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Why is Hamlet's talent with words important to the play or to the reading of his...

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wyoflash22 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted August 17, 2013 at 12:22 AM via web

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Why is Hamlet's talent with words important to the play or to the reading of his character in Hamlet, by William Shakespeare?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 17, 2013 at 6:45 AM (Answer #1)

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Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, is set in Denmark, and the protagonist is thirty-year-old Hamlet. He is grieving the loss of his father and the over-hasty marriage of his mother (Gertrude) to his uncle (Claudius). When Hamlet's father appears to him in the form of a ghost and reveals that he was murdered by his brother (Claudius), Hamlet vows to avenge his father's death.

After just a few moments, Hamlet has a plan. He tells his friends not to let on, by word or body language, if he

...perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on....

So, the first thing he can think to do is act, and of course acting is using words (among other things) to move an audience. It is Hamlet's facility with words and his abilities as an actor which create one of the major conflicts of the play--is Hamlet mad or "mad in craft"? 

Hamlet uses his "talent with words" to accomplish many things in this play, and one of them is to confuse people. He confounds Polonius by calling him a "fishmonger" and asking this:

Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: By the mass, and ‘tis like a camel, indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale?
Polonius: Very like a whale. 

This entire exchange only affirms Polonius's suspicions that Hamlet is acting crazy out of love for Ophelia. Another speech which creates confusion is Hamlet's conversation with Claudius after he admits to killing Polonius and is asked where the body is:

Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain
convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your
worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all
creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for
maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but
variable service, two dishes, but to one table:
that's the end.

In this case, Claudius does not know what to make of this kind of talk and just wants to get rid of Hamlet to protect himself. Finally, he uses words to confuse Ophelia the last time he speaks to her: 

Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap? 
Ophelia: No, my lord. 
Hamlet: Did you think I meant country matters? 
Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord. 
Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs. 
Ophelia: What is, my lord? 
Hamlet: Nothing. 

Sometimes Hamlet uses his words in anger, as he does when he speaks to Gertrude in her chamber, scolding her for marrying such an inferior replacement for his father. He also scolds Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in his famous musical metaphor speech, and he certainly scolds himself many times throughout the play, as in his  "rogue and peasant slave" monologue.

The only person (other than the actors, ironically) that Hamlet speaks naturally, honestly, and openly with at all times is Horatio. Perhaps Hamlet's exchanges with Laertes would qualify except for the over-dramatic scene in Ophelia's grave.

With everyone else in the play Hamlet is, at least at times, acting and using his words to gain an advantage or information which will help him accomplish his goal. 

Sources:

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