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Explication From Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
Assignment 1: Explication from Hamlet (1.3.111-137) (?My lord, he hath importuned me with love? ? [end of scene].Ophelia and Polonius have a father-daughter discussion toward the end of Act 1 where Polonius, concerned father that he is, warns his daughter Ophelia of becoming too involved with Hamlet. This warning comes just as Laertes, brother and son, has bid farewell. Laertes has just warned Ophelia himself of getting involved with Hamlet?this is the first time the audience is alerted to the romance.
What have we seen of Hamlet so far? He is deeply grieving his father?s death; he resents the rapid marriage of his uncle and mother bitterly; and he has been told of the ghost of his father. The plot is building faster than Claudius could say, ?I do!? in these first few scenes, and I would imagine the first audience of Shakespeare?s play would have been absolutely gripped to see what it all will come to.
Hamlet so far has been portrayed as passionate and earnest, but not necessarily mad. When he says to his mother, ?Seems, Madam? I know not seems?? we are given the impression of a man who is who he is, without pretence or acting. We know little of Polonius so far except that he is a well meaning, good-natured, and for all appearances honourable servant of the king.
This scene casts the first shadow of doubt upon Hamlet?s character. It is curious that Shakespeare warns Ophelia twice: once through Laertes, and once through Polonius. Reading Laertes? speech we can see the perspective of an understanding, though cynical young man. He essentially says, ?Be careful of Hamlet because he?s young and his passions are burning. When the passions die down he?ll realise his desire for you can?t be fulfilled by marriage because of political constraints, and you?ll be left behind, scandalised.?
Both Laertes and Polonius recognise that Hamlet, being young and foolish, is also not subject to the same consequences of reckless behaviour as Ophelia: ?with a larger tether may he walk.? But there are two main differences in what Polonius says and doesn?t saw: his warning lacks the political slant, and he attacks Hamlet?s integrity.
Ophelia?s first protest to Polonius was that Hamlet had made his affections known to her ?with love in honourable fashion,? and it is this statement that evoked Polonius? response: ?Ay, springes to catch woodcocks!? A springe is a type of trap or snare. The EMEDD lists springe in Florio 1598 @ 15108789 in its description of the verb ?accappiare? which means ?to entangle, to ensnare,? as in ?a springe to catch birds with.? It is also compared, in a translation of the word ?ragna? (Florio 1598 @ 19342084), with ?spider?s web?. So the image we have is that of a deliberate trap set to catch the innocent ?woodcock,? which was an Old World game bird?a bird that hunters took a special interest in catching much, of course, the same as a lustful young philanderer would take interest in ?catching? lovely young Ophelia (and most hunters would say that catching game with a trap is less than honourable). In Cotgrave 1611 @ 28055516 we read that a translation of ?beccasseau? equates ?woodcockised? with gulled and abused. We also, interestingly, see the phrase ?As wise as a Woodcocke? in Cotgrave 1611 @ 29812986. Whether Polonius thought his daughter as wise and abused is debateable; nonetheless, Polonius is a diplomat at heart and obviously chose these words diplomatically.
This passage also contains several foreshadows. The theme of traps, introduced in this dialogue, is repeated many times (such as the play within a play (3.2.242), the poisoning of Laertes? sword, the meeting with Ophelia in the castle, Polonius? accidental murder, or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). When Polonius speaks, ?how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows,? this foreshadows the vows that Hamlet is about to make, two scenes later, in his encounter with his father?s ghost. These vows are so empty that many scenes later the Ghost must return to remind Hamlet of his ?almost blunted purpose.? And the image of a fire that gives more light than heat foreshadows Hamlet?s rage, which induces great signs of outward change?madness, violence to all that is dear to him, bitterness?but little in the way of actual effect, that of truly avenging his father?s murder!
Ophelia represents to Hamlet the world that he must renounce, the ?not to be? that cannot be if he decides to do what is right and good: depose his uncle Claudius who murdered his father. Laertes and Polonius are, in fact, quite right when they say that Hamlet is bound by political powers that overpower his whimsical and youthful desires for marriage and a quiet life: ?his greatness weighed, his will is not his own? (1.3.17). Hamlet has the higher calling of avenging his father?s death, and it is this, ironically, that brings ruin to Ophelia and not the disgrace of losing her virginity.
The characters that speak in this passage, Ophelia and Polonius, know Hamlet much better of course than we the audience know. However, we do perhaps see a little more into Hamlet?s opinion of his uncle Claudius than other characters. Also, in the act that follows immediately after, we are introduced to the main plot thrust, that of Hamlet?s revenge toward Claudius. As an audience we have the advantage of seeing that there is more going on with Hamlet than Ophelia and Polonius imagine. However, we are still eagerly gathering information about the tragic hero and this little passage gives us some good food for thought as to where his tragic flaw may lie.
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