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Shakespeare s Hamlet is known around the world as one of the greatest works of literature. This is largely due to its title character, Hamlet. Hamlet is almost universally considered one of the most remarkable characters in all of literature (Boyce, 1990, p. 232 ). Shakespeare develops Hamlet using a variety of techniques, but one of the strongest is his use of contrasting him with other characters. Shakespeare contrasts Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras to better the development and understanding of Hamlet s character.
Shakespeare creates life-like characters that people could identify with. The character Hamlet is the prince and heir to the throne of Denmark. He is a young philosophy student and is an emotional thinker. He is filled with passion and contradiction, and his emotional life develops credibly through the course of the play (Boyce,1990,232). His peaceful existence is shaken and greatly disrupted early in the play. His father, the king of Denmark, dies and Hamlet struggles to grasp his death. Hamlet s uncle Claudius takes on the role of king of Denmark, even though Hamlet is the heir to the throne. Hamlet s life is further rattled when his mother marries his uncle. He is in a state of great grief and bewilderment that his mother remarries relatively quickly and also marries an inferior man, his uncle. He compares Claudius to her as a rotting ear of corn. Here is your husband; like a mildew d ear,/Blasting his wholesome brother (the recently deceased King Hamlet). Have you eyes? (III,iv, 66-67). Hamlet finds the marriage to be highly immoral (Gertrude marrying her dead husband s brother) and is appalled by it. He compares the marriage to diseased garden full of weeds tis an unweeded garden,/ that grows to seed ; things rank and gross in nature/ possess it merely. (I,ii, 135-137). Hamlet s seemingly happy life is thrown into a state of heavy grief and confusion and it is taxing Hamlet s entire being.
Laertes is a young student from a noble family, whose father is one of the most trusted royal advisors. He is allowed by the new king (Claudius) to go to France to study. He is the oldest son in his family with no mother, and takes it on himself to look out for them. He is very fond of if his sister Ophelia whom Hamlet has a relationship with, and doesn t agree with their relationship together. He warns her of Hamlet and believes that he is only involved with her for to get her into bed Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,/ And keep within the rear of your affection,/out of the shot and danger of desire (I,iii. 33-35). He is close to his sister and father and leaves them to go to France.
Fortinbras is a young prince of Norway. Norway, in the start of the play, is the enemy of Denmark. His father was killed in a battle with Prince Hamlet s father and he is vengeful . At the start of the play he plans to attack Denmark and they are preparing for war. Not much is seen of Fortinbras until later in the play but he is described as a hot blooded young warrior intent on recapturing lands taken from Norway after the combat in which his father… was killed…by Hamlet s father. (Boyce, 1990,p. 201).
These three characters are very similar. They are all young men from noble households. Each one of them has lost a father by murder. Hamlet s father was killed by Claudius, Laertes father was killed by Prince Hamlet and Fortinbras died by the hands of the old King Hamlet. Each one of them plan to seek revenge on their father s death. It is the nature of their revenge and how they come about in doing it that is the difference between each of their characters.
The story s main focus is on Hamlet s revenge. He is in a state of heavy grievance of his father and anger towards Claudius because he has the throne and also his mother. When Hamlet learns of his father s murder from his father s ghost, he finds the answers to his emotional state and is thrown into a rage. He swears revenge O cursed spite,/ That ever I was born to set it right! (I,v. 190-191). Hamlet then puts on an antic disposition to pretend to be insane so he could kill Claudius. Seen in Act 1, Hamlet was shocked and outraged and immediately starts to begin his plot for revenge. However Hamlet does not take his beliefs into action and soon begins to doubt the certainty of the ghost. He needed more proof of Claudius’s treachery. After the players reenactment He finds the ghost s story to be true and once again is ready to take revenge. Now could I drink of blood,/ And do such bitter business (3,ii. 381-382). But once again procrastinates his revenge further when his has a clear chance to do it he thinks his way around it and fails. Through these examples you find that Hamlet s inability to take action is his constant thinking and reasoning.
Hamlet behaves Philosophically, the definition of philosophize includes to think, reason and to argue speculatively and theoretically (Little, 1957 p. 1448). Hamlet philosophizes over almost every action and situation that he gets into and through this he argues with himself and doesn t act. The one time that he doesn t philosophize is when he kills Polonius. He acts on a whim here and through his frustration of his inability he kills Polonius. This is the first instance that Hamlet was able to act and he is now beginning to be able to continue with his revenge. But because of this he is put into a bad situation. He is anguished when he learns of Fortinbras being strong and fighting for worthless land, and speaks of his inability for action. How all occasions do inform against me,/ and spur my dull revenge! What is a man,/ if his chief good and market of his time/ be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more… (IV,iv, 31-34). Hamlet can now see things taking shape and travels back to Denmark accepting and ready to take his revenge.
Laertes character is the opposite to Hamlets in taking revenge; he acts but does not think. Laertes learns of his father s death while he was in France and hastily returns to Denmark full of rage to avenge his father. He puts it all onto the line when he returns to the castle and threatens to kill Claudius. This shows that Laertes is is very bold. He seeks revenge in a no-matter-what happens fashion. He jumps into it without thinking and is bloodthirsty. A major contrast with Hamlet is that he said that he would even kill him in church, while Hamlet wouldn t kill Claudius when he was praying. Laertes then lets himself be manipulated by Claudius and plans revenge in an dishonourable and conniving fashion. This shows that Laertes is very brave but he is also very weak. He jumps into harm s way to avenge his father but he also doesn t think and then allows himself to be Claudius s pawn.
Fortinbras is the medium of the two characters, and is the better of them for his revenge. He doesn t believe in a hasty revenge. He allows time to pass so that he can better act out and accomplish his revenge. For him it is a little different because during the play the person that killed his father is already dead. Fortinbras revenge is one of honour, so that he can accomplish what his father lost his life doing. Fortinbras is very ambitious in his revenge and doesn t act treacherously in is revenge plot. But instead faces his enemies head on in a military battle that was easily won.
The audience gets to better understand Hamlet s character through the comparisons and contrasts with Laertes and Fortinbras. Hamlet is a young man who Philosophizes life and dwells in thought rather than acting. It is this kind of acting that is his fatal flaw and he dies a tragic death shortly after accomplishing his revenge. Laertes does not think but solely acts. He allows himself to become part of a dirty revenge plot that in the end is his fate. Fortinbras is the exception to these characters: he doesn t allow himself to jump into anything hastily and unintelligently but acts nobly and justly. In the end, Fortinbras is the only one of these characters to live through this revenge. In modern terms Hamlet has three different characters: Hamlet the wuss, Laertes the thug and Fortinbras the knight. So you learn that it is often one s mind that corrupts people s desires and intents, sometimes for good and in this play for bad. And so the motto goes:
Don t think..just go