Where do we see Juxtaposition in Hamlet?What are some examples in the text?

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Simply put, juxtaposition is the placement of two things next to one another. When we talk about juxtaposition in literature, we are usually looking at two characters, two scenes, or two themes that are related in some way and usually serve to either contrast or enhanse one another. There are many examples of this in the play but I will give you one of each from the above list.

Juxtaposition of characters: Laertes and Polonius

Both of these men try to talk to Ophelia about her relationship with  Hamlet and have the intended message that she should be cautious in her actions towards Hamlet. Laertes comes across in a very brotherly fashion: he doesn't belittle her feelings for Hamlet and he doesn't claim that Hamlet doesn't truly love her. He merely makes the very true point that Hamlet is a prince and therefore "cannot carve for himself...for on his choice rests the health of Denmark." Hamlet cannot justmarry whomever he wants; he must consider what would be politically advantageous for the kingdom. In the very next conversation though we see the juxtaposition with Polonius who is rude and condescending with Ophelia in regards to her feelings and who jumps to brash conclusions about Hamlet's motives for being with Ophelia. Both men ultimately want to protect Ophelia, but their speeches could not be more different.

Juxtaposition of scenes: Act 5 scene 1

At the end of Act 4, the reader is overwhelmed with the anger of Laertes, the evil manipulation by Claudius of Laertes, the madness and news of suicide by Ophelia, and the all the details of the plot against Hamlet with the poisoned sword and cup. We are anxious for what will come of Hamlet. Act 5 scene 1 is a nice juxtaposition to the tension of Act 4 in that we get a bit of comic relief in the conversation between the grave diggers. While the comedy is a dark comedy, it is still worth a chuckle at the jokes and puns. We get a little break before Hamlet is confronted with Ophelia's death and then the subsequent sword fight which ends the play.

Juxtaposition of themes: Action and Inaction

The whole play revolves around these two concepts. Hamlet wants to act, but cannot actually do very much to accomplish his goal of avenging his father's death. He is a moral and rational young man who is not going to impulsively risk damnation by just killing Claudius with no proof, so his revenge is slow in coming. He is also a thinker -- he recognizes his lack of action, but understands what has happened. As he concludes in Act 3, "conscience makes cowards of us all." He means that thinking makes us cautious and we "lose the name of action." It is finally revealed in Act 5 that when his back is up against the wall so to speak he CAN act. He changes the letter to England in order to save himself; he jumped on to the pirate ship to return to Denmark; he willingly enters a shady sword fight so as to have the opportunity to take care of his matters once and for all.

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