In "Hamlet" discuss the irony in Hamlet's "How all occasions do inform against me" (IV.iv.32) speech.  It's for a 5 paragraph essay.

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ssengupta eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet," in my opinion, is a language play; or, in other words, there are a lot of examples in this play where there are plays on the English language: Polonius' oratorial treatise on contemporary drama is a good, hilarious example. As to why Shakespeare indulges in so many puns, so many twists in word meanings in the play is a very, very interesting question. But I won't go into that. For now, let's concentrate on irony.

A definition of irony would be: words which seem to convey a certain meaning, but when you read them back carefully you realize that sometimes they actually mean the opposite of what is expressed; or, at least they run in some way contrary to the context in which the words are expressed or written. Got it?

Now, in the light of this definition, let us look at some of the text above.

How all occasions do inform against me.

And spur my dull revenge!

What is a man, If his chief good and market of his time

Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.

These lines, self-critically spoken by Hamlet, is, nevertheless, ironical because of what we know of Hamlet's character: he constantly weighs two sides of everything. In these lines he berates himself. Circumstances spur his "dull revenge," implying that the very ethics of revenge may be questioned. The following lines introduce the irony: is man nothing but a consumer? An eating, sleeping man is also the avenging man.

From these observations on man, Hamlet then contemplates God's purpose:...he that made us with such large discourse./ Looking before and after, gave us not / That capability and god like reason to fust in us unus'd. now, This is Hamlet's plea for mankind, ironically put: for God's sake, use the intelligence He has given us. Rather than indiscriminately buying into a culture of revenge, however honorable and fiduciary it seems, use your own mind, and decide.

Traditional criticism has it that Hamlet's tragic flaw was his incapacity to decide. Contemporary critics, however, disagree. They say that the traditional critics would have been right except for Hamlet’s ironic vision. It seems Hamlet indulged in so much irony because he could not trust anything in Denmark, beginning with the apparition of the king, his father, down to his mother, Ophelia, Claudius and Polonius. Words coming from each of these people’s mouths were fraught with dissimulation: Ophelia was a prisoner of the male system; his father was a ghost; Polonius used words dishonestly; Claudius was a murderer and Gertrude, his adulterous wife and accomplice. In this essentially corrupt environment, one that Hamlet could not trust, he was expected to carry out the noble and honorable act of revenging his father’s death, something he didn’t quite believe in. Hence, irony.

Your answer on Hamlet’s irony would not be complete if you didn’t comment on two other characters – Horatio and Laertes. Ironically, once again, the only straight forward, honest, if blunt, character in this play was Laertes, Hamlet’s enemy. Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend, understands his plight  but is unable to have a positive impact on the play. Thus Hamlet’s ironic vision does not solve his problem. But it does give the audience and the readers of the play, a complex and fascinating account of human frailty.





mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Irony is typically manifest when you see something occur, or someone behave, in a manner that is opposite to what we expected.  Irony in this speech can be seen in Hamlet's own musings as he reflects on his cowardly will to revenge his father, and on the army's brave will to die over next to no reason at all.  For a 5 paragraph essay, you will want to come up with three instances of irony, to discuss, one each, in the body paragraphs.  One potential discussion point could be what Hamlet mentions himself, that he has a very powerful reason to enact revenge--he has "a father kill'd and a mother stain'd," AND, as he mentions, he has "cause and will and strength and means" to enact that revenge.  So, one would expect him to do go it, right?  Well, that's where irony comes in.  For the entire play, he hasn't, despite good cause, good opportunity and means.  Instead, he has "let all sleep."  So, Hamlet's NOT enacting revenge is ironic.

Another instance of irony exists in a contrast to Hamlet's just cause for murder, and that is the little cause that the "twenty thousand men" have to go into battle and lay down their lives.  You would expect them to have a personal stake on the battlefield, instead of just fighting over "a plot" of land that is tiny, not large enough to "hide the slain."  With very little motive, these men bravely march out onto the field to die; you wouldn't expect that, so it's ironic.

One last instance of irony exists in the fact that it took Hamlet seeing these men senselessly die to prompt him to go murder his uncle.  You would expect Hamlet, at seeing men die so easily, at seeing such a bloody field before him, to be even further put off from murdering someone.  The scene of carnage and bloodshed would only feed his hesitations and thoughts of death, not make him resolve to go enact death on someone else.  Hamlet's reaction to the scene is a bit ironic--on seeing death all over in front of him, he takes a bit home with him.

For a 5 paragraph essay, start it off with an introductory paragraph where you state your thesis at the end, mentioning irony existing in Hamlet's thoughts and reactions to the battlefield.  Then in each of the 3 body paragraphs discuss one instance of irony.  To close, summarize and restate your thesis.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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