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Hamlet Backgrounds

What you need to know to understand Hamlet is what he needed to know in the University

Joseph McCormack

on 6 April 2011

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Transcript of Hamlet Backgrounds

Hamlet Backgrounds Death Hell Heaven Purgatory Delay Humanism Madness Characters Before you start this play, it is important to remember that
someday you will die. So will everyone you know. In fact,
you are closer to death right now than you were when you
began reading this sentence. The question is, why do we fear
death? Why do we mourn death? in every scene with Hamlet in it,
there is a reference to death, or
someone dies. See if you can catch each one. Hamlet calls death:

"a consummation devoutly to be wished"
"proud death"
"the undiscovered country from which no traveller returns"

He seems to desire it. In fact, he makes many references to suicide, seeming to think it is the easiest and best way out of his situation:

"Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God!"
(Act I scene 2)

"To be or not to be"
(Act III, scene 1) So why doesn't he kill himself?
And if death is a "felicity,"
Why does he mourn his father's death? Everyone wants to go there
after they die, ya know? Shakespeare lived in a Christain country
during a Christain time. So did Hamlet. In order to get to heaven, according to Shakespeare's time, you had to die either 1. without serious sins on your head, or (more likely) 2. having confessed and repented of those serious sins before you die. Otherwise you risk going here. Purgatory, according to Christains in Shakespeare's time, was the middle ground between Heaven and Hell. Someone who died with serious, unrepented sins on their head would go to a place of torment to pay for those sins, to wash their soul clean in preparation for Heaven. You can't understand Hamlet without understanding Purgatory. Hamlet's father was killed while he was sleeping. We, Americans in 2011, may think that's a pretty nice way to go. To Hamlet's father, it was a worse betrayal than Claudius marrying his wife. By killing him without giving him an opportunity to ask forgiveness for his sins, Claudius damned King Hamlet's soul to Purgatory, a place where he is:

"Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand an end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood."
The Ghost (Act I Scene 5) In order to really get revenge on Claudius, therefore, Hamlet reasons that he has to kill Claudius without warning as well, so that Claudius will not have time to repent his sins and will also end up in Purgatory. At the University at Wittenberg, Hamlet would have primarily studied Philosophy. While he would have spent a lot of time studying the ancient Greek and Roman authors and philosophers, he would also have learned the budding ideas at the time, which taken together are called Humanism. Humanism is not in and of itself anti-religious, but it emphasizes
humanity and not religion in a way that paved the ground for an
understanding of the world that was not based on religion. Part
of what makes Shakespeare so interesting was that he lived in a time
of transition, when new ideas were exploding into existance. Look at it this way:
Christianity (before Hamlet's time): Human beings are frail, puny, dumb, evil things compared to God who can only obey and hope to try to imitate His Goodness.
Secular Humanism (after Hamlet's time): Human beings are simply a part of nature, an accident of evoltion that created a being that is self-aware and has the power to choose its own destiny.
Christain Humanism (Hamlet's time): Human beings are
like God in many ways, and are able to choose their own destiny. The Transition in Art Medieval Christianity circa AD 1000 Christian Humanism circa AD 1500 Secular Humanism circa AD 1900 Humanist Quotes from Hamlet: "Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"
- Hamlet Act II Scene 2 "What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so."
- Hamlet Act II, Scene 2
"A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm."
- Hamlet Act IV Scene 3 "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
- Hamlet Act II Scene 2 "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
- Hamlet, Act I Scene 5 "Denmark's a prison."
-Hamlet Act II, Scene 2 An elaborate cat and mouse game occurs throughout the play between Hamlet and Claudius (and Polonius). Hamlet wants to know for sure whether Claudius is the murderer, but also wants to disguise his intentions. So he pretends to be insane. Claudius wants to know why Hamlet is so depressed and acting crazy, because he is afraid that Hamlet knows the truth. He is not afraid to have Hamlet killed if he must, but Hamlet is popular with the people and it might be too suspicious if he suddenly dies too. So Claudius sends for two of Hamlet's old friends, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on him. Polonius thinks that Hamlet has been
driven mad because he is love with Polonius's daughter, Ophelia. So he brings up Ophelia in
conversation with Hamlet and listens to his
reactions. Madness Quotes "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."
- Polonius Act II scene 2 "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw."
-Hamlet Act II, Scene 2 "He talks to himself which you'd think was madness except that he makes sense when he does it. And the way I see it is that a man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense NOT to himself. Or just as mad. He does both. So there you have it. Stark raving sane." - Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead While it is obvious that Hamlet is at time pretending to be insane in order to throw Claudius off his scent, there is a great deal of ambiguity as to whether Hamlet actually goes mad during the play. Watch and decide for yourself. If Othello's tragic flaw was acting too
rashly, Hamlet's is too much delay Hamlet has several monologues about his own inability to just act, to just do it. Hey, Hamlet, To understand this, you must know the following:

1. Hamlet waits and does not act right away
2. Hamlet knows that he is stalling
3. Hamlet doesn't know WHY he is stalling It is up to you to interpret the WHY
HAMLET: The prince of Denmark, and a student at the University of Wittenberg.
CLAUDIUS: The king of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle, murderer of old King Hamlet, his brother.
GERTRUDE: The queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother, recently married to Claudius, formerly married to King Hamlet
POLONIUS: The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court (Claudius's second in command), and the father of Laertes and Ophelia.
HORATIO: Hamlet’s close friend, who studied with the prince at the University of Wittenberg.
OPHELIA: Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love.
LAERTES: Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother, a young man who spends much of the play in France.
ROZENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN: Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior. Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
The memory be green...
...we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves.
Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
Th' imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we... with mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage...
Taken to wife;. O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah, fie! 'Tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead! Nay, not so much, not two.
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on; and yet, within a month-
Let me not think on't! Frailty, thy name is woman!-
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father's body
Like Niobe, all tears- why she, even she
(O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourn'd longer) married with my uncle;
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules...
It is not, nor it cannot come to good.
But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue! Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There- my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous, chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all- to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee! He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm,
And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so.
At last, a little shaking of mine arm,
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He rais'd a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being. That done, he lets me go,
And with his head over his shoulder turn'd
He seem'd to find his way without his eyes,
For out o' doors he went without their help
And to the last bended their light on me. My lord, we were sent for. (to Ophelia) For Hamlet and the trifling of his favour,
Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute; No more. Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity. I'm more an antique Roman than a Dane
Full transcript