Hamlet Context

Shakespeares most performed and studied play Shakespeare’s most performed and studied play, what does that tell us about the great questions in raises in the human psyche.
Tragedy From Greek Tragedy and tragic influences on Shakespeare. Tragic classics such as Seneca. The Persians (use of ghsots in tragedy) and Oedipus are essential. The dramatic genre and purpose of tragedy should be well understood. Hamlet is an unusual tragic hero- he has the common touch and is knowingly ironic. Also see Greek stories such as Hecuba.
Revenge The concept of revenge relates to very basic concerns about the relationship of the individual to the state, and about justice and the legality of violent action. Under the tuders, a centralised rule was established through teh idea of a divinely chosen monarch. As a member of the governing family of the country, his private revenge has btoh microcosmic and macrocosmic consequences.
The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd Often referred to as the inspiration for Hamlet. It was incredibly popular at the time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. There are strong parallels between the two plays, both are obviously tragedies. Dated in the 1580s, it was seen as a brave appealing work, but its central theme of vengeance and retribution stuck a chord with the Elizabethan psyche. It is closely bound to the Senecan model with stlised and impassioned rhetoric, gratuitous brutality and tight focus on revenge. As it says, ‘in revenge my heart would find relief.’
Religion The reformation purgatory that the ghost speaks of isn’t believed by the protestant audience at the time of its creation: he’s a purgatorial ghost. Catholic or protestant, murder to alleviate infinite purgatorial suffering is extreme. For protestants, (Lutheran) the soul slept to reawaken on judgement day; for Catholics, the concept of the subterranean world of flames, horror and torture endured. Shakespeare could be weaving these ideas together in order to create an intensity to the drama. Wittenberg is a reference to Protestant (where Martin Luther wrote Ninety-Five Theses), but the play is a mi of Protestant and Catholic ideas- much like England in the 16th century. Look at Stephen Greenblatt’s Hamlet in Purgatory.
Renaissance Renaissance means re-birth and it is the period that follows the middle ages, which began with the fall of the Roman Empire. Many advances made in science, art and government at this time were lsot and a new and excited interest in them was reborn. It was a rebith of education science, art, literature and music, but it also began to question religion and the cultural and spiritual dominance of the Catholic church. A significant focus of this was humanism and the perfectibiltiy of man. In many ways, Hamlet is a Renaissance man in a medieval world. Through this, Shakespeare llustrates the struggle with the meaning of life. Have a look at Becoming a Courtier: by Castigilione.
Elizabeth I and the power of monarchs In the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Is Hamlet a political play? Well, it has a significance in performance- whilst much of the politicis is left out in Western productions, in Eastern Europe. Hamlet is seen as a political play. Hamlet deals with issues around succession, contextually a significant concern but it was also one that was dangerous to discuss as it was illegal. A change in succession could lead to at times catastrophic consequences for the people so it would be something that would have been spoken about, but not openly. Shakespeare maintains a distance by placing it in Denmark ,but the ‘rotten’ state denotes the consequences of poor or corrupt governance. The theme of appearance and reality could allude to Elizabeth’s court of spying- Walsingham, but it would have been deadly for Shakespeare to be openly critical.
Amleth The story of Hamlet dates ack to at least the 9th century. It centres on ‘Amleth’, a young man who pretends to be crazy in order to avenge his father’s murder. Saxo the Grammarian included the tale in a 12th century and later, Francois de Belleforest translated the story from Latin into French in Histories Traquiques (1570), which is wher Sheakespeare may have found it. Hypothetical UR Hamlet.

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