Is the World a Prison?"Denmark is a prison," says Hamlet.  Rosencratz replies, "Then the world is one."  Is the world a prison?  Or is reality a construct?  How do you see...

Is the World a Prison?

"Denmark is a prison," says Hamlet.  Rosencratz replies, "Then the world is one."  Is the world a prison?  Or is reality a construct?  How do you see individual characters as adhering to one worldview or the other? 

7 Answers

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Maybe Rosencrantz also feels trapped in himself?  He is not Prince, and never will be, but as a member of the nobility, he is coerced to do things for the sake of that nobility--even if it doesn't appeal to him.  I have always gotten the feeling that Rosencrantz does not enjoy his life...that he has no control over it, and unlike Hamlet, he has no real choice to change things.  Am I wrong or reading too much into it?

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Rosencrantz is really a gloomy fellow, the more I re-read these passages.  I get so stuck in what I've seen on film - R&G being these jovial suck-ups who are trying to get closer to Hamlet - that I forget to re-read the text to see what they're really like ("Words, words, words," as Hamlet says).

Rosencrantz takes Hamlet's proclamation about Denmark one step further...not only is their homeland (or Elsinore for Hamlet) a prison, but the world is.  Could this be because now he feels like he has to do what the king and queen have asked with regards to spying on Hamlet?

Okay, back to film - In "R&G Are Dead," do we ever determine if Gary Oldman is Guildenstern and Tim Roth is Rosencrantz?  Because it seems like it makes sense that way since Tim Roth is the thinker, the one who gets annoyed more easily, while Gary Oldman just floats along, doing whatever happens.  I'm going to have to watch that again - LOVE IT! :)

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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We do have the best job in the world don't we? Hamlet still gives me chills and probably always will.

  Oh my gosh, we so do!  Warren Buffet says every day he "tap dances to work" because he loves what he does so much.  My feeling exactly (less millions of dollars). 

When I first started teaching these lessons, for instance, I intended to spend about a month on Hamlet.  It will probably be more like three, for every time I sit down with the text I find things I feel I must address and discuss with you all.  Bloom is right.  It is "Poem Unlimited." 

Hope it doesn't sound too silly to say how glad I am that we have this "community."  I hope one day to put together a conference for eNotes editors were we can all actually meet in real life/time, for both scholarly discourse and some fun! 

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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I love that take on it Jeff. I often discuss that one with my more advanced students and they get into it. :)

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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There is also the existential quality to "Denmark is a prison." (Denmark being the pseudonym for the King or future King of Denmark). Being Hamlet is a prison for the prince. He is trapped in his own self

When Henry VII's son Arthur married Catherine of Aragon, he remarked about their controversial honeymoon with a similarly worded  joke. The Prince of Wales married the Princess of Spain. The 15 yr old prince bragged to his friends the next day that, "It is hot work being in Spain and makes one thirsty." ... then he caught sick and died. 

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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I definitely think that reality is a construct to some extent for everyone. It's like when I think the week is dragging on and my husband thinks it's flying by when we're both bound by the same time our construct of the time is different. Certainly the reality in the play then is construct as well. Hamlet has been outside the country, he has studied abroad, he has more life experience. His worldview has been largely shaped by his experience and so he sees the life ahead of him as a prison. He sees how he will be bound to his uncle, he sees his father's throne being defiled by a man who murderously gained the crown, he feels the disappointment in his mother's choice. He can't be with the woman he loves (if he truly loves her). He struggles with his quest to seek vengeance. For Hamlet Denmark is his only prison. Rosencrantz's world view is entirely within Denmark. He seeks to gain rank and favor with the king, he rarely looks beyond the palace walls. The queen is content and her only distress is that Hamlet absolutely does not approve. Claudius' worldview is also consumed within Denmark, to the point that he committed murder to rule it. His focus is entirely on being king and having Gertrude. Polonius' worldview is focused on pleasing the king, on being at his right hand and in his ear. The world is a prison for those who make it so, it completely depends on the individual attitude toward the world on any given day in any given situation.