Hamlet by William Shakespeare - Garnet Valley School District
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Hamlet by William Shakespeare Introduction
There is something rotten in the state of Denmark… Prince Hamlet returns home from university to discover that his father is dead and mother married to his uncle Claudius, who has declared himself king To make matters worse, the ghost of his father appears to Hamlet and tells Hamlet that he has been murdered. Hamlet’s dead father demands that Hamlet get revenge
What should he do? Instead of jumping into action, Hamlet broods over his options and starts acting very strange He starts talking in riddles He acts cruelly to Ophelia, a girl who loves him He becomes suspicious of everyone
Questions Why is he acting like this?
Is he insane or faking insanity? Will he make up his mind to take action? Should he kill his uncle?
Author Background In 1563, Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, a small town about 75 miles northwest of London, England His family was middle class. When he was young, most people were not educated and could neither read nor write He went to free grammar school in Stratford where he learned to speak and write Latin In 1582, at 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a local farmer. In 1583, Susanna was born and in 1585 Hamnet and Judith were born.
As early as 1586 Shakespeare may have worked in theaters, first in small jobs, then as an actor and finally as a writer of plays In 1594, Shakespeare formed a theater company called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men
General Background 1600 – Sometime around 1600, William Shakespeare, already a successful playwright, wrote Hamlet.
1601 – The play was probably first performed in 1601 on the stage of the Globe Theater on London’s Bankside. The Globe was a sixteen-sided polygon open to the sky Costumes were elaborate (donations from wealthy patrons) but the stage sets were very modest. The clues to time of day or place are included in the language The theater had two trapdoors, one above the stage and one below, the lower trap-door is where Hamlet’s father appears
General Background The period in which Shakespeare wrote is the Elizabethan period, part of the Renaissance (was influenced by classics and optimistic forward-thinking approach to human potential) Queen Elizabeth saw many of Shakespeare’s plays in special court performances To the Elizabethans, social order was very important. As in any time, political and religious conflicts were a part of the national drama Hamlet depicts a conflict over what to do when an orderly state is actually corrupt inside and there seems to be no civilized answer
Shakespeare’s Sources for Hamlet Hamlet is based on a twelfth-century story about an early Prince of Denmark, Amleth. The tale, by Saxo Grammaticus, was published in Latin in 1514, but most scholars believe that Shakespeare read a 1570 French version of the story by Francois Belleforest. The old story has many similarities with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Tragedies of the Roman dramatist, Seneca Thomas Kyd’s hugely popular play The Spanish Tragedy Play, now lost, which is known as the Ur-Hamlet (Ur means early) – a play of Hamlet that existed at least 10 years before Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but Shakespeare transformed the genre as well as the character of Hamlet.
Major Themes Fate
Corruption (individual, political, personal) Ambition Revenge Guilt Subordination of women
Major Themes Fate - are the characters actually in charge of their own lives and actions? Corruption (political, personal) – what characters are corrupt personally? Are all political systems corrupt? Is there anything any character can personally do? Ambition – is it good to be ambitious (strive for more power)? What characters have ambition and what characters do not? Revenge – is revenge justified for certain crimes? Guilt – What characters feel guilt for what actions? Should some of the characters feel guilt who do not? What does guilt do to some of the characters over time? Subordination of women – What role do women play in politics and in the family? Should women be held to a higher moral standard than men in some regards? Theater – Who is acting? What characters can be trusted? Why can these be trusted and not others?
Shakespeare’s Language (stylistic devices) Blank verse – iambic pentameter without rhyme Iambic Pentameter – a line ten syllables long that is accented on every second beat. But soft! What light through yonder window breaks/ It is the east and Juliet is the sun. O that this too too solid flesh would melt/Thaw and resolve itself into a dew Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day/Thou art more lovely and more temperate
Imagery (decay and death; reality and unreality)
Doubling (pairing of characters and situations) Use of a foil – creation of a character whose primary purpose is to contrast another character
Soliloquy (abounds in this play)
Shakespeare’s language cont. Antithesis – the opposition of words or phrases against each other (anti-thesis)
Examples: “To be or not to be:” “I must be cruel only to be kind.” “Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned.” Antithesis powerfully expresses conflict through its use of opposites, and conflict is the essence of all drama. In Hamlet conflict occurs in many forms. Claudius vs. Hamlet, revenge vs. justice, appearance vs. reality, son vs. mother etc. Antithesis intensifies that sense of conflict, and embodies its different forms.
Shakespeare’s language cont. Apostrophe - Most often, apostrophe occurs when one addresses oneself to an abstraction, to an inanimate object, or to the absent. (tool of hyperbole) Example: “O God, God/How (weary), stale, flat, and unprofitable/Seem to me all the uses of this world.” (I.ii.136-138)
Metafiction/Metadrama Metafiction It is a kind of fiction that comments on the very devices of fiction it employs. It usually involves irony and is selfreflective. Metadrama is similar. It is drama that calls attention to itself as a play or has occasion to comment on its own actions and devices. These devices are most apparent in the play-within-the play in Hamlet but also subtlety throughout the play as a whole in the constant juxtaposition of appearance vs. reality as well as the many faces of Hamlet, himself.
Discussion Starters Hamlet is concerned by the marriage of his uncle to his mother and by his uncle becoming king
Who would you expect to be king after Hamlet’s father dies?
If Hamlet were your friend, what would you advise him?
How does power shift in Hamlet’s family after his father’s death?
Discussion Starters Hamlet believes that his father’s ghost is asking him to get revenge for his murder.
How would you react in this situation? Why?
Do you think revenge is a good response to criminal acts? Why or why not?
Sources http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/timeline/timeline.ht m http://www.saddlespace.org/francisc/mrs.francissengli shclasses/cms_page/view/1511443