What are some examples of pathetic fallacy in Hamlet?

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A pathetic fallacy is a literary device whereby the author attributes human emotions and character traits to things that aren't human, such as animals or inanimate objects. In act 1, scene 4, the atmosphere is dark and brooding, establishing the perfect backdrop to what's about to follow. Hamlet states that

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A pathetic fallacy is a literary device whereby the author attributes human emotions and character traits to things that aren't human, such as animals or inanimate objects. In act 1, scene 4, the atmosphere is dark and brooding, establishing the perfect backdrop to what's about to follow. Hamlet states that

The air bites shrewdly. It is very cold.

It's quite common to express the air as biting cold during winter. Though here it has much greater significance, for soon the ghost of Hamlet's father will reveal how he came to die. The biting cold helps provide an appropriate setting for the appearance of a spirit from beyond the grave. Denmark isn't just rotten under Claudius; it's also as cold as the grave.

In his response to Hamlet, Horatio provides an additional example of a pathetic fallacy:

It is a nipping and an eager air.

The word "eager" implies a certain forcefulness about the chill wind that's descending upon the battlements of Elsinore. There's an air of menace about it; the cold wind attacks as it cuts right through Hamlet and Horatio. The almost supernatural quality of the inclement weather conditions points towards the imminent manifestation of the Ghost. Just as Hamlet cannot resist the elements, nor can he refrain from listening to what the Ghost has to say, despite Horatio's advising him to the contrary.

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In Hamlet, much of Act I makes use of pathetic fallacy in order to instill in the audience a sense of fear, confusion, foreboding, and the supernatural.

A pathetic fallacy is an attribution of human emotions to inanimate objects (namely in nature) or an overly-ornate description of nature.  For example, Francisco says:

'tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.

The soldier is connecting the weather ("cold") with his fear ("sick at heart").  This use of drawing on the external weather to describe human emotions is a simple example of pathetic fallacy.

Here's another, Horatio says:

I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.

First of all, there is no "trumpet to the morn," "god of day," or "extravagant and erring spirit."  Horatio here is using poetic language to explain an otherwise common occurence--a rooster's crow--but he is doing so in order to heighten the sense of mystery surrounding the third appearance of King Hamlet's Ghost.  So, he is attributing a sense of mystery to the cock's crow to say there is some spiritual connection between the human world and the natural one.

 

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