Hamlet Background

Author William Shakespeare
Shakespeare 1564-1616 –> Stratford on Avon, England
Written in 1600-1601; while Elizabeth is the monarch
Hamlet real 12/13th century Danish king
Ur-Hamlet Written by Thomas Kyd’Regarding Hamlet’Plagarist
Anolothi Story has origins in Norse legendCharacters connected to Hamlet and what happened
Possible interpretations of Hamlet’s character 1. Hamlet, the victim of external difficulties; Claudius is too powerful2. Hamlet, the Sentimental Dreamer, too much thinking, not enough action3. Hamlet, the victim of Excessive Melancholy – “Melancholy Dane” – Clinically depressed; mentally unstable4. Hamlet, the victim of an Oedipus Complex – Freudian interpretation; he has an unhealthy love or attachment to mother5. Hamlet, motivated by ambition – he will do anything to be king6. Hamlet, misled by the Ghost, not an honest ghost; revenge
Major themes found in Hamlet 1. Justice and Revenge2. Destiny and the Purpose of Life3. Madness and Sanity (many characters)4. Appearance vs. Reality (Claudius = king, appears good with situation, but not all is true)5. Role of Women (Gertrude/Ophelia… purpose?)6. Rights and Duties of Kingship (how should a king act?)7. Poison and Corruption (Decay and Disease)
The Shakespeare 5 Act Structure Act I –> ExpositionAct II –> Rising ActionAct III –> Climax and Dramatic ReverseAct IV –> Falling ActionAct V –> Catastrophe
6 Elements of a Shakespearan Tragedy 1. Revenge Motive2. Internal/External Conflicts3. Comic Relief4. Tragic Hero/Flaw/Mistake5. Supernatural Element6. Chance Happenings
Steps Taken for a Perfect Revenge 1. Victim must be tortured mentally, emotionally, and physically (wants to make sure person suffers even after death)2. Victim must be damned after death3. Person who takes revenged must damn her/his own soul (must be really committed)
Claudius has taken 3 steps to gain the throne 1. Murdered King Hamlet2. Married Queen Gertrude3. Held a fake election (swung by Polonius)
Hamlet’s Background – Student at the university in Wittenberg, Germany- Has come back for his father’s funeral- Finds his mother married to his uncle- Finds his uncle is king- Has had some sort of relationship with Ophelia (daughter of Polonius)
Very Beginning of Play – Ghost appears to the guards of the castle (Elsinore)- Ghost = King Hamlet- Shakespeare liked to play this role
Soliloquy the act of talking to oneself; a dramatic monologue that represents a series of unspoken reflections
Aside character speaks directly to audience
Oxymoron two opposing words used together to make a pointex: pretty ugly
Foil character set up to contrast main characterHamlet’s foils: Horatio (minor), Laertes, Fortinbras
Entrapments 1. Polonius –> Reynaldo; follow Laertes to France2. Rosencrantz/Guildenstern –> brought by Claudius/Gertrude to watch Hamlet; find out why he’s acting weird3. Polonius/Claudius –> spy on Ophelia/Hamlet4. Hamlet –> actors/play; Murder of Gonzago, murder of King Hamlet; Claudius = guilty
Ghost’s requests for Hamlet 1. Hamlet must avenge his death2. Gertrude is not harmed, leave her for heaven3. Tells Hamlet to be careful
Climax Act III; Hamlet had opportunity to kill Claudius while he was “praying” in the chapel. Decided to leave him alone because if he killed him while he was praying, he would go to heaven. After he left, Claudius says something about it being useless… can’t pray
Dramatic Reverse Act III; Polonius is killed by Hamlet’s hand, who thought it was Claudius hiding behind arras and spying on the Queen and himself; no longer innocent, begins his downfall
Requests Hamlet makes of Gertrude 1. Don’t sleep with Claudius2. I’m faking insanity, but don’t tell anyone
Gravedigger scene Provides comic reliefPrepares audience for upcoming death; commoner’s perspective

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