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Examine the presentation of fathers in Hamlet Essay

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An older more principled order is being replaced by a corrupt one which must be removed if Denmark is to survive. It is asthough Shakespeare is drawing an analogy between the natural relations of a father and the established order of the state and between the more unnatural relations of step-father and the rotten state of Denmark. In Act 1 Sc. V, Old Hamlet speaks to Hamlet for the first time in the play. He is presented as a noble man, not seeking the pity of Hamlet but expecting him to listen to what it is he has to say “pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold.

” He uses ghastly imagery of Purgatory in order to ward off Hamlet from the same fate, which shows he cares for his son, even in death. However it could also be intended to evoke feelings of rage in Hamlet and stir him to take action. At the same time, he manipulates Hamlet to do his bidding, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ” Old Hamlet’s manipulation of his son’s emotions and Hamlet’s love and obedience for his deceased father are demonstrated when the ghost commands him to listen “List, list, O list! If though didst ever thy dear father love.

” Hamlet still lingers on the death of his father and the thought of his unnatural murder causes him to turn to revenge. In death, Old Hamlet seeks retribution to be carried out on his murderer by his son, showing him to be a father quick to anger against his enemies. This is a superior quality in a war-like king, such as he was, but if his ultimate goal is to achieve a passage to heaven, perhaps he is not taking the right course of action. He pursues the ancient conviction of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and directs Hamlet into exacting his revenge upon Claudius.

He is therefore presented as a rather selfish man, taking his only son for granted and using him to further his own ends regardless of the fate Hamlet meets. He is presented as a domineering father and is perhaps playing on Hamlet’s pity. This makes it difficult to determine if he truly does love his son or whether, like Claudius, he is merely using him to do his bidding. The Lawrence Olivier production of the play could be seen to emphasise this point as he very passive throughout his dialogue with Hamlet and does not show any sign of real affection toward his son.

However this cannot be confirmed as he has passed on from his mortal life and maybe incapable of any emotion other than wrath toward the “Witchcraft” of Claudius, who damned him, “To walk the night, and for the day confined to fast in fires”. Polonius, father to Ophelia and Laertes is presented as a garrulous, ostentatious man. He is a man of business whose work is his priority “Assure you, my good liege, I hold my duty, as I hold my soul”. The Lawrence Olivier production of the play supports this as he scurries about his business, taking a brief moment to say goodbye to his son on his departure.

He is also a very pernicious man, constantly eavesdropping and spying on Hamlet, using his daughter as bait: At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him. Be you and I behind an arras then; mark the encounter. (II. ii. 163-65) This shows him to be a manipulative and mistrusting father, who cares little about his offspring, using them to do his nefarious deeds. In Act 1 Sc. III, Polonius bids farewell to Laertes before his departure. He is relieved to see his son before he leaves and gives him his blessing. He gives him sound advice, to warn him against the vices that may tempt him in foreign lands.

However the nature of this prolonged monologue is very formal and is not the way a loving father addresses his son within the privacy of his own house. The rhythm gives the speech a special measured movement like careful conversation where each word is chosen to give the fullest effect. It adds depth, control and balance to the speech, reinforcing the pomposity and careful controlled character of Polonius. He is presented as a pompous father who permanently maintains this pretentious fai?? ade, concealing his true nature.

As the father of a daughter too, he is presented as an inquisitive and mistrusting father “What is’t, Ophelia, he hath said to you? ” he asks her following the exit of Laertes. He is very mistrusting of her and takes the opportunity to talk to her about Hamlet. Polonius is presented as a father who sees weaknesses in his children who must be subdued. His view of Ophelia is as immature and nai?? ve in love, dismissing her claims that Hamlet’s affection is sincere: Affection! Pooh! You speak like a green girl, unsifted in such perilous circumstance.

Do you believe his tenders, as you call them? (I. iii. 101-03) This obdurate stubborness and over-protection of his daughter shows that he cares for Ophelia but we soon learn that it is for the wrong reasons. He does not truly love her and is more concerned with the way in which she bears herself as his daughter, a stately position : You do not understand yourself so clearly As it behoves my daughter and your honour. (I. iii. 96-97) He is convinced that Hamlet only has a lustful desire for her and fears that she will disgrace her family honour “Tender yourself more dearly or…you’ll tender me a fool. ”

Unwilling to reason with her, he twists her words when she tries to fight her case and commands her not see him. She is repressed by Polonius, moulded to act according to his every whim and obediently complies “I shall obey, my lord. ” Shakespeare’s use of language here underlines Polonius’ repressive treatment of his daughter which is designed to spoil Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet. He reduces it to a contract and buying and selling, “Entreatments at a higher rate.

” Hamlet’s love for her is deliberately belittled by him which is a very unpleasant characteristic in a father, “Blazes, daughter, giving more light than heat”. Following the murder of Polonius at the hands of Hamlet, Ophelia is driven to insanity by the death of her father and the realization that Hamlet no longer loves her. She walks about the castle, singing scraps of love-songs and handing out flowers, each a symbol of her lament. To Laertes she gives rosemary and pansies which are associated with remembrance and sorrow.

They are given as a symbol of commemoration and sorrow for the loss of their father. The imagery used here by Shakespeare shows that both Ophelia and Laertes do love their father despite the manner in which he abused them. In discussing characterization, themes and Shakespeare’s use of language it would appear that fathers are presented in a bad light. Shakespeare does not seem to have much sympathy with them and they are presented in such a way that their behaviour towards their children has devastating effects.

There are however some redeeming features that shine through but generally speaking any apparent good qualities conceal obverse, ulterior motives and destructive forces. All three characters whether perpetrators or a victim, like Old Hamlet, are representative of the corrupting of the state of Denmark and the old order. At the same time they are indicative of the appearance versus reality theme and the masks that the human character will hide his darker side behind and what can happen if this side is allowed to prevail.

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Examine the presentation of fathers in Hamlet Essay. (2018, Jan 08). Retrieved from

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