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The Use Of Pawns In William Shakespeare's Hamlet

1378 words - 6 pages

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the power of the king, the hierarchy of control, and the use of spies and pawns are the factors that lead to the deaths of Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet, Laertes, Polonius, and Ophelia. Those who wield power are concerned about how they are seen, therefore, they use indirect action by recruiting a pawn regardless of whether there is honor in the process. These pawns then use direct action. Claudius, the center of power, attempts to maintain this royal image by using political pawns who only want to please him. Friendship is a rare luxury in Hamlet, and using pawns does not promote friendship, trust, or honor. It is difficult to discern true intentions when most characters are playing for their own motives. The “something... rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.5.100) and the corrupt political system destroys the code of honor that Hamlet Sr. is made out to embody. This is a theme echoed in history from all empires and kingdoms of any time period. Pawns and spies are universal practice in most hierarchies, much like a code of honor that is almost identical in many cultures throughout history. Hamlet is full of occurrences that are questionable in honor, inspired by revenge, and ruled by emotion.
Hamlet’s hierarchy is the mold for the plot to fill in. It dictates what is out of line for characters and how they will act. This hierarchy consists of a royal family who give power to those they deem worthy underneath them, but still wield ultimate control. This is the backdrop for complex and premeditated movements by Claudius.You can see that Claudius has few rules since he murdered his brother for his throne and wife and goes about protecting it by attempting to kill his stepson/nephew. The only restriction on him is the information of how he achieved his throne, which must be kept secret or he will lose all power and probably his life. Hamlet is the next step down on the ladder. Hamlet is only restricted by what the king says he cannot do. This continues down the line of power, as every character below is restricted by characters above them. The problems come when more than one character are on the same rung of the ladder, and the line of who has more power is blurred. An example of this would be the interaction between Hamlet and Gertrude when Hamlet decides to confront her about Claudius. There is no clear answer to who has more power in the situation. Hamlet is the heir and Gertrude is the queen, but Hamlet attacks with “words like daggers” (3.4.108) with the passion that puts his power above Gertrude’s defensiveness. Alone, Gertrude cannot stand against Hamlet, but with Claudius at her side, Gertrude would win that fight. Another example would be Hamlet against Polonius. In Claudius’ eyes, Polonius is a valuable asset to discovering what Hamlet is up to, so he places much more power in Polonius. Claudius has put Polonius on the same level with Hamlet to be of more use as you can see when Polonius has the ability to pry...

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