“I hold my duty as I hold my soul, Written by Robert Thomas both to my god and gracious King. ” Word Count=1453 In what ways does the play challenge this statement in Shakespeare’s time? In what ways does it challenge this statement now? Authority, loyalty, God, king and medieval certainties; these are some exceptionally important aspects in the life and times of Shakespeare’s audience as well as those of the characters in the play. Times have changed; there are no more sword fights, no more public hangings and there is no more regicide. People of Shakespeare’s times were far more religious than they are today: they wanted god on their side.
Belief was very important to the crowd that the actors of Shakespeare’s time were performing to. This is why the statement: “I hold my duty as I hold my soul, both to my god and gracious King. ” (act 2, scene 2) (44) had a much stronger meaning in the past than it has today. However Shakespeare asks every reader to sympathise with his hero, to understand and to attempt in imagination a solution. The Prince of Denmark, the title character, and the protagonist. Hamlet is melancholy, bitter, and cynical, full of hatred for his uncle’s scheming and disgust for his mother’s sexuality.
Hamlet is sometimes indecisive and hesitant, but at other times prone to rash and impulsive acts. “How now? A rat! Dead for a ducat, dead. ” (act 3, scene 4), (23) However on the contrary in Hamlet, Polonius’ statement in act two, scene two, unknown to the other characters, shows their king to be not so gracious but a deceiver and a murder. ‘The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown’ (act one, scene five) (39) When Hamlet is told this by the ghost, he is distraught. However, the majority of the modern day audience may speculate if this ghost or apparition actually existed in the play or was it just made up.
Did Shakespeare and his audience really believe in ghosts? We find that even in the play there are sceptics for example in act one, scene one, Horatio says: “Tush, tush, ’twill not appear” (act one, scene one) (33) However Horatio, man of reason, is “harrowed with fear and wonder” by seeing something he doesn’t believe in. Is the ghost the medium of reality revealing the facts to Hamlet? Shakespeare calls into question both Shakespeare rationalism and that of his audience, by including this apparition in the play. As John Dover Wilson in ‘What happens in Hamlet’ states:
“Caesar at Philippi may be a students dream; Banquo at the feast may be a false creation by Macbeth’s stress; but there can be no doubt about the objectivity of the spirit of king Hamlet”. Hamlet, after being informed by the ghost of his uncle’s iniquitous deed, has many times to finish Claudius off but many times he finds an excuse. “I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven. Why this is hire and salary not revenge” (act 3, scene 3) (76) Claudius, here, is shown to be praying, backing up the statement that he too holds his soul to God.
Although this is rather ironic, as Claudius has already killed one of his family, committing regicide. After Claudius has murdered king Hamlet, and Hamlet wishes to address Claudius alone, Claudius is assured of his safety. He believes that Hamlet would not dare kill a king. “And in a postscript here he says ‘alone’. Can you devise me?……… ….. I will work him To an exploit, now ripe in my device. ” (act 4, scene 7) (51-63) Yet, Claudius himself is proof that somebody would kill a king after all he is the villain of the play. He is a calculating, ambitious politician, driven by his sexual appetites and his lust for power.
However Polonius’ simplistic view insinuates that there are only two focal loyalties in his own life. This links in with Hamlet’s predicament on whether to murder Claudius and have justice be done or to spare Claudius and be undutiful to his true king, his dead father. Hamlet is obviously determined to be loyal and dutiful but he is in a compressive situation and no matter what audience this play is performed to this factor this plays an important role. However all audiences will find this disloyal and disrespectful as Gertrude married with’ o most wicked speed’.
All audiences understand Hamlets grief, as he remains a loyal son, mourning his father’s death for the duration of the play. “would have mourn’d longer – married with my uncle, my fathers brother – ………. within a month. ” However, Hamlet does not have total belief in his father’s ghost, as we hear his inside thoughts during his long and motivating soliloquies. There are several times Hamlet has the opportunity to kill King Claudius but is reluctant to do so, except from when he kills Polonius, who hopes is the king. He commits this murder, as he wants the decision taken out of his hands.
This is why he gets so emotional when he sees his actor crying over something that isn’t even real. “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I! ” “……. Had he the motive and the cue for passion That I have? He would drown the stage with tears. ” (act 2, scene 2) (544) His emotions build up, as he cannot even bring himself to kill his father’s murderer. The first time we see Hamlet, the stage directions portray him to be dressed in black, which shows his melancholy and that within he feels his father’s death and his mother’s hasty marriage.
This is the first time the audience see Hamlet challenging the beliefs of his mother and fellow countrymen. Hamlet shows the audience how Hamlet feels and his rebellion towards the inconvenience of his mother and the king’s marriage. ‘Life must go on’ The character of Hamlet has fascinated audiences and readers for centuries, and the first thing to point out about him is that he is mysterious individual. His character is ambiguous as there are so many aspects about him that are undefined. When he speaks, he sounds as if there’s something important he’s not saying, maybe something even he is not aware of.
The soliloquies and dialogues that create this effect is one of Shakespeare’s most impressive achievements that work with all audiences. One of his many long soliloquies lasts in act two, scene two from line 543 all the way to 601. ” Ay, so, God buy to you…. ………… conscience of the King. ” Hamlet’s indecisiveness opposes the other characters actions and thoughts in the play, in the means that he poses questions that are seldom asked, if ever answered, and in his insane mind, Hamlet thinks like no other.
“To be, or not to be, that is the question:” (act 3, scene 1) (56) Hamlet’s crazy state of consciousness may be an act to seem non-threatening to secure his life is not concluded by the present King, Claudius, whereas on the other hand, at times, it seems that Hamlet’s appearance of madness has become a reality due to the constant pressure of the need to revenge his father’s murder. He seems to step very easily into the role of a madman, behaving erratically and upsetting the other characters with his wild speech and pointed innuendos.
Shakespeare invites the reader and the audience to think about what the answers are to these questions that he continues to ask through Hamlet’s character. Hamlet himself appears to distrust the idea that it’s even possible to act in a controlled, purposeful way. When he does act, he prefers to do it blindly, recklessly, and violently. As when he speaks alone, to Ophelia, his words are cutting and barbed. “You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not. ” (act 3, scene 1) (117) “Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? ” (act 3, scene 1) (121)
His words often indicate his disgust with and distrust of women in general, although he does refer to religious representations, ‘nunnery’, which shows he does have some duty to his church and God. There is also an echo of the New Testament in Shakespeare’s work, leading the reader to think about Hamlet’s religious beliefs, no matter what age or decade they live in. At a number of points in the play, Hamlet even contemplates his own death and even the option of suicide while other lead characters, such as Polonius or Claudius, are far more clear and definite in their doings and speech. Polonius has a straightforward and simple way of life.
It is clear from his statement ‘duty to his God and King’; Polonius is true to his royals. He also shows his allegiance to his King when he puts his job on the line in order to stand by his beliefs. “… I do think – or else this brain of mine Hunts not the trail of policy so sure As it hath us to do -… “(act 2, scene 2) (46) Polonius lives in a disciplined and almost regimental world. He follows rules and obeys his king almost to a point of obsession. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s play of Hamlet at The Barbican is performed in a present day scenario, and it depicts Polonius as a smart businessman who works non-stop for his king.
This shows that both the Jacobean society and the 21st century society have no difference in a man who holds his duty to his God and King. Shakespeare has developed a character that can perform in any society. In the play trickery among actors was routine if their actions were to help the king. Even some of Hamlet’s closest friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, betray him and deceive him merely because they are loyal and patriotic to the King. This shows that in Shakespeare’s culture betrayal would occur among communities just to show loyalty.
“But we both obey, And here give up ourselves in the full bent To lay our service freely at your feet To be commanded. ” Act 2, scene 2) (29) Kenneth Branagh’s film of Hamlet invites the viewer to question such friendship and morals of characters such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, against that of loyalty to the King as if you break these principles then, inevitably, you have been undutiful to God as in the ‘Holy Bible’ it clearly states in the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods besides Me. ” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. ” (The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-17)
These commandments were written in times long ago and opinions have changed over time. Through the different characters in Hamlet Shakespeare challenges Polonius’ statement in ways which make the audience think, no matter what period they are living in.By Robert Thomas.
Bibliography The Arden Shakespeare – Hamlet, edited by Harold Jenkins, printed in 1982. ‘What Happens In Hamlet’, written by John Dover Wilson, printed in 1970. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s play of Hamlet at The Barbican, performed in 2002. Kenneth Branagh’s film of Hamlet, Castle Rock Entertainment, 1996. The Holy Bible, Red Letter edition.