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Language And Imagery In The Tragedy Of Hamlet

1379 words - 6 pages

Hamlet:  Language and Imagery

            Horatio tells Hamlet that he speaks ‘wild and whirling words’, but with Shakespeare, this can never truly be the case. Even phrases that appear so have always a complex meter behind them and, in Hamlet especially, it seems that every word is chosen individually to serve a particular purpose. Despite being almost four hundred years old, Shakespeare is considered the landmark in English literature as the dawning of the modern age of drama. Previously, drama such as the medieval morality plays was used to demonstrate moral stances, but Shakespeare focused on investigating the individual in society. The rise of eponymous drama illustrates the sudden power of the person in literature. This breakaway of Shakespeare’s ‘greatness’: many of his contemporaries and followers attempted to recreate his style, often decaying into wanton violence and atrocities (as with John Webster). His plots could be said to demonstrate moral stances (perhaps Othello could promote trust or fidelity with the consequences of jealousy and infidelity illustrated) but then Romeo and Juliet destroys the lovers who are attempting to reunite broken families, so it is difficult for that theme to be accurate. However, Shakespearean originality lies in the plots and variety even with in particular plays – Twelfth Night is generally considered a comedy but the persecution of Malvolio decays beyond the comic with the close of the play worryingly unresolved with his promise the he’ll ‘be reveng’d on the whole pack of you.’ The characterisation of his figures was also unique for his time: Shakespeare seems to have held great insight into likely human reactions to the extreme situations in which he places his characters, without ever collapsing into melodrama. The soliloquies present in all of his plays illustrate this depth of understanding of the human condition.

            However, despite these various ‘great’ aspects of his work, Shakespeare’s plays show an originality in the use of the English language to produce images, metaphors and ideas, unseen in previous work and it could be said, yet to be transcended by another playwright. In Hamlet, there is a variety of imagery used up to Act 2:2 to describe, insult or enhance themes that run throughout the play. One of the clearest these is that of the body politic of Denmark and the consequent imagery of Denmark as a body itself. The implication of this image is that a problem in one area of the body, however minor, will affect other areas, with some areas more important than others. The whole Kingdom then mourns and is ‘contracted in one brow of woe’ when Old Hamlet dies, and ‘the whole ear of Denmark’ is conversely ‘abus’d’ by a false account of the former King’s murder (the image is used both by Claudius and the Ghost of Old Hamlet about the same occurrence). Laertes also comments on the importance of Hamlet’s position: his choice of bride is more important than that of others as...

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