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Explore The Ways In Which Hamlet Makes Use Of The Idea Or Motif Of Theatrical Performance

1656 words - 7 pages

Hamlet makes use of the idea of theatrical performance through characters presenting themselves falsely to others – from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spying on Hamlet to gain favor with the King, to Hamlet himself playing the part of a madman – and through the play within the play, The Mousetrap. This essay will discuss the ways in which Hamlet explores the idea of theatrical performance, ‘acting’, through analysis of the characters and the ‘roles’ they adopt, specifically that of Hamlet and Claudius. The idea, or the theme of theatrical performance is not an uncommon literary element of Shakespearean works, the most famous of which to encompass this idea being As You Like It. This essay ...view middle of the document...

Shakespeare also used this plot in another tragedy, Titus Andronicus; a story, in which the eponymous character, Titus Andronicus, feigns madness so that he may enact his revenge against his enemies.

In his pastoral comedy As You Like It, Shakespeare famously expressed “All the world’s a stage,/And all men and women merely players” – this well encompasses the motif of theatrical performance, of acting, in Shakespeare’s plays; especially that of Hamlet. Hamlet at first glance is a tragedy that features revenge, murder and death – however, Hamlet raises an important question in its viewers: how much of ones identity is a performance for others? This question is present in all the characters as the audience witnesses them all adopt ‘roles’ as they profess themselves to be someone they aren’t. Most notably the audience witnesses this transformation in Claudius. When first reading or watching Hamlet the audience is unawares of that Claudius murdered his brother, similar to his advisors, country and family, as he plays the part of grieving brother. A deception the audience later realizes upon Hamlet’s first interaction with his father.

It is also becomes clear that Claudius only acts the part of concerned and caring stepfather on numerous occasions. The most eminent of which being his plot to have Hamlet beheaded upon his arrival in England: “an exact command,/Larded with many several sorts of reason/Importing Denmark’s health and England’s too,/With, ho, such bugs and goblins in my life,/That on the supervise, no leisure bated,/No, not to stay the grinding of the axe,/My head should be struck off”. Upon revealing this to Horatio, he also revealed that he replaced Claudius’ letter with “a new commission” that upon reading the letter “the bearers put to sudden death” – the bearers being Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, who played the part of Hamlet’s friends in order to spy on him on behalf of Claudius.

Shakespearian English has an intricate system, including a use of distinguishing between ‘you’ and ‘thou’ to convey relationships between two individuals; the observation of Claudius’ transition between the two when he addresses Hamlet and others, confirms Claudius only acts the part of caring stepfather to Hamlet. In Shakespearian English, there is the symmetrical and asymmetrical exchange of ‘you’ and ‘thou’. The symmetrical exchange is the intimate application of the words, where ‘thou’ is used when addressing friends and ‘you’ a polite means of addressing a stranger or someone you are distant to. This application is most notable in Claudius’ transition between ‘you’ and ‘thou’ from Laertes to Hamlet in the beginning of the play: “Take thy fair hour, Laertes; time be thine,/And thy best graces spend it at thy will!/But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son, -/ How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” When Claudius here addresses Hamlet with ‘you’, after addressing Laertes with ‘thou’ he is being cold and rejecting towards Hamlet: a contradiction...

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