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Closely Examines Shakespeare's Use Of Classical Allusions To Violent Death In Hamlet

1710 words - 7 pages

One of the most striking classical references in Hamlet is to the fall of Troy and the death of its king, Priam. Hamlet wishes the player to recite a speech he .".cheifly loved..." and recites the first thirteen lines for him. Within the first five lines of this speech the audience is bombarded with images of darkness, ."..sable...black...night...ominous...dread...black...dismal..." . Hamlet describes .".Hellish Pyrrhus..." raging through Troy looking for the King. Pyrrhus is a symbol of brutal revenge. He has become a by word for gratuitous violence and savage vengeance.

The story of the Fall of Troy is famously told in Book II of Virgil's Aeneid. Hamlet, however, is not quoting from Virgil. He claims to quote from a play that was only ever acted once, if at all, and was received unfavourably by the public, .".pleased not the million.." . Thus Shakespeare is able to retell the story in his own way and still make the player's recognition of the speech plausible. The ferocity of the speech may be seen as a parody of the traditional epic style. As well as the focus upon dark imagery Hamlet talks of ."..coagulate gore...roasted in wrath and fire.." . the image of the old king being blown over by the breeze caused by Pyrrhus wafting his sword around is almost comical. In The Aeneid one feels the pathos generated by an old man watching his son die before him. Shakespeare focuses upon the violence of the event, Pyrrhus' relentless search for vengeance. This speech is in Act II of the five act play. So from early on the audience can sense Hamlet's disturbed mind and perhaps a growing obsession for vengeance and violent death.

F.S Boas, in his 1943 Annual Shakespeare lecture, claimed Book II of the Aeneid .".gives no authority for a long-drawn out, horrific account of the slaying of the aged king by Pyrrhus.." . Aeneas tells Dido, in Book II of The Aeneid, how Pyrrhus .".Twined his left hand in Priam's hair. With his right hand he raised his flashing sword and buried it to the hilt in his side.." . One finds it hard to understand how F.S. Boas does not see Vigil's account as horrific as Shakespeare's Both authors show Pyrrhus as brutal, using unnecessary amounts of force to achieve his aim. In his Metamorphoses Ovid, writing slightly later than Virgil but still in his lifetime, glances over the death of Priam preferring to focus upon the grief and helplessness of the noble women in the fall of Troy. Hamlet focuses upon this one violent death at Troy because it is most relevant to him, a prince who feels he must avenge his father's death. Christopher Marlowe also uses horrific images when he tells of Priam's death in Dido, Queen of Carthage, .".[Pyrrhus] whisk'd his sword about and with the wind therefore the king fell down; then from the navel to the throat at once he ripped old Priam.." . This perhaps indicates that Shakespeare is using a popular Elizabethan image of the fall of Troy rather than harking back to the works of Classical...

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