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What ideas are developed in Hamlet about individuals who attempt to reconcile the...

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ashifs | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted April 20, 2011 at 7:54 AM via web

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What ideas are developed in Hamlet about individuals who attempt to reconcile the desire to act independently with the need for security?

 


Need examples. Quotations would be very helpful.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 20, 2011 at 9:22 AM (Answer #1)

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I am unable to provide five examples, but perhaps I can provide you with some ideas and a few examples.

In Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, we see the struggle between characters who wish to act independently and their need for security.

We can see this first in Hamlet. He is a young man whose father has recently died. Soon after the funeral, the alleged ghost of his father appears demanding that Hamlet avenge his death. Old Hamlet blames his brother Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, for his murder.

Hamlet wishes to carry out the ghost's request. He feels compelled to do so as a loving son, however, Hamlet cannot be sure the ghost is speaking the truth or is simply trying to trick Hamlet into forfeiting his soul—by committing the moral sin of killing a king: his uncle, Claudius. Hamlet is at war with himself in trying to do what is required of him, hesitant to act where he might be tricked into eternal damnation. Hamlet chastises his own slow response to avenging his father's death.

Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing! No, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn'd defeat was made. Am I a coward?  (II.ii.560-565)

Ophelia has a limited amount of independence and tries to exercise it with her brother, but still must assure herself of security in a male-dominated society. When Laertes gives Ophelia advice about keeping her distance from Hamlet (implying that Hamlet only wants to seduce her, not marry her), she exerts her independence by reminding him to follow his own advice and be chaste. When her father reiterates Laertes' advice, Ophelia submits to her father. While she wishes for independence, she knows that her security depends on staying in her father's good graces.

Polonius asks about the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet; she explains that he has been attentive:

He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders (105)
Of his affection to me.  (I.iii.105-106)

Then Polonius instructs her regarding her behavior toward Hamlet. He tells her not to trust him, but to keep herself at a distance.

Think yourself a baby,
That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly... (III.i.111-113)

Perhaps we could see the same in Gertrude's behavior. As a widow she is no longer tied to a man and might well appreciate the independence that is thrust upon her, however, I believe she marries Claudius (and so quickly, too) for a sense of security.

Hamlet complains that Gertrude's marriage takes place quickly, though she acted as if she was totally devoted to Old Hamlet:

But two months dead! Nay, not so much, not two;
So excellent a king...so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly...Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on; and yet, within a month— (I.ii.141-148)

There is no evidence that any kind of relationship existed before Old Hamlet's death, so it make sense that she chooses to marry again primarily for a sense of security.

These are just a few examples of characters who struggle between a need for independence and a need for security, and how they deal with this struggle.

 

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