How can the landscape in Act 1 Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Hamlet be seen as Apollonian?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The term Apollonian was developed by Friedrich Nietzshe, along with its opposite term Dionynisian, to analyze art, especially Greek tragedy. The term is named after the Greek god Apollo, who is said to be the god of culture, reason, restraint, harmony, and all things related to self-consciousness, being aware of one's own self. As Alexander Gatherer of Cardiff University explains, as the god of self-consciousness, Apollo is the god of individuation, the method through which people find their own sense of individuality. Through controlling individuation, Apollo "provides the world around us with a sensible structure" (University The Oxford Philosopher: A Philosophical Periodical, "The Dionysian and the Apollonian in Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy"). Therefore, according to Gatherer, anything having to do with reason, structure, and culture can be considered Apollonian (Gatherer). In addition to the above, editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica define Apollonian as having to do with "reason, culture, harmony, and restraint" ("Apollonian").

Since landscape has to do with all scenery, the term literary landscape has come to be defined as the geographical, physical, social, and even cultural setting that influences the story. If we are to analyze the fist scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet for Apollonian landscape, we would be looking at aspects of the physical, social, and cultural setting that display "reason, culture, harmony, and restraint."

The first physical aspect of the landscape we notice is that the scene is set on a "platform before the castle" called Elsinor. A castle is a well-fortified residence for a noble ruler, such as a king or lord. Castles provide protection from enemies. Since castles provide protection, they have come to symbolize strength, resilience, fortification, and protection. Strength and protection cannot be achieved without reason since only our rational minds can protect us from and help us through problems; our irrational minds only make matters worse. In addition, protection creates harmony among those who are being protected. Imagine a city being stormed by an army and its citizens hiding behind the castle walls; those citizens will only remain protected by the castle walls if they continue to act in harmony. Hence, a castle can also symbolize harmony.

Therefore, just the reference to the castle setting alone can be considered Apollonian.

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