Hamlet And Comic Relief Essay

3498 words - 14 pages

A distinguishing and frequently mystifying feature of William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet is the presence of dark humor: constant wordplay, irony, riddles, clowning, and bawdy repartee. The language of Hamlet is cleverly and specifically designed in the guise of Shakespeare's dark humor. In regards to all uses of comedy and wit, the language of this play is meant to be pleasing to the audience but not to the characters. This concept is essential in understanding what place comedy has in a tragedy such as Hamlet. Hamlet's very use and style of language, especially the use of the pun, the dialogue with the minor character Polonius, and the graveyard scene reveals intentions and plans through the mode of comic relief.The exchange of wit often relied heavily on the identity of the actors (Thomson 116). Shakespeare writes the plays for his audience in his time, so the audience would be familiar with the actors. Thus, there may have been some very pointed sarcasm thrown into the dialogue that seems very funny to the 17th century playgoer (depending on the real identity of the speaker), but appears mystifying to the modern viewer. The pun is the most frequent of Shakespeare's comic uses.Act one introduces the reader to Hamlet, who seems to be showing signs of strong angst towards his elders, but uses biting remarks to defend himself. Hamlet believes that humor (albeit sarcastic humor) suggests a nimble and flexible mind, as well as an imagination. Wittenberg is a pinnacle of wits, which is where, of course, Hamlet wants to return to (Watts 94). "A little more than kin, and less than kind" (1.2.65). Hamlet's first words in the play show him playing with words in order to state a paradox: Claudius is twice related to him, as uncle and stepfather, but not really his kin or kind at all. Immediately thereafter, the king questions, "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" (1.2.66) Hamlet responds with, "Not so, my lord, I am too much in the sun" (1.2.67). He means that the king has called Hamlet "son" too often (Fisch 220). "Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables"(1.2.180-81). Here Hamlet bitterly jokes that the real reason his mother's remarriage came so soon after her husband's death was so that she could save money by serving the leftover funeral refreshments to the wedding guests.In the last scene of act one, the reader meets Hamlet's last family member, his deceased father, and still has problems dealing with his feelings. Hamlet's feigned madness is concocted in his mind in this scene. This reflects the ability of his nimble mind to change characters very easy, which is significant later in the play. Shakespeare's extensive knowledge of differing meanings of the same words (Charney 46) is put to good use here. When Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, his friends try to stop him from following the apparition, and he cries out, "Unhand me, gentlemen / I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!"...

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