Pyrrhus And Priam

Why does Hamlet recall the story of Priam and Pyrrhus in Act 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet?

Does it reflect it any way upon Hamlet's own situation?

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To understand Priam and Pyrrhus in Hamlet, we first have to identify the two men who are mentioned in the allusion.

The characters are from the stories of the Trojan War. For this allusion to be effective, most of the Elizabethan audience the play was performed for would have known of the story. Priam is killed by Achilles' son Neoptolemus (also known as Pyrrhus).

It is possible that Hamlet is comparing Pyrrhus to his uncle, Claudius. Some sources record the presence of Piram's wife, Hecuba, who helplessly stands by watching the murder. Hamlet wonders if perhaps Gertrude stood by and watched...

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punkydoodah | Student

What if Hamlet is Pyrrhus and Claudius is Priam?  That might make sense, since Pyrrhus was a good guy and needed to take revenge on Priam (the evil Trojan king.)  By referencing the relationship between Pyrrhus and Priam, Hamlet might be foreshadowing his own killing of Claudius.

rienzi | Student

It does reflect on his situation. Pyrrhus is the ultimate avenger, who delays only briefly before the grisly business of mincing King Priam. Hamlet fails to see his situation in Pyrrhus' delay or see that Pyrrhus is resolved to see its bloody execution fulfilled. He is waiting for the part where Queen Hecuba cries over her mangled husband. (For all we know an emotion particularly absent from Queen Gertrude.) Hamlet is testing the First Player's ability to strike emotion in the soul of an observer and evoke a reaction that is seen as guilt.

The other interesting thing he fails to pick up on is that he misremembers the opening lines. It is somehow stuck in Hamlet's mind that Pyrrhus is like the Hyrcanian beast, though the words are nowhere in the play. The revenge by Pyrrhus does not make him an admirable individual. King Priam is remembered through the play as the one to be admired. Avengers are beastly. There is no nobility found in Pyrrhus' action. History holds a special place for people like King Priam, Julius Ceasar and Alexander the Great not Pyrrhus. Prince Fortinbras learned from his uncle that revenge is not the noble path of princes.

Hamlet strikes down the unseen good old man (Polonius) and sets himself on a collision course with Laertes that results in both their deaths.

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