When Elizabethans went to see “Hamlet,” their experience would have been hugely different compared to the experience somebody today would get if they saw a modern-day performance.
The play would have been performed “in the round”, inside an open-air theatre. The audience would stand, smoke, drink, and talk and shout throughout the performance. On stage, no scenery would set the scene; scene changes were shown by the last two sentences, of an actor, containing last word rhyming couplets. Lighting was limited â€“ performances took place at mid-day, so the only light was natural.
Elizabethans had to be prepared to use their imagination when going to see Hamlet, and they would expect to participate. One way of showing their use of imagination and participation is how they had to imagine the sexuality of a character. All the Elizabethan actors were male. Men would be the only people allowed to perform on stage – playing both sex roles.Order now
Elizabethans were Proto-Catholics and so Hamlets’ actions and sins greatly fascinated and disturbed them. The church taught that revenge, suicide and murder were sins no matter how they came about and in no circumstance were to be tolerated.
“It is repugnant on theological grounds, since Christian orthodoxy posits a world ordered by divine Providence, in which revenge is a sin and a blasphemy, endangering the soul of the revenge.”
Internet quote â€“ ‘Hamlet and the four Humours.’
Hamlet was a great sinner to the Elizabethan audience, who would have been horrified to see him plot to and kill the king. The Divine Right of Kings made his many sins seem worse to them. He was planning to and eventually does kill Claudius, his own mother’s husband and his new stepfather, but Hamlet was also killing the King who they believed had been appointed to the throne by God. This was complicated by the fact that Hamlet was planning to kill a king who had killed a king! Is this revenge or justice? It added an extra dimension to the play, intensifying Hamlet’s actions and adding to the audience’s horror.
The church taught Elizabethans that after murder is committed the murderer would be sent to Hell. Hamlet “went against” God because he was a murderer and therefore a sinner, resulting in Hamlet going to Hell and shocking but at the same time scaring the Elizabethans.
Although Hamlet would have been condemned by the audience he would have still kept close contact with them through his five major soliloquies, which helped the audience “read his mind” and sympathize with him.
The impact of Hamlet would have been a great one in its time. All the “great sins” of the play “Hamlet;” people plotting against their family, having incestuous relationships, seeing and speaking to ghosts, committing adultery and betrayal, and torturing and murdering people, were intriguing to Elizabethan audiences. Hamlet’s sins provided the audience with mystery and therefore made the tragedy appealing.
The Elizabethans attitudes towards Hamlet were different to modern approaches to the play. The Elizabethans believed in The Four Humours, A traditional theory of physiology in which health, mind and character was dependant upon the balance of four fluids in your body, and four elements.
“â€¦but essential to interpreting Elizabethan drama, especially the late-16th century genre known as the “comedy of humours” cf. Ben Jonson. Finally, an illustrative quotation from the final lines of Shakespeare”s Julius Caesar V.v.74-76, in which Antony eulogizes Brutus:
His life was gentle, and the elements
so mix”d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man!”
Website found on MSN search engine ‘Shakespear’s plays.’
Therefore, the Elizabethans believed that Hamlet acted upon his Humours. The main Humour they believed he had was black bile, which gave him a Melancholic temperament and an introspective, sallow, thin, gluttonous, lazy, sentimental personality. His element was Earth and his remedy Cold and dry conditions.
They believed that what ever happened was due to fate and the four humours, so Hamlet was just “walking the path of fate to his own death.” The first stage of him showing his Humours is when he appears to go mad.
“â€¦madness i.e. melancholy brought about by a humoral imbalanceâ€¦”
Website found on MSN search engine ‘Hamlet and Humours.’
Modern attitudes towards the play “Hamlet” have a more ‘realistic’ air. We now know that you act upon your instincts, and you decide your own fate. Our ideas of psychoanalysis give us an advantage over the Elizabethans; we understand how and why Hamlet acts the way he does, because we know more about how the human brain works and traumas that may drive us into actions without us understanding our own real motives.
The main soliloquies of Hamlet give us a window into his soul. Hamlet’s motives and ideas become clearer through soliloquies.
His motive throughout the play is to get revenge for his father’s murder. When the actors put on a play Hamlet realizes that he has to get revenge.
“What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears”
This soliloquy shows a lot about Hamlets character. It shows his passion for revenge,
“â€¦ In a dream of passion.”
His self pity
“O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!”
“And can say nothingâ€¦”
His self anger
“Am I a coward?”
Although Hamlet does mainly think, and not act, he does plan to set his uncle up by putting on a play, to trick his uncle into confession.
“For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ.”
The second, most famous soliloquy of the play shows the main weakness in Hamlet’s character. It shows his idea of taking an easy way out,
“To be or not to be â€“ that is the question.”
Again though, this shows Hamlet considering an option but not actually acting upon it.
When Hamlet sees his father’s murderer at prayer in front of him he again considers, but does not act.
“Now might I do it pat, now he is praying.”
Throughout the main soliloquies, the character of Hamlet is shown by his ideas, thoughts and actions.
Hamlet is constantly comparing himself to others, showing his lack of confidence.
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my causeâ€¦”
Hamlet compares himself to the actors, who can act so many emotions and feelings and yet he does not take action when his feelings are real.
“â€¦What is a man
If his chief good and market of his timeâ€¦”
Hamlet also compares himself to the army Fortinbras, who with no need for revenge are fighting for their lives, yet he himself does nothing.
Hamlets constant failure to act shows his characters weakness.
“I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slaves offal â€“ bloody, bawdy villainâ€¦
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words.”
Act ii, Scene ii.
“But that the dread of something after death â€“
The undiscovered country from whose bourn.”
Hamlet does not commit suicide for fear of the unknown. Act iii, Scene I
“And now I’ll do ‘t – and so he goes to heaven:
And so I am revenged – that would be scanned.”
Hamlet, here, thinks his way out of killing Claudius. Act iii, Scene iii.
“Of thinking too precisely on the’ event”
“Why yet I live to say,’This thing’s to do’,”
Hamlet wonders why he spends too much time thinking, and how he is still alive to wonder.
Through the first five of Hamlet’s main five soliloquies, we see his ideas develop, and fail to take place. By thinking too much Hamlet pays by losing innocent friends and family. All the deaths in the play are a result of Hamlet not acting. The one exception is the final soliloquy. In the last soliloquy, Hamlet ends with a determination to act, which he eventually does, but not before losing many friends and family due to his earlier lack of action.
“One thing is certain: Hamlet follows the conventions of a standard Elizabethan genre – the, revenge play”
It has been suggested that the prince”s delayed revenge, as opposed to Fortinbras” decisiveness, is meant to contrast two universal individuals – the man of contemplation and the man of action. The university-bred Hamlet analyzes everything too deeply and is thus prevented from taking any clear course:
… Thinking too precisely on the event
a thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
and ever three parts coward, I do not know
why, yet I live to say “this thing”s to do,” sith I have cause and will and strength and means to do”t.”
“A great many truths interest Hamlet, but the ones he must find a voice for are of two kinds. There are the fundamental truths imparted to him by the ghost: the secret facts about his father”s murder and his mother”s faithless remarriage. Then there are the truths about the human condition that seem entailed by these primary facts: all the melancholy distresses that Hamlet registers about a mutable world in which the cosmetics of lies and false seeming conceal the moral ugliness of evil.”
There are many different interpretations of Hamlet a few of which are shown above.
One view of the play Hamlet could be that it is a play with a moral, the moral being “the consequences of not taking action.” This view could be taken from Hamlets constant inaction throughout the play, resulting in the deaths of his own friends and family, and eventually the death of himself. This view would see Hamlet as a coward, who is too scared to take action. Hamlet would be seen as a weak and desperate man. An example to show Hamlet being weak and desperate is when Hamlet considers suicide, for suicide in itself would be seen as a weak mans ‘way out’ and Hamlet can not even find the strength to do this.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the originator of the view that Hamlet is effeminate and fragile. Having seen the film version of Hamlet by Sir Laurence Olivier I am familiar with the figure described by Goethe.
From the Nineteenth Century onwards Goethe’s Hamlet has had a considerable impact on the view of Hamlet himself. Goethe believed that Hamlet was simply ‘the wrong person for the wrong job.’
Hamlet “The time is out of joint; O cursed spite! That ever I was born to set it right!”
Goethe “In these words, so I believe, lies the key to Hamlet’s whole behavior, and it is clear to me what Shakespeare has set out to portray: a heavy deed placed on a soul which is not adequate to cope with itâ€¦An oak tree planted in a precious pot which should only have held delicate flowers. The roots spread out, the vessel is shattered.”
His believe shows how his delay is a manifestation of his own fear of getting hurt.
“A fine, pure noble and highly moral person, but devoid of that emotional strength that characterizes a hero, goes to pieces beneath a burden that it can neither support or cast offâ€¦The impossible is demanded of him-not the impossible in any absolute sense, but what is impossible for him.”
Goethe’s view was one of Hamlet being too good for his world: too sensitive, too poetical, and too philosophically speculative.
Goethe “How he twists and turns, trembles, advances and retreats, always being reminded, always reminding himself, and finally almost losing sight of his goal, yet without ever regaining happiness!”
Here we see Hamlet being viewed upon as a young man who has to cope with his father’s unexpected death, being visited by his father’s ghost and becomes horrified to find out that his father was murdered by his brother, Hamlets uncle. He becomes even more terrified to hear that he must seek revenge. Goethe believes that the impact of this on Hamlet is one of sadness and amazement, he swears not to ever forget his beloved father and feels lonely and isolated. This view of Hamlet is a very positive one, in the sense that Hamlet has to go through many things alone, and is therefore depressed.
Medical minded Interpretations are that Hamlet has an excess of a depose tissue around his heart hence his reference to having trouble breathing. Others believe Hamlet could be physically ill, or maybe even insane.
Dover Wilson believed that Hamlet carried out the murder as soon as he was able to, while E.E.Stoll believed that the delay of the murder was a convention because without a delay there would be no play.
Another possible view of Hamlet is that of a man who thought things through instead of acting upon first reactions. This view is a positive view of Hamlet’s inaction. Hamlet could be seen as a man who does not react upon his first instincts and therefore keeps himself out of trouble. An example of this is when Hamlet is about to kill Claudius but sees him at prayer and so does not kill him. This is one of the positive things, which came about due to his thoughtfulness. If he had killed Claudius at prayer then he would have gone to Heaven as he was repenting his sins, but Hamlet wanted Claudius to go to Hell for murdering his father. Therefore, Hamlet’s thinking saves Claudius from Heaven and that is what Hamlet wanted.
The Elizabethans would not have analyzed the play because they only saw the plays as entertainment. They would have viewed Hamlet as a sinner as he went against the church, which played a big part in their lives. Many of Hamlets actions and thoughts would have shocked the Elizabethan audience. Examples of this are when Hamlet considers suicide and when Hamlet plans to get revenge and murder his stepfather, Claudius.
In my view Hamlet was everyman, a normal man, who took his father’s death badly and so rebelled against his mother’s marriage to his uncle. This, I think, is the turning point for Hamlet, for after the marriage he turns to revenge, madness and murder. My opinion is that Hamlet is drawn to questions with no actual answer, most of which are related to death. His wild speeches and pointed innuendoes upset and surprise the people around him. Although Hamlet is a prince he never, for a moment, ceases to be conscious of his rights as heir to the throne. Therefore I can understand how the play can be seen not as a drama but of a play of duty and self-denial. I believe that Hamlet thinks too much about what action he should take and this is the reason for all the tragic murders and suicides Ophelia. Hamlet’s a philosophically minded prince who delays action because of his lack of knowledge.
He is appointed the difficult task of correcting an injustice that he can never quite have sufficient knowledge of. Hamlet does not realize that his thoughtfulness is gradually turning everybody against him, for everybody soon realizes what he is thinking and what he is about to do. An example being when Claudius realizes that Hamlet is going to kill him and arranges for Hamlet to be sent away accompanied by his own friends who have indeed turned against him?
The play as a whole shows the difficulties of knowing the truth about others â€“ their states of sanity, truths, lies and loves. It is about the difficulty of living in the world of other people. The play has many regular references to death and has been compared to Dostoievskys Stavrogin because the play is also centered on death and Hamlet fears and is feared by those around him.
In my opinion Hamlets constant thinking and lack of action causes all the deaths in the play. These could easily have been prevented if he had taken action and not been such a weak person.