Ideals Of Humanism Essay

1531 words - 7 pages

Along with a return to the classics, humanism emphasized the potential of the individual and every human’s ability to strive for perfection. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a humanist and Neoplatonist of the Italian Renaissance, discusses the perfectibility and potential of humans in the Oration On the Dignity of Man. In his oration, Pico della Mirandola creates a message sent from God to humans upon their creation. As God speaks to his creation he says, “to you is granted the power, contained in your intellect and judgment, to be reborn into the higher forms, the divine” (Pico della Mirandola). In this comparison, Pico della Mirandola suggests that humans have the ability to become ...view middle of the document...

The playwright transforms classical texts into “a living tradition” and brought the Roman world into the contemporary world of the renaissance (Dean 95). In Hamlet, Shakespeare brings the Roman world into his story by crafting a play within a play. A group of actors visit Hamlet’s castle, and he asks the players to act out a story he once heard. Hamlet wishes for the players to recount the tale that Aeneas told Dido, “and thereabout of it especially where he speaks of Priam’s slaughter” (Shakespeare, Hamlet 2.2. 453-455). He is requesting the story from Greek mythology in which Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, avenges his father’s death by killing King Priam of Troy. Shakespeare brings the ancient myth to life as the players reenact it. Also, the story of Priam’s death is about a son who kills a king to avenge the death of his father; the plot of this play foreshadows the climax of Hamlet, in which Hamlet kills King Claudius to avenge his father’s death. Shakespeare “look[s] to the past to find advice for the purpose of ... advising about the future” (Tinkler 304). As the playwright brings the ancient Greek story to life, he uses mythical figures of antiquity to set the stage and predict the future of his play. In doing so, Shakespeare pays homage to figures of antiquity and revives the classics, thus exemplifying that humanistic ideal.
Along with Hamlet, Shakespeare revives figures of antiquity in his play Richard III. In the opening act of the play, George, Duke of Clarence recounts a dream that he had the night before. Clarence dreamt of the afterlife and “that ferryman which poets write of, unto the kingdom of perpetual night” (Shakespeare, Richard III 1.4). The Duke is referencing the ferryman Charon who shuttled the deceased into the Underworld: an ancient Greek myth. By referencing this figure and myth from antiquity in his play, Shakespeare revives the works of ancient Greece. Also, he uses this dream to foreshadow Clarence’s death. Dreams were highly important symbols in ancient Greek literature, which further demonstrates that Shakespeare is referencing Greek mythology and paying homage to it, therefore bringing it to life.
Shakespeare not only mirrors the humanistic ideal of a revival of antiquity in his works, but also the ideal of human potential. Hamlet makes a famous speech in Hamlet, in which he focuses “on the beauty of man as a natural being,” and depicts the potential of humans (Battenhouse 1079). He exclaims, “what a piece of work is man ... how infinite in faculties” (Shakespeare, Hamlet 2.2. 319-320)! In these opening lines of his speech, Hamlet praises the endless potential, beauty, and perfection of humans. As he continues, he compares humans to divinity by proclaiming, “in action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god” (2.2. 321-322). By comparing humans to the inhabitants of heaven, Hamlet demonstrates the humanistic ideal that humans are perfectible creatures; he also mirrors the picture of...

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