Shakespearean Hamlet Through a Historical Lens Writing Is largely the product of an author’s desire to say something, to tell a story, or to simply entertain an audience; but It Is also a product of the time In history in which It was written, and thus shaped by the standards, expectations, attitudes, limitations, and events of the day. One could read Hamlet merely as a revenge tragedy: Hamlet’s father, the king of Denmark, is killed by his brother, Claudia, who, as a result, arrogates not only the crown, but also his departed brother’s wife, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude.
The ghost of the deceased king reveals the circumstances of his death to his son, leaving Hamlet with a sense of obligation to avenge the murder, the usurpation, and the adultery. In the end, Hamlet does exact revenge by killing Claudia. This leads many to view Hamlet primarily as a revenge tragedy, but it is actually more enlightening as a topical history; in fact,J. Dover Wilson, a scholar of Renaissance drama, particularly on the work of William Shakespeare, regards Hamlet as “the most topical play In the whole corpus” (Rouse 188).
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Hamlet markedly In 1564, Just eight years after Queen Elizabeth I came Into power. Queen Elizabethan reign lasted for 45 years, a period in which Shakespeare wrote the vast majority of his plays, including Hamlet, which was written sometime between 1 599 and 1602. This was a time of great political instability and turmoil for Queen Elizabeth due to a failed assassination attempt, a failed uprising, and a failed invasion attempt. Shakespearean plays were written not only to entertain the lowly masses, but also to appease royal censorship and appease the queen.
The protagonist in Hamlet is portrayed as a diplomat and a lover rather than a fighter, possibly to please Elizabeth, who embodied these new modern qualities. Furthermore, Shakespeare may have Included the murder of a monarch, a country In crisis, and the threat of invasion In Hamlet In an attempt to arouse sympathy and provide a storyline that would truly resonate with audience members. The Elizabethan era In England was a time of dramatic change, which Is exemplified In Hamlet. During Elizabethan reign, England experienced a cultural renaissance” (Spiegel 373). The mindset of the English was changing from medieval, feudal ideas to a more modern, diplomatic way of thinking, which involved a craving for knowledge and proof. Hamlet personifies this revolution by seeking proof of Classis’s guilt rather than opting for the feudal option of immediate revenge. The shift in thinking in Elizabethan England was also religious, which is represented in Hamlet as well. “In Elizabethan times, there was a deferent way of looking at life.
People, Including Shakespeare believed In a Divine Order, or Great Chain of Being. The Divine Order was the belief that everything in the universe has a specific place and rank In order of their perceived Importance and spiritual nature” (Malarial). This natural order was extremely Important to Elizabethans. This logic could be used to explain the chaos that ensues as a result of the king’s murder. In the natural order within society, a and the assassination of a man of such rank upsets the universe’s balance.
It is even noted by Marvelous that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” after Hamlet follows the ghost of his father (1. 5. 100). During the creation of Hamlet, a conflict between Elizabethan playwrights, known as the War of the Theatres, was taking place. It covered a period when one of the playwrights was writing for a children’s many of players and the other was writing for another, rival group. The conflict was certainly sharpened by the intense competition that existed between children’s companies at the time.
This is a prime example of how knowledge of the historical context of Hamlet can enrich the reading experience and give a reader insights into certain passages that other readers may not have. In this case, a conversation in Hamlet between Restaurant and Guilelessness alludes to the War of the Theaters: Restaurant: Faith, there has been much to do on both sides; and the nation holds it o sin to tar them to controversy: there was, for a while, no money bid for argument unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the question.
Hamlet: 1st possible? Guilelessness: O, there has been much throwing about of brains. (2. 2. 352-9). Shakespeare further alludes to this conflict when Hamlet is discussing how adult actors were forced to undertake provincial tours because of the child actors’ popularity with a player at the end of Act 2. With Just a basic knowledge of Elizabethan England, the era in which Hamlet was composed, the text becomes far ore enlightening than if it were simply viewed as a revenge tragedy.
Hamlet would not have passed the test of time, however, if such historical knowledge was necessary in reading the play. Hamlet is timeless because it addresses themes to which everyone can relate, both in Elizabethan times, and modern day, such as inner conflict, and the questioning of life and death, love, and morality. Reading Hamlet through a historical lens simply adds a sense of depth and understanding.