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Danielle Sullivan Drew Dolan Matt Krisch Michael Bunick
The literary practice of deconstruction is to identify all of the contradictions about an isolated topic in a work and show how those contradictions establish meaning in the work. In Hamlet, Hamlet shows conflicting viewpoints to the audience about his thoughts and philosophy. Shakespeare’s strategy in this is to create a unresolved guessing game for the audience, and to examine the paradoxical nature of a humanist.
Period in the late Middle Ages from around 1400 to 1650. Described as the study of things that promote and exalt human culture A Renaissance humanist was defined as being classical, worldly, dignified, civilized, and striving for perfection Hamlet is said to be the ultimate Renaissance man, both by scholars and his fellow characters (Ophelia and Horatio both mention him as a “noble mind”) but is he a perfect Renaissance humanist?
The multiple references to Alexander and Caesar show how he is “returning to the classics” (Greek and Roman culture) He is obviously educated in the way of the arts as he has an advanced knowledge of theater and acting. Makes references to Greek and Roman gods and myths (Pyrrus and Hecuba; Hyperion and Jove) Has an interest in music as he displays his knowledge of Pan’s flute when criticizing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Renaissance humanism is anthropocentric, saying that reality has meaning only by human values and experiences. Hamlet desired to dignify his pursuits to avenge his father, to create meaning in them. However, Hamlet does fit the bill of “civilized” in that his achievements seem to fall short of his potential. He loses sight of his Renaissance education as he fails to acknowledge the importance of human life as he is so enthralled with the exaltation of his own purpose and meaning.
Humans were said to be the crowning jewel of all Creation. Hamlet, through his meditations on death and philosophical analysis of the human condition, doubts these perfections in humans and their ability to make the world perfect. The internal conflict that Hamlet has brings about the unanswerable question of man achieving worldly perfection or, ultimately, amounting to no more than dust.
In his anguish Hamlet discovers a unique subjectivity as he attempts to reject the wisdom of tradition, and understand for himself the power of man. The entire play Hamlet struggles to define understand the power of humans. His point of view ranges from belief in the power to humans, to a pessimistic doubt of the capabilities of man kind. All of Hamlet's soliloquies in Hamlet are placed in an important order to show the dramatic progression of Hamlet's character (from depression, to confusion, to madness, etc.) The progression of Hamlet's character also applies to his humanist aspects, from being helpless and powerless, to wishing for the most bloodiest revenge.
Hamlet is an intellectual; wondering "Should I act?“ before he actually carries out his plan. In act 1, scene 2, we see Hamlet isolated by his black clothes, refusing to accept the consolation of Gertrude and Claudius. Hamlet makes his feelings on their recent marriage clearly known, yet is hesitant to take action. His counter-humanism perspective on life does not enable him to carry out his plans as he doubts his own power. He hears "all that lives must die," and agrees "Ay, madam, it is common," yet will not accept this universally held "truth" as at all meaningful for his personal experience. "Why seems it so particular with thee?" (1.2).
For Hamlet man is the "quintessence of dust" (2.2), and the slain body of Polonius is "compounded... with dust whereto 'tis kin" (4.2). Gertrude criticizes Hamlet for "with... vailed lids" his "noble father in the dust" (1.2.70-71). This last image is important since it suggests the reversal of a commonplace of Renaissance humanism, that of homo erectus. Renaissance celebrations of man took up the Patristic echo of this biblical theme of man's uniqueness in creation, for he was the only one of God's creatures to be created erect in order to worship the heavens, the source of his origin and end. Thomas Wilson in his The Rule of Reason (1551) included this as an example of the predicable proprium or property of man, "To go upright is proper to a man, and only to a man, and to none other living creature" (sig. C'). Hamlet's eyes and mind are fixed on earth, death, and bodily corruption. Earlier, Hamlet's sardonically chosen diction had anticipated this: "What should such fellow s as I do crawling between earth and heaven?" (3.1). "Crawling," that is, like one of the brute creation on all fours. This conscious rejection of Renaissance humanism had been systematically worked through earlier before Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: the passage needs to be quoted in full:
The complementary parallelism of macrocosm and microcosm is to highlight the polarity of optimism and pessimism, humanism and counter-humanism. The fact of the speech itself is the first evidence that man is something more than a mere "quintessence of dust," yet Hamlet is removed from the irony since the speech is a kind of mock- philosophical exercise worked up by the intellectual student from Wittenberg, seemingly to entertain Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are, in fact, amused. This “more than dust” out look is one of a humanist perception. Yet the similarity of this language to that on other occasions implies that Hamlet means every word. Hamlet knows that the philosophical impersonation will amuse his audience while at the same time this guise actually reveals what he thinks to the audience of the play. Microcosm vs. Macrocosm
The dust is earth, and Hamlet makes a direct correlation between the soil of the earth, and every human being who had ever, or who will ever walk the grounds of the earth. The beginning and ending of human life from the dust of the earth, has been a literary motif since the beginning of literature. Hamlet’s is analyzing how all men, seen in his eyes as equal or unequal, come from and end in dust. Hamlet's cast of mind here gives expression to an individually felt pessimism. He begins to exemplify counter-humanism thoughts. As he, doubts the power of man, and considers the inevitable demise of us all in which man is powerless to oppose.
HAMLET Dost thou think Alexander looked o' this fashion i' th‘ earth? HORATIOE'en so. HAMLETAnd smelt so? Pah! (puts down the skull) HORATIOE'en so, my lord. HAMLETTo what base uses we may return, Horatio. Why may notimagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bunghole? HORATIO'Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so. HAMLETNo, faith, not a jot. But to follow him thither with modestly enough, and likelihood to lead it, as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam—and why of that loam,whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel?Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.Oh, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,Should patch a wall t' expel the winter’s flaw! But soft, but soft a while. Hamlet is giving up on his humanism. Horatio exspects Hamlet to give a detailed explanation of life after death, and the equal fate of all men, but Hamlet says we all simply become dust. Association Hamlet's mind moves to Alexander, the type of imperial greatness
Hamlet considers every human’s eventual decay. The skull is one of the few, if not the only, symbol in Hamlet. The skull represents death, it’s inevitability, and the modest demise of us all. Polonius will end as worm food, Hamlet Sr. will end as worm food, and Alexander the Great will end as worm food. No one can escape death, the fate of all humans.
Hamlet: "What is a man,If his chief good and market of his time, Be but to sleep and feed?" (4.4) Does he as a human, have the power to revenge his father, or is he simply an animal ? Gertrude:” Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off, And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark. Do not forever with thy vailed lids Seek for thy noble father in the dust. Thou know'st 'tis common: all that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity.” (1.2) Is Hamlet so weak, that he is unable to overcome personal sadness, from a father’s death? Humans must learn to control their grief with reason. Hamlet: “Your worm is your only emperor for diet" (4.3) Hamlet’s preoccupation with corruption and death with links to both the micro-macrocosm and "Alexander... dust" speeches. Hamlet: “There's a divinity that shapes our ends, I Rough- hew them how we will” (5.2) Why bother with a complicated life if everything is predestined? “To thine own self be true”(1.3) Is Polonious saying be true to reason, or for Laertes to follow his heart, and feelings? Hamlet: What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me, no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so (2,2)
Act 1 Scene2: O O, that this too too solid flesh would melt Thaw and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God! How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, Seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden, That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely. That it should come to this! But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: So excellent a king; that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! Must I remember? why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on: and yet, within a month-- Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman!-- A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she follow'd my poor father's body, Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she-- O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason, Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle, My father's brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules: within a month: Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, She married. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not nor it cannot come to good: But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue. Act 1, Scene 2: this conveys an anti-humanist message. Hamlet is seen here as grief-stricken and hopeless over his father's recent death and his mother's quick marriage. It shows how weak men are in their inability to achieve despite emotion heartache.
HAMLET Your loves, as mine to you: farewell. Exeunt [all but HAMLET]. My father's spirit in arms! all is not well; I doubt some foul play: would the night were come! Till then, sit still, my soul. Foul deeds will rise, Though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes. Act 1, Scene 2: Shakespeare's humanist message within this soliloquy is somewhat ambiguous. Hamlet's fear of the devil playing a trick on him highlights a flaw in man's bravery (anti-humanist). Or, the soliloquy is suggestive of man's struggle to create rationality in any situation (humanist).
HAMLET O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else? And shall I couple hell? O, fie! Hold, hold, my heart; And you, my sinews, grow not instant old, But bear me stiffly up. Remember thee! Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat In this distracted globe. Remember thee! Yea, from the table of my memory I'll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there; And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmix'd with baser matter: yes, by heaven! O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! My tables,--meet it is I set it down, That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain; At least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark: Act 1, Scene 5: The end of this soliloquy marks Hamlet's descent into feigned madness, or maybe his descent into actual madness. The humanist message here is again ambiguous; does man carelessly leech himself onto the first goal he sees to justify his existence? Or is Hamlet's feign of madness am ingenious plot for revenge?
Act 2 Scene 2: O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! Is it not monstrous that this player here, But in a fiction, in a dream of passion, Could force his soul so to his own conceit That from her working all his visage wann'd, Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect, A broken voice, and his whole function suiting With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing! For Hecuba! What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, That he should weep for her? What would he do, Had he the motive and the cue for passion That I have? He would drown the stage with tears And cleave the general ear with horrid speech, Make mad the guilty and appal the free, Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I, A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, And can say nothing; no, not for a king, Upon whose property and most dear life A damn'd defeat was made. Am I a coward? Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across? Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face? Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat, As deep as to the lungs? who does me this? Ha! Act 2, Scene 2: the confused Hamlet does not feel enough emotion towards his semi- planned revenge. The beginning of this soliloquy presents a powerless Hamlet, but the end of his speech presents an initiative. Hamlet's desire for full verification of Claudius' ill- deed proves his desire to urge on. 'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall To make oppression bitter, or ere this I should have fatted all the region kites With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! O, vengeance! Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murder'd, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words, And fall a-cursing, like a very drab, A scullion! Fie upon't! foh! About, my brain! I have heard That guilty creatures sitting at a play Have by the very cunning of the scene Been struck so to the soul that presently They have proclaim'd their malefactions; For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak With most miraculous organ. I'll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle: I'll observe his looks; I'll tent him to the quick: if he but blench, I know my course. The spirit that I have seen May be the devil: and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such spirits, Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds More relative than this: the play 's the thing Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
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 to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action.--Soft you now! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remember'd. Act 3, Scene 1: this soliloquy is very detached from the play; Hamlet contemplates suicide in contradiction to his Christian ideals (his fear of the devil, his acknowledgment of God's will against suicide in his first soliloquy). The soliloquy is pro-humanist as it explores Hamlet's possible decision of killing himself without fear of going to hell. The context of this scene is also very undramatic, Hamlet is only contemplating over what comes after death and only acknowledges his own dilemma when he questions whether he should "take arms against a sea of troubles," in order to cut off the stress of his existence.
HAMLET "By and by" is easily said. Leave me, friends. [Exeunt all but Hamlet.] 'Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood, And do such bitter business as the day Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother. O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom: Let me be cruel, not unnatural: I will speak daggers to her, but use none; My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites; How in my words soever she be shent, To give them seals never, my soul, consent! Exit. Act 3, Scene 2: An anti-humanist is conveyed by this soliloquy. Hamlet's desire to "speak daggers" to his mother is not only useless as it does not bring him anywhere closer to his revenge, but also marks the onset of the protagonist falling deeper into actual madness (killing Polonius, seeing the Ghost without his mother seeing it).
Act 3, Scene 3, Hamlet: O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon't, A brother's murder. Pray can I not, Though inclination be as sharp as will: My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent; And, like a man to double business bound, I stand in pause where I shall first begin, And both neglect. What if this cursed hand Were thicker than itself with brother's blood, Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy But to confront the visage of offence? And what's in prayer but this two-fold force, To be forestalled ere we come to fall, Or pardon'd being down? Then I'll look up; My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'? That cannot be; since I am still possess'd Of those effects for which I did the murder, My crown, mine own ambition and my queen May one be pardon'd and retain the offence? In the corrupted currents of this world Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice, And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above; There is no shuffling, there the action lies In his true nature; and we ourselves compell'd, Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults, To give in evidence. What then? what rests? Try what repentance can: what can it not? Yet what can it when one can not repent? O wretched state! O bosom black as death! O limed soul, that, struggling to be free, Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay! Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel, Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe! All may be well. This soliloquy takes a very counter-humanism point of view. Here Hamlet is examining Claudius’s weakness, and corruption. He considers how the guilt has worn Claudius down and now he is unable to act because he is too guilty. Hamlet is also angered at his own weakness in his inability to take revenge on Claudius.
Hamlet: Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; And now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven; And so am I revenged. That would be scann'd: A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven. O, this is hire and salary, not revenge. He took my father grossly, full of bread; With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May; And how his audit stands who knows save heaven? But in our circumstance and course of thought, 'Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged, To take him in the purging of his soul, When he is fit and season'd for his passage? No! Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent: When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed; At gaming, swearing, or about some act That has no relish of salvation in't; Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven, And that his soul may be as damn'd and black As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays: This physic but prolongs thy sickly days. Act 3, Scene 3: The frequency changes to humanist when Hamlet comes upon Claudius in 'prayer'. The position of this soliloquy is essential as it leads up to Hamlet's final soliloquy where he vows upon the bloodiest revenge.
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. Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not That capability and god-like reason To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on the event, A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom And ever three parts coward, I do not know Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;' Sith I have cause and will and strength and means To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me: Witness this army of such mass and charge Led by a delicate and tender prince, Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd Makes mouths at the invisible event, Exposing what is mortal and unsure To all that fortune, death and danger dare, Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great Is not to stir without great argument, But greatly to find quarrel in a straw When honour's at the stake. How stand I then, That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd, Excitements of my reason and my blood, And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see The imminent death of twenty thousand men, That, for a fantasy and trick of fame, Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, Which is not tomb enough and continent To hide the slain? O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! Act 4, Scene 4: in Hamlet's final soliloquy, he vows for the bloodiest revenge after observing Fortinbras' army fleet and speaking to an officer for the reasons of war. The soliloquy epitomizes the idea of humanism as Hamlet ponders upon the question "What is a man." The conclusion to his soliloquy, "My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!" explains that unless he focuses all his power into his revenge, his existence is useless. This what follows this soliloquy is not Hamlet's planning of revenge, but rather sporadic events that lead up to it. However, Hamlet's execution of his goal upon the time of his death characterizes him as the model humanist who completes his goal no matter what the consequences.
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