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Hamlet Essay, Research Paper

The study of Shakespeare?s Hamlet has been one that is very extensive as well as

enormous. Books upon books have been written about this great play. About an equal

amount of books, however, have been written about one character; Hamlet. A critic of

Hamlet once said, ?a man set out to read all the books about Hamlet would have time to

read nothing else, not even Hamlet.?

What is the great fascination with Hamlet and the characters contained

within. The great intrigue comes from the ambiguity of the play and it?s characters.

?Hamlet is the tragedy of reflection. The cause of the hero?s delay is irresolution; and the

cause of this is excess of the reflexive and speculative habit of the mind.? (Halliday. 217)

The reason that there are so many critics is that there are just as many theories and

speculations. Even in the twentieth century on could create or ?discover? a new theory or

criticism based on the play or it?s characters.

The character Hamlet, alone, has over two dozen critics from Quinn to

Coleridge. Some critics come up with sane interpretations of Hamlet while others use

wild and crazy themes. Some conclude that the problem with Hamlet, and a classic thesis

used by many students, is insanity versus sanity. The theories progress from there. The

theories range from manic-depressant to homosexual. Some are even very creative; such

as the thesis that Hamlet is actually a female raised as a male. But no matter how many

theories, speculations, or thesis there are, many hold some ground.

This thesis paper will not stress on any of the statements I have listed

above. However, I will take a stand with Coleridge and speak about Hamlet?s genius and

cognitive activity. Hamlet?s true dilemma is not one of sanity -Vs- insanity; but one

pressing his intellectual capacity. Being a scholar, Hamlet is prone to thought rather than

actions. ?Cause of Hamlet?s destiny. . . in intellectual terms . . . is a tragedy . . . of

excessive thought.? (Mack. 43) Hamlet?s role was to make a transcendental move from

scholarly prince to man of action. Hopefully this report will help open another, or even

stress a classic, view as to Hamlet?s character and his prolonged delay.

When a student goes to write about Hamlet?s character they often begin by

hitting a wall. Not the usual writers block in which the mind goes blank, but one of

information loaded upon information. Where does a pupil begin? In this vast mound of

information, where do we start? The Beginning would be a proper place.

The background of Hamlet may help to bring some insight onto his

character analysis. ?Hamlet is . . . a man who, at thirty, still lives among students.? As

the play opens, Hamlet has just returned from Wittenberg Germany, most likely attending

Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg. Hamlet was in-fact so found of this

Wittenberg university, that he had requested for his immediate return there. Hamlet

probably felt a little out of place in a political environment. For the hasty marriage of his

uncle and his mother may have been one only of convince.

To add fuel to this enraged fire, Claudius so boldly denies Hamlet?s return

to his asylum. This could not have angered Hamlet anymore. For where Hamlet saw that

?the time is out of joint,? Hamlet himself was ?out of joint.? How? Hamlet saw Elsinore

as a prison rather than a sanction.

Denmark?s a prison. . . world. . . in which there are many confines, wards, and

dungeons . . . Denmark?s oath? worst . . . I could be bounded in a nutshell and cut

myself a kind of infinite space [thought]. (II.II.243-255)

A man who is a mere ?prince of philosophical speculators,? as F.E. Halliday puts it,

would not feel at home in an incestuous tomb of politics. Hamlet is so out of place and

suffering from his newly lost and homesickness of Wittenberg, that he must spend all of

his days in deep contemplation.

As a university student, Hamlet is used to nothing but thought and

contemplation. Hamlet is not accommodated with the environment of politics. Hamlet

suffers from a ?superfluous activity of the mind.? (Coleridge. 35) He knows of nothing

else but thought and reason. Unbeknown to Hamlet, his next task would soon bring him

to be caught between being a man of though and a man of action.

As the play progresses hamlet?s thought and reason takes on a great form.

Most of Hamlet?s thoughts, like that of many scholars, are about that of the world and

those things contained within them. ?Characteristic of Shakespeare?s conception of

Hamlet?s universalizing mind that he should make Hamlet think first . . . entirely.?

(Mack. 39) Hamlet has come to terms with the fact that the world, even including his

mother, is nothing but an un-weeded garden filled with evil.

Hamlet?s one true problem is with himself. He sees his character as

something most desirable; and the character of Horatio as even more coveted. Hamlet

does not understand the life of his uncle, mother, and others within Denmark. For these

people use no reason.

What is a man if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed?

A best, no more. Sure he that mad us with such large discourse, gave us not that

capability and godlike reason to rust in us unused. (IV.IV.33-39)

.

Hamlet believes that life is useless if men do not use their great power of reason and

intellect. In-fact men become evil, ?stale, and flat.?

The next show of Hamlet?s intellect is his question of everything. Whether

it is the world as a whole or death itself; Hamlet finds a need to question all. The play

Hamlet is filled with soliloquies in which Hamlet is questioning some action or feeling.

This problem of Hamlet?s comes from his over use of his brain. For, he has to

contemplate every action, prepare for the reaction, and also prepare for any

consequences. Hamlet is a perfectionist who?s questions help to make sure everything

runs smoothly. ?Hamlet?s skepticism, is purely an intellectual matter.? (Mack. 64)

Hamlet begins his questioning with the death of elder Hamlet. First,

Hamlet wonders if the ghost of his father is but a figment of his imagination. Or even a

servant of the devil. If this is so, then Claudius would not be at fault for his brother?s

death.

After he finds out that both the ghost is really his father and Claudius is

truly guilty, Hamlet next dilemma is how to kill Claudius and seek revenge. What would

be the best way to get his revenge? While Claudius is praying? Hamlet sees a great

opportunity to take his life. But wait! If Hamlet were to seek revenge now, Claudius

would go straight to heaven. Hamlet here spends an eloquent soliloquy pondering this

sudden hasty murder.

Now might I do it pat, now a is a-praying and now I?ll so?t. . . and so am I

revenged. That would be scanned: a villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole

son, do this same villain send to heaven. (III.III.73-78)

Next show of Hamlet?s over used, over questioning brain is his

contemplation of his own death. As I have stated before, Hamlet felt very much

imprisoned in Elsinore. No doubt he was intellectually imprisoned, not allowed to use his

brain to the fullest. Not being allowed to return to his great Wittenberg university,

Hamlet questions whether life is more beneficial than death.

To be, or not to be, that is the question: whether ?tis nobler in the mind to suffer

the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of trouble

and by opposing end them. To die – to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we

end the heart-acke and the thousand natural shocks. . . (III.I.56-65)

Using his genius brain, Hamlet also weighs the pros and cons of suicide. Preparing for

the worst actions to follow his suicide; eternal damnation, or eternal sleep; Hamlet votes

against his death.

These two situations help to show the great problem facing Hamlet; his

mind. Any normal man would not hesitate in the movement towards revenge. They

would also not question the attributes behind it. But Hamlet is a thinker not a doer. It

poses a problem for a man of such profound thought to take such a hasty and unreasoned

action such as revenge. The questioning attitude of Hamlet adds to his procrastination.

Many believed that Hamlet was merely a man who went mad due to his

father?s unlawful death and his mother?s hasty marriage. These critics look to soliloquies

and Hamlet?s seemingly mad conversations as proof of his insanity. But if one were to

observe and analyze these passages, they would see that truth and sanity behind them.

But the sanity is only a small part. For these passages hold great and profound thought.

There are many situations in which Hamlet?s thoughts are profound. These are not the

ponderies of a man gone mad, but of a brain contained within a prison. Of a man whose

intellect is holding him back.

The first occasion in which Hamlet?s words, perceived mad, proved to be

profound, was with his encounter with Polonius. Polonius, trying to keenly pry from

Hamlet his ailment, strikes up a seemingly innocent conversation with Hamlet. To test

his madness, Polonius asks Hamlet if he knows Polonius. when Hamlet replies wittingly,

Polonius is assured that it was the talk of a mad man. ?Do you know me, my Lord? . . .

excellent well. You are a fishmonger . . .?(II.II. 173-4) For in the ordinary sense ?it is . . .

Polonius . . . breed . . .? A fishmonger being a honest tradesman would prove mad for

Hamlet to say to Polonius. But in the sense related above, it makes perfect sense. Besides

making perfect sense, it could be thought to be the speech of the great Socrates or

Aristotle.

This shows Hamlet?s great depth of knowledge, uses of words, and

creativity in punning. Fit to be a witty philosopher, this young man proves not to be a

good politician. Not digressing, Hamlet?s ingeniousness continues.

Hamlet then precedes with further banter: ?For yourself, sir, shall grow old

as I am – if like a crab you could go backward.?(II.II. 202-3) Though his words seem

absurd, Hamlet has hit the mark. For Polonius would indeed need to crawl backwards in

order to reach hamlets age. All Polonius can retort is, ?. . . this be madness.? (II.II.205)

The next great display of hamlet?s ingeniousness is when all within the

castle are looking for the late Polonius? body. Already thinking Hamlet is mad they begin

to clutch harder to that theory when questioning Hamlet. Upon being asked where

Polonius? body is, Hamlet, once again, gives a philosophical and intellectual comment.

To the non-universitat student, these statements prove to be the evocations of a mad man.

But to a great philosopher like Hamlet, Socrates, or even Plato they hold more truth than

they are thought to hold.

Not where he eats, but where a is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms

are e?en at him. . . . A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a kind, and

eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm. (IV.III. 19 -28)

This is one of the most profound statements that Hamlet has mad thus far. For it is

humbling to think that those who are royal now, may soon be humbled by the fact that

they will simply return to the dirt.

To not digress from out earlier statement, we have to acknowledge how

and when Hamlet has mad his transition from a ?prince of philosophical speculators? to a

price of actions. The road and journey to action was a hard and treacherous one for

Hamlet. Many acts went by where Hamlet had to sit and contemplate every action,

reaction, and consequences. This proved Hamlet to a very poor prince, heir to the throne,

but a very wise intellect.

Many attempts and ponderies did Hamlet have towards his revenging

actions. His first attempt toward revenge was while Claudius was praying. this plan failed

as Hamlet had to sit, once more, and contemplate Claudius? ascend into heaven, thus

proving not the be a true and victorious revenge. This left Hamlet in a mournful sate. For

he knew that he was a thinker and not a man of action.

In act I, scene V , Hamlet promises ?that, I with wings as swift as

meditation . . . may sweep to my revenge.? But Hamlet?s swift meditation slowed the

process of his revenge. When met with the players great display of emotions of Hecuba

(Act II, Scene II), Hamlet is moved to think about his feeling, his duty, and his lack of

action.

What?s Hecuba to him . . . that he should weep for her . . . yet I, a dull and

muddy-mettled rascal, peak . . . unpregnant of my cause and can say nothing . . .

who does me this. (II.II.552-570)

Hamlet mourns over his inability for swift and hasty action. He knows that he is damned

to his prison of though. Hamlet has no control over what he does, or better yet, what he

does not do.

Hamlet?s first act towards ?action? is with the death of Polonius. In a

heated argument with his mother, Hamlet believes to hear the outcry of Claudius.

Believing he has caught the newly kind in an enraged state; thus sending him straight to

hell; Hamlet finds it the best time to take what is due him. But the life of Claudius was

not taken. For it proved to be Polonius. From here Hamlet began his decision into action.

Hamlet still begins to question why he, unlike others, have a problem

moving himself to action. When he hears about Fortinbras?? plan to take over the polish

and he begins to scold himself, for Hamlet believes that he, at least, has just cause to

avenge his fathers death.

How stand I then, that have a father kill?d . . . and let all sleep . . . the imminent

death of twenty thousand men . . for a fantasy and trick of fame . . go to their

graves like beds, fight for a plot. (IV.V.55-63)

The true test of Hamlet?s transcendence into kingship is his arrangement

over the death of Rossencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet, like a true politician, uses his

great mind to save his life, and pay back what was given to him. ?That on the view and

knowing of these contents, without debatement further more or less, he should those

bearers put to sudden death, not shriving-time allow?d . . .? (V.II 44-47)

When he tells this well designed plan to Horatio, Horatio retorts ?why, what a kind is

this!? And Horatio is correct. For this was Hamlet?s second attempt, which was followed

through, over the death of another person. Hamlet was on the right track for kingship. But

the true show of his transcendence was his not repenting. Hamlet justified his actions. He

believed that I was right to kill his friends. ? My excellent good friends? (II.II. 224)

because of their deceitful plan.

Why, man, they did make love to this employment. They are not near my

conscience, their defeat does by their own insinuation grow. ?Tis dangerous when

the baser nature comes between the pass and fell incensed point of mighty

opposites.( V.II. 57-62)

Hamlet?s thought , ?Be bloody or be nothing worth.?

In retrospect one may see that Hamlet?s problem was one that was easy to

diagnosis. It is humorous when one find critics that spend years upon year trying to figure

the ailment to this fictional character. However, There can be no set diagnosis for

Hamlet. Hamlet?s character is very much complex and intricate. For a critic or scholar to

single his character down to one thesis or report would be impossible.

Despite this seemingly true statement, this paper should have given the

reader some insight onto one of the many ailments that troubled Hamlet. I believe that in

order for Hamlet, and the rest of Denmark to avoid the troublesome butchery at the end

of the play, it would have been advisable for them to send Hamlet back to Wittenberg. It

is not good to keep one out of joint, for that person will try to find some way to get back

into joint.

All and all, Hamlet has fulfilled the role that he set out to fulfill. By the

end of the play, Hamlet made a rough and rocky transcendence from price of scholars to

a prince of action. By they end of the play, Hamlet had no need to think, for action was

his newfound friend. Even Fortinbras, in the last scene, saw that Hamlet had the makings

of a very, very admirable king.

Bevington, David. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Prentice-Hall,

Inc. Englewood Cliffs. N.J.1973

Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. Roundable Press, Inc. New York. N.Y. 1990

Coleridge, Samuel T. Shakespearean Criticism. Vol I. J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.

London, England. 1960

Halliday, F. E. Shakespeare & Criticism. Berald Duckworth & Co, Ltd. London,

W.C.

Holland, Norman N. Psychoanalysis & Shakespeare. Octagon Books. New York.

N.Y. 1976

Jenkins, Harold. Hamlet. Methuen & Co. Ltd. UK. 1982

Quinn, Edward. The Major Shakespearean Tragedies. The Free Press. New

York. N.Y

?Tragedies of William Shakespeare and Sonnets: Commentary.?

Http://futures.wharton.upenn.edu/~tariq58/hamlet/cheat/criticism%20on%20hamlet.htm.

12/18/98


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