who are discontent with their lot in life; Richard wants power and Iago seeks revenge. We know from the start that these are men of action. Hamlet, on the other hand, begins with a ghost who does not speak and Shakespeare leaves his audience dangling during the first scene of Act I.

Shakespeare does not lay the plot on a silver platter for the audience but instead he makes them wait. Hamlet, the hero, and Claudius, the villain are introduced in the same scene. Leaving us still dangling, Shakespeare has Claudius interpret Hamlet for the audience. “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death/ The memory be green, and that it us befitted/ To bear out hearts in grief and our whole kingdom/ To be contracted in one brow of woe,/ Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature/ That we with wisest sorrow think on him/ Together with remembrance of ourselves.” (1.2.1-7) Hamlet, we are told, exists outside of the normal state of mourning for his father.

This brilliance of this opening scene is that Claudius speaks with full authority. His speech is rational and sound. He speaks as a king. An audience watching this scene on stage has no reason to doubt his authenticity. There are no angry Danes seeking to amass an army against Claudius. There are no asides from those at court telling us that we should not doubt that this character as the rightful king of Denmark. All seems ordered and right in the kingdom. Even Fortinbras of Norway does not march on Denmark to place a rightful heir on the throne but to settle a property dispute.

Claudius, as the sanctioned heir receives the throne and his brother’s wife as queen. “Nor have we therein barred/ Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone/ With this affair along. For all, our thanks (1.2.14-16).” All is as it should in the state of Denmark and within the royal family. The marriage appears to be the final stage of insuring the stability of the monarchy.

The first lines spoken directly to Hamlet by Claudius, are words of affection, “But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son (1.2.64).” Then Hamlet breaks this tender moment with his first lines, “A little more than kin and less than kind (1.2.65).” What is one to think of Hamlet? He intrudes upon this convivial atmosphere with his melancholy and brooding. Shakespeare leaves his audience doubting Hamlet’s character especially as he, in the next scene, sets off in search of his father’s ghost. One wonders if Hamlet’s grieving has left him in his right mind.

Shakespeare creates an uneasy tension in this first act of the play which leaves the audience unsure of what to think. Ophelia is warned by her father and brother to be wary of Hamlet. “Perhaps he loves you now,/ And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch/ The virtue of his will; but you must fear,/ His greatness weighed, his will is not his own,/ For he himself is subject to his birth (1.3.14-18).” This is another moment when the audience is led to distrust Hamlet. Then the ghost appears to him.

“Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder (1.5.25),” the ghost charges Hamlet and the kingdom of Denmark is turned topsy-turvy. In this new world, Claudius is not a magnanimous king but a murderer, Gertrude is not a loving wife but an incestuous adulteress, Hamlet is not surly young man but a victim who will have to set things right, and Denmark is a state without a leader. Once the audience knows of the murder and the ghost’s invocation for Hamlet vengeance, Shakespeare holds the plot not giving anything away, keeping us guessing from throughout each act of the play.

Richard and Iago moved forward pushing against all obstacles until their ambition swallows them. But Claudius is not a villain created in their image. He prays. He seeks redemption. He is scared. He readily admits he acted out of love and ambition when he killed his brother. He can’t even bring himself to kill Hamlet himself but would like the King of England or Laertes to do the honor. Hamlet will not be the decisive avenging angel the audience expects.

Richard III

So this has little to do with the play itself, but I find it interesting that most of the current posts on the blog about this play are using the wrong title, saying Richard the II instead of Richard the III. It's just odd, and it made me go back and double check that I had read the right play.

Anyways, in act 1 we see a little of Richards absolute menace come out, but I still feel like Voldemort was the better villain. Even after discussing the whole play in class, I'm on the side of Voldemort.

Richard never killed people while loved ones were present. Richard also tended to have other people kill off competitors for him, while Voldemort killed people himself. This leads me to believe that Richard might have actually been a little bit weak, especially considering his disabilities. Voldemort was clearly more ruthless in that respect.

Richard did kill two children, but Voldemort attempted to kill a baby (Young Harry Potter) and did kill at least one teenager in the series (Fred Weasley)

Lets also go to sheer numbers. Richard killed 7 (that I count) people. In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort kills 28 people, including himself. He also controls a large number of people that do his bidding in addition to killing people himself. The Death Eaters kill many more people in battle.

I'll only briefly mention that Voldemort's intention in life is not to merely rule a country, but to wipe out two entire races of people: muggles, who have no magical powers, and mudbloods, people that are half-wizard and half muggle. Of course Voldemort is not actually a pure blood, but similar to Hitler he is part of the race he is trying to defeat.

Voldemort is simply the better villain. he does more plotting in general. His conquests last over 4000 pages, while Richard's lasts only 300 pages (Signet Classics version) even when switched to years, Voldemort wins. This I don't have actual dates for, but I am sure that it is longer after having done a bit of research on both.

I might make this into an actual argumentative paper. Hmm.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Family Dysfunction in "Hamlet"

Family Dysfunction in Hamlet

As I read to the end of Act IV of Hamlet (and maybe kept reading a bit farther, shh!), I found myself growing more and more wary of the way relations between family members are portrayed. No matter which character I look at, there seems to be some disturbing aspect of his or her familial relationships.

The first (and strangely least disturbing) of the relationships we learn about over the course of the play is the relationship between father and son. So far three sons have seen their fathers killed: Hamlet, Fortinbras, and Laertes. Each of the sons is out for revenge on his father’s killer. However, I’ll focus on Hamlet here because his relationships with his father figures are the most striking. Hamlet’s desire for revenge against his father’s murderer is particularly disturbing because it means he’s after the blood of his own uncle, Claudius. This is made even worse when you keep in mind Claudius’s words to Hamlet in Act I: “We pray you throw to earth/This unprevailing woe, and think of us/As of a father” (1.2.106-8). After killing Hamlet’s father, Claudius essentially asks Hamlet to think of him as a father instead. Adding that to the discussion we had in class about Claudius possibly being Hamlet’s biological father, the relationship between them is thoroughly perverse.

Turning toward the female side of the families, things get a bit more complicated and possibly even more sinister. There don’t seem to be as many murder plots abounding in regards to the women of the play, but there’s quite a bit of questionable sexuality. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, has apparently committed incest by marrying her dead husband’s brother. Hamlet explains that “even she . . . Married with mine uncle,/My father’s brother, but no more like my father/Than I to Hercules/within a month . . . O most wicked speed, to post/ With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (1.2.149-57). Even if Gertrude and Claudius aren’t related by blood, it seems that there is a reason the brother of your spouse is called a brother-in-law. But that’s not quite as creepy as Hamlet’s apparent Oedipus complex in regard to his mother Gertrude. Hamlet seems unduly preoccupied with his mother’s sex life, and while the point we made in class about his being worried about possible competition for the throne make sense, I still get the feeling that Hamlet’s main concerns aren’t really about political gain. Just look at Hamlet’s confrontation with Gertrude in her bedroom.

Lastly, I think that Ophelia’s relationships with her family are also suspicious. She is very dependent on the male members of her family, and something about that strikes me as odd. Again, it probably wasn’t that unusual for women to rely on the men in their family during this time period, but it seems like more than that. Ophelia falls into a sort of babbling, delusional state when her father Polonius is killed, and when Claudius mentions that Ophelia is brooding about her father’s death in Act IV, Ophelia suddenly breaks into a song about “I a maid at your window/To be your Valentine” (4.5.49-50). I’m not sure what to make of this, and I’m also uncertain about Ophelia’s relationship with her brother Laertes. Laertes only weeps for her death in Act IV, which is all we were supposed to read, but in Act V he jumps in Ophelia’s grave and holds her dead body, asking that the gravediggers “Hold off the earth a while,/Till I have caught her once more in mine arms” (5.1.233-34). I don’t know how close the bonds between siblings are supposed to be, but this seems excessive.

Then again, all the familial relationships in the play seem strange to me. Anyone else have any thoughts on this, or was it just my imagination?

Gertrude: Strong Spear

Gertrude seems like she’s a character that kind of take the brunt of the audience’s hate. As the woman who married her husband’s brother and the mother who has no sympathy to give her son, I think she is at times misinterpreted. I think Gertrude is more of a cold stone hearted woman weathered by a culture of hardness and a tough life. But who can blame her for that? Personally I think in order to understand Gertrude’s actions we must remember where she’s from: Denmark. What is Denmark, or Scandinavia, most famous for (other than Danishes)? Vikings! The Danish aren’t exactly remembered as being very emotionally expressive. They’re remembered as hard warrior brutes.

As we look at this culture through Hamlet we can actually see that Hamlet himself is the most abnormal of them with his extreme set of emotions and lack of ability to act. He’s not very Viking.

Hamlet..Sexuality..Women..Hmm..

It is interesting to note how Hamlet's got a serious problem with his mother's sexuality. Is this related to Hamlet wanting to control the sexuality of the female characters? It seems that Hamlet feels that women are contagious. One would think that he's disgusted by Gertrude's incestuous marriage to Claudius, however, Hamlet can hardly stand to think about his mother having sex, EVER.

Hamlet also thinks his uncle's out of control, he calls him a satyr, which can be defined as a mythical half-man half-goat creature with a hyperactive sex-drive. He compares his uncle to his mother's sexuality being out of control and overgrown.

Hamlet has a view that all women are breeders of sinners which obviously reveals that he doesn't think much of them. This would also explain why he thinks sex is so disgusting. At the same time, this shows a lack of self-confidence and we can see that he doesn't think much of himself either. He considers himself being one of those "sinners" that's been "bred" by a woman. As a reader, it also seems that Hamlet doesn't think he's much better than a "maggot." In fact, Hamlet says it would be better if his "mother had not borne" him at all. Do you think that this is related to Hamlet's desire for his flesh to "melt"?

GHOST
Do not forget: this visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
But, look, amazement on thy mother sits:
O, step between her and her fighting soul:
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works:
Speak to her, Hamlet.
(3.4.1)

Acording to this passage, it seems that Hamlet has almost forgotten all about the ghost's orders for him to leave Gertrude "to heaven." This passage seems like it would make a good piece of evidence for someone who wants to argue that Hamlet is more upset by Gertrude's sexuality than his father's murder. But why is it that Hamlet has something against women and also sexuality?

Hopeless Hamlet

We were asked in class to take notice of the way the male characters in Hamlet attempt to control the sexuality of the female characters. Polonius and Laertes tell Ophelia in Act I to stay away from Hamlet and that his sentiments of love to her are invalid and not to be taken seriously. They believe Hamlet is a threat and they want to protect her virtue. Hamlet has an unusual interest in the love life of his mother and torments himself thinking about her being with his father's brother sexually.
In Kenneth Branaugh's movie version of
Hamlet he portrays to the viewer an interesting interpretation of Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship. Early on in the movie he insinuates that Hamlet and Ophelia have already been sexually intimate which means her virtue is already tainted. Hamlet never speaks directly about his feelings toward and relationship with Ophelia to the audience or any characters in the play . In the third act when Ophelia returns to Hamlet the love letters he sent her he becomes enraged. It is unclear whether this is an “act” he is putting on or not, but I believe it is genuine. Hamlet wishes to control his relationship with Ophelia just as he wishes to control his mother's relationships. Hamlet, like Iago, is experiencing feelings of impotence. His Uncle is King and the girl he has been involved with has dumped him. These frustrations can only inspire with in him feelings of madness.
Act III scene IV is an incredibly uncomfortable scene between Hamlet and his mother. He begins telling her “Mother, you have my father much offended” (10) then begins speaking directly to her about her sex life with his uncle stating “but to live/In the rand sweat of an enseamed bed,/stewed in corruption, honeying and making love/Over the nasty sty-” (80-84). These lines are an absolutely grotesque description of Gertrude sleeping with Claudius over the “nasty sty”, the bed she slept in with Hamlet I. Shortly after Hamlet spews these obscenities at his mother the Ghost enters reminding Hamlet to leave his mother alone; she is not guilty of anything and he must focus on avenging his death. Hamlet has ignored these directions through out the play because he is so frustrated with his lack of control over the people around him.
Hamlet is similar to the villains we have read in other dramas because he yearns to control the situations around him, but I do not see him as a villain. Hamlet is suffering from his recent misfortunes and struggling to reclaim control over his life.

Hamlet is Hardly a Hero

In the beginning of Hamlet, there are many reasons to sympathize with the title character’s
predicament. His father is dead, his mother barely grieved before jumping into bed (and a marriage)
with Hamlet’s uncle, and it seems as though Hamlet’s right to the throne has been completely
overlooked. If there is a good side and an evil side to the characters in the play, it seems certain that
murderer Claudius is on the evil side, and Hamlet, who seeks justice for his father’s untimely murder, is our good hero of the play.

…Not so much. Until the end of Act III, we see Hamlet as an existential, philosophical character who, despite being clearly obsessed with the idea of death, only thinks of potentially becoming murderous as a means of setting things right. He is sensitive, evident in his frustration at being unable to express emotion in II.II:


Yet I,

A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak

Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant for my cause,

And can say nothing. No, not for a king,

Upon whose property and most dear life

A damned defeat was made. Am I a coward?”


While he wishes to seek revenge for his father’s death, he doesn’t take action. He keeps his vengeful plans as thoughts, and constantly mulls them over and reflects on his situation. Therefore, rather than being a bloodthirsty killer, we see Hamlet as a rational thinker, someone who thinks before he acts.

All of this changes when he brashly murders Polonius. The audience may think that Hamlet will sorely regret his actions once he realizes it wasn’t Claudius behind the curtain, but Hamlet’s response is unnerving:


“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell.

I took thee for they better.” (III.IV))


It is clear here that Hamlet lacks the morality necessary for a heroic character. The lines between good and evil, just and unjust, have been blurred, similar to how they were blurred in Othello. Othello, too, was a morally-sound and noble character until he was driven to murder his wife. Unlike Othello, however, Hamlet’s reasons for wanting to murder Claudius are internally motivated, whereas Othello was outwardly manipulated by Iago. Polonius’ murder lacked any real motivation at all, which makes Hamlet seem that more immoral.


In Act IV, Hamlet hides the body with the same non-chalance he had upon discovering it was Polonius he killed. His somewhat humorous attitude towards the murder is disturbing, as he jokes to the king:

“But indeed, if you find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby.” (IV.III)


By now we realize that there is officially no remorse, and the other characters realize that Hamlet is dangerous. Our hero of the play is a thoughtless killer, so are we left with an absence of morality entirely? Has Shakespeare dissolved the classic battle between good and evil? Perhaps it’s more complicated than that. Epic poems, hero stories and classic tales of revenge before Shakespeare’s time had well-established hero archetypes, but in Hamlet, Shakespeare favors human complexity over tradition. As we move into Act V, perhaps we’ll see minor characters emerge as the last remaining examples of morality in the play.