Showing posts with label Shakespeare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shakespeare. Show all posts

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theme of Jealousy in Othello

Throughout Shakespeare’s Othello, jealousy is apparent. The tragedy Othello focuses on the doom of Othello and the other major characters as a result of jealousy. In Shakespeare’s Othello, jealousy is mainly portrayed through the two major characters:  Iago and Othello. It utterly corrupts their lives because it causes Iago to show his true self, which in turn triggers Othello to undergo an absolute conversion that destroys the lives of their friends.

Othello represents how jealousy, particularly sexual jealousy, is one of the most corrupting and destructive of emotions. It is jealousy that prompts Iago to plot Othello's downfall; jealousy, too, is the tool that Iago uses to arouse Othello's passions. Roderigo and Bianca demonstrate jealousy at various times in the play, and Emilia demonstrates that she too knows the emotion well. Only Desdemona and Cassio, the true innocents of the story, seem beyond its clutches. Shakespeare used the theme in other plays, but nowhere else is it portrayed as quite the "green- eyed" monster it is in this play. Since it is an emotion that everyone shares, we watch its destructive influence on the characters with sympathy and horror.

How jealousy works in Othello

Shakespeare’s Othello is very close to the Aristotle’s conception of tragedy,specially in respect ofthe portrayal of the protagonist Othello. Like a classical tragic Othello in the tragedy Othello falls from his position due to his his ’tragic flaw’ jealousy.Jealousy is the main tragic flaw that brings about Othello’s misfortune,suffering, and death.Though this flaw is fuelled by the external force like the withces in Macbeth,but jealousy seems to have a deep root in Othello’s character.

Jealousy is the main factor that appears to destroy Othello. Iago is the initiator of the chain of events that sparks jealousy in Othello, and eventually leads to the downfall of not only the main character, but also of most of the significant characters in the book.

In Othello Shakespeare presents us with the tragic spectacle of a man who,in spirit of jealous rage ,destroys what he loves best in all the world.We will be able to best realize the tragic effect jealousy if we consider first the nature of the relation between Othello and Desdemona.The marriage between Othello and Desdemona is a real ’marriage of true minds’, a true love based on a mutual awareness and a true appreciation of each other’s worth,a love that has in it none of the element of sensual lust.The love of Othello and Desdemona transcends the physical barriers of color,nationality and age.But this love is destroyed as soon as jealousness enters into the mind of Othello.

It is Iago who plants the seeds of suspicion and jealousy in Othello’s mind.In Act III: Scene 3,Cassio speaks to Desdemona, asking her to intercede with Othello on his behalf. Desdemona willingly agrees, knowing that Cassio is an old friend of Othello's. She promises to speak of him with her husband repeatedly until the quarrel is patched up and Cassio is recalled.

In the meantime, Othello and Iago enter and Cassio, who is embarrassed because of his antics the previous night, embraces Desdemona and departs. Iago seizes the opportunity to make an undermining comment — "Ha, I like not that" — that rankles in Othello's mind. Iago further insinuates that Cassio was not just leaving, but that he was "steal[ing] away so guilty-like" (39). Iago's words here are filled with forceful innuendo, and as he pretends to be a man who cannot believe what he sees, he introduces jealousy into Othello's subconscious.

Desdemona greets her husband and, without guilt, introduces Cassio's name into their conversation. Here, fate plays a major role in this tragedy; not even Iago wholly arranged this swift, coincidental confrontation of Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio, and certainly the pathos of Desdemona's position here is largely due to no other factor than fate. Desdemona speaks of Cassio, and Othello, to please her, agrees to see him, but he is distracted by his private thoughts.
As Desdemona leaves, Othello chides himself for being irritated by his wife. Lovingly he sighs, "Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul, / But I do love thee! and when I love thee not, / Chaos is come again" (90–92).

A conversation follows between Othello and Iago, in which Iago continues to imply that he knows something that he refuses to divulge, Othello denies that he would give himself over to jealousy. In his denial, he shows himself most vulnerable. He is consumed with doubt and suspicion. Othello voices his old fears that Brabantio was right, that it was unnatural for Desdemona to love him, that he was too horrible to be loved, and that it could not last. Iago leaves, and Othello contemplates his situation: He could be tricked, married to a woman who is already looking at other men, and he fears that he must wipe her out of his heart. He tries to tell himself that it is not true.

Iago also urges Othello to recall that Desdemona deceived her own father by marrying Othello. To Brabantio, Desdemona pretended to be afraid of Othello's dark looks; she pretended to shake and tremble at Othello's exotic demeanor, yet "she lov'd them [Othello's features] most" (207). The implication is clear; Iago does not have to state it: If Desdemona deceived her own flesh and blood, she might just as naturally deceive her husband.

When Desdemona re-enters, Othello's aspect is changed; he watches her intently, looking for signs, and brushes away her handkerchief when she seeks to sooth him. They go in to dinner, and Emilia picks up the fallen handkerchief, one that her husband, Iago, often urged her to steal from Desdemona. Emilia decides to have a copy made to give to Iago, but he enters, sees the handkerchief, and snatches it from her.

When Othello enters, Iago sees that Othello cannot regain his peace of mind. His speech is fevered, sweeping and frantic; he believes that his wife has been unfaithful to him. Othello then turns on Iago with savage intensity and demands to see the proof of Desdemona's infidelity. Cornered, Iago produces the dream story: Cassio spoke in his sleep, embraced him, called him Desdemona, and cursed the Moor. Iago tells Othello that he has seen Cassio wipe his brow with a handkerchief embroidered with strawberries; Othello recognizes this handkerchief as the one he gave to Desdemona.

Othello dismisses love and calls for vengeance. Certainty has freed his mind from doubt and confusion. Now he swears action, and Iago swears to help him. Othello wants Cassio dead, Iago agrees to do it, and then Othello wonders how to kill Desdemona.

The fire of jealousy is further inflamed in Othello in Act III: Scene 4.When Othello enters, he claims a headache and asks her for a handkerchief to bind his head, but he will have only the embroidered strawberry handkerchief. Desdemona cannot produce the handkerchief and tries to deflect his questions about the handkerchief, speaking again of Cassio. Othello walks out in fury.

But Othello is totally engulfed by his jealousy in Act IV: Scene 1,in which he Sees his wife's handkerchief in the hands of Cassio's mistress Bianca.It is, for Othello, the "ocular proof" he sought. He is now convinced of Desdemona's infidelity and knows he must kill both Cassio and Desdemona that very night. This is the second time Othello has sworn to kill both Cassio and Desdemona.

Othello goes directly to the point: "How shall I murder him, Iago?" Othello swears also to kill his wife this night, he curses her and weeps over her at the same time, mingling love and murder: "for she shall not live; no, my heart is turned to stone . . . " (178–179).

Still Othello knows the pull of love and asks for poison so that he might kill her at a distance, but he sees justice in Iago's idea of strangling her in her bed, imagining that she has dishonored that bed. Again the agreement is made: Iago is to kill Cassio, and Othello is to kill Desdemona.

Thus we see how the passion of jealousy ,which derives from pride and breeds anger ,gradually gains control over Othello and destroys his initial nobility,so that he finally turns into the black beast that he was at first unjustly accused of being.The decline in the moral and spiritual stature of Othello goes hand in hand with the destruction of his love for and faith in Desdemona.

Iago, “most honest” in the eyes of his companions, is, in fact, truly the opposite. His feelings of jealousy uncovers his actual self.

Jealousy divorces Iago from rationality and this loss of rational causes Iago to make a life of jealousy and plots to destroy Othello. Although Iago has a reputation of being “full of love and honesty” ,he is responsible for destroying many lives and is considered “perhaps one of the most villainous characters in all literature” .Iago alludes to Othello that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful with Cassio. Iago initially intends to hurt Othello and make him regret appointing Cassio as his lieutenant; however, he ends up hurting others in the process. Iago’s jealousy causes his true character, one of “vicious[ness]” , to become noticeable. This, in turn, creates a new Othello to emerge, one “utterly possessed, calling out for blood and vengeance” .

The theme of jealousy is prominent throughout the play as it motivates the characters’ actions. The major characters of Iago and Othello clearly possess this jealousy and show how it affects them. Iago is forced to expose his actual nature and Othello undergoes a total transformation from a normal human to a spiteful monster. Obviously, jealousy does cause people to change in horrific ways.

The dramatic irony is that the most jealous indignation is expressed over offenses that did not happen: Othello jealous about his wife; Bianca jealous about Cassio; Iago formerly jealous about Emilia. Each character attempts to cope as an individual, except Emilia, who has a theory that jealousy is a constituent part of masculinity. The evidence before her own eyes backs up her assessment.

The Role of Women in Othello: A Feminist Reading

William Shakespeare's "Othello” can be read from a feminist perspective. A feminist analysis of the play Othello allows us to judge the different social values and status of women in the Elizabethan society. Othello serves as an example to demonstrate the expectations of the Elizabethan patriarchal society, the practice of privileges in patriarchal marriages, and the suppression and restriction of femininity. According to Elizabethan or Shakespeare's society built upon Renaissance beliefs, women were meant only to marry. As their single occupation, marriage held massive responsibilities of house management and child rearing. Additionally, women were expected to be silent, chaste, and obedient to their husbands, fathers, brothers, and all men in general. Patriarchal rule justified women's subordination as the natural order because women were thought to be physiologically and psychologically inferior to men.

As we go through Othello we find that the women characters are presented according to this expectation of the Elizabethan society.There are only three women in ‘Othello’: Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca. The way that these women behave and conduct themselves is undeniably linked to the ideological expectations of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan society and to the patriarchal Venetian society that he creates. These notes will explore some of the ways in which the female characters are presented in the play.

Women as possessions

Following his hearing of Brabantio’s complaint and Othello’s defence, the Duke eventually grants permission for Desdemona to accompany Othello to Cyprus. Othello speaks to his ensign Iago, ironically describing him as a man of ‘honesty and trust’, informing the Duke that ‘To his conveyance I assign my wife’ (I.3.283). Desdemona, as Othello’s wife, is treated as his possession: he implies that she is a commodity to be guarded and transported.This is, however, by no means peculiar to Othello: the first Senator, wishing Othello well, concludes by hoping that he will ‘use Desdemona well’ (I.3.288). The word ‘use’ seems to connote the phrase ‘look after’, but also supports the Venetian expectation of women - that they are to bow to the wills of their

husbands who may utilise them as they wish. Moreover, the function of women within marriage is also delineated by Othello’s ‘loving’ words to Desdemona in Act II: ‘Come, my dear love,/The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue’ (II.3.8-9). Marriage is described as an act of ‘purchase’: a woman is bought by her husband, effectively as a favour, and is expected to fulfil his sexual desires in return for the privilege.

Iago’s desire for revenge on Othello is, in part, dictated by his view of women as possessions. He believes that ‘it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets/He’s done my office’ (I.3.381-2), suggesting that Othello has slept with his wife Emilia. It could be argued, however, that Iago exhibits little love for his wife, insulting her in public and ultimately killing her himself. It is simply the thought that ‘the lusty Moor/hath leaped into my seat’ (II.1.286-7) which drives him mad, the thought that Othello has used a possession that belongs to him. Compounding this theory is the fact that Iago refers to his wife metaphorically in these two instances: she is his ‘office’ and his ‘seat’; she is objectified and deprived of her humanity.

Moreover, in revenge for Othello’s supposed act, Iago wishes to be ’evened with him, wife for wife’ (II.1.290). By sleeping with Desdemona, he believes that they will then be equal. The feelings of Desdemona and Emilia are completely disregarded in his plotting. The women are merely objects to be used in order to further his own desires. Although Iago is an extreme example, he nonetheless demonstrates, through his thinking, the fact that women, in both Elizabethan and Venetian society, are perceived as possessions, secondary to the lofty plans and desires of men.

Women as submissive

Some modern feminist critics see Desdemona as a hideous embodiment of the downtrodden woman. Whether this is actually the case will be explored later in these notes. Suffice it to say, there is a large body of evidence to support this critical stance. Desdemona herself declares that ‘I am obedient’ (III.3.89), continuing to obey Othello’s orders from the early ‘happy’ phase of their relationship through to the later stages of his jealous ravings. Even when he orders Desdemona to go to her bed towards the end of Act IV, she still replies with the submissive ‘I will, my lord’ (IV.3.9). In her final breath she still remains true to her husband, saying ‘Commend me to my kind lord’ (V.2.125) and providing Othello with an alibi that he does not use. She appears to have completely accepted her role as subordinate and obedientwife.

Arguably a much stronger character, Emilia also indicates that she is aware of her ‘proper’ role in society. When revealing Iago’s plotting at the end of the play, she states that ‘Tis proper I obey him, but not now’ (V.2.195). Although going on to betray her husband, she still feels the need to explain why she is deviating from accepted behaviours. Bianca expresses a similar sentiment,consoling herself when Cassio spurns her by arguing that ‘I must be circumstanced’ (III.4.199): she feels compelled by the laws of society to be ‘circumstanced’ - to ‘put up with it’ - implying that she has no other choice.

Society weighs heavily on the shoulders of these women; they feel that they must support the men and defer to them, even if the actions of the men are questionable.Brabantio’s opinions of women appear to represent Venetian ideology.Speaking of Desdemona before she erred, he describes her as ‘perfection’,‘Of spirit still and quiet’ and ‘A maiden never bold’ (I.3.95-97). 

By expressing these qualities of women in the masculine domain of the Venetian senate,Brabantio compounds and develops the traditional expectations of women in a patriarchal society. Moreover, when she marries Othello, going against his wishes and therefore the ideal mould of woman, he describes her as erring ‘Against all rules of nature’ (I.3.100). Venetian society presents its own social beliefs as immutable laws of nature. It is ‘natural’ for women to be feminine and to do as their husbands and fathers tell them. It is ‘unnatural’ for them to do anything else. This Venetian concept was also an Elizabethan and pre-Elizabethan belief, and was widely understood by Shakespeare’s audiences.

Today, feminists argue that it is not ‘natural’ for women to be ‘feminine’, that history has tried to camouflage its social expectations of women as part of the laws of nature. The women of Othello, however, are pre-Feminism, and seem to only compound the ideological expectations of what it is to be a woman through their own behaviour.

Women can be powerful

This is not to say, however, that the women of the play fail to question men at all. As she talks to Desdemona at the end of Act IV, Emilia is fairly damming in her opinion of men. In a speech reminiscent of Shylock’s ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’, Emilia argues that women are physically no different to men:

‘Let husbands know,
Their wives have sense like them; they see and smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour
As husbands have’ (IV.3.92-5)

She goes on to say that in addition to sharing some identical physicalities,they also suffer from the same ‘affections,/Desires for sport, and frailty’(IV.3.100) as men. The only difference, Emilia implies, is that men are mentally weaker: it is ‘frailty that thus errs’ (IV.3.98). This links to her earlier description of the appetite of mankind, that ‘They eat us hungerly [men], and when they are full,/They belch us’ (III.4.101-2). Emilia suggests that men are brutish and simplistic, unable to control their desires with logical thought. It is perhaps ironic that the actions of Iago and Othello in this play confirm her arguments.

These opinions, however, are given to Desdemona in moments of privacy.Emilia does not express such opinions in the company of men. Ironically, it is Desdemona who exhibits some power in public, making powerful use of language when explaining to her father, in front of other Venetian senators, that her ‘duty’ (I.3.182) is now owed to Othello. It could be argued, however,that even in this instance, Desdemona still fails to assert herself: although she disagrees with her father, she couches this in terms of merely switching her ‘duty’ from father to husband. The issue of the ‘duty’ itself remains unquestioned. This is because it is so ideologically embedded that women do not seem to consider any other possibility, other than, as these notes have shown, in private conversation with one another.

Women as temptresses

This is not to say, however, that women in Othello do not exhibit any signs of wielding power. Othello, when talking of his wife, often seems pre-occupied with matters of the flesh. Bemoaning the fact that he did not know earlier of his wife’s supposed infidelity, Othello argues that he would have been happier ‘if the general camp,/Pioneers and all, had tasted her sweet body,/So I had nothing known’ (III.3.342-4). He appears to be obsessed with Desdemona’s sexuality. On his way to murder his wife, he states that ‘Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted’ (V.1.36). The repetition of the word ‘lust’, combined with the sexual associations of Desdemona’s bed and the violent plosives and sibilants of this line, reflects and draws attention to Othello’s preoccupation with sensual matters.

This preoccupation is partly driven by the fact that Desdemona wields so much sexual power over him. Even Cassio refers, jokingly, to Desdemona as ‘our great Captain’s Captain’ (II.1.75), implying that she is the only individual capable of controlling and taming Othello. Desdemona uses this when attempting to persuade Othello to reinstate Cassio: she tells the latter that ‘My lord shall never rest’ (III.3.22) until she has changed his mind, an indication of the tenacity of the woman. Attempting to change his mind, Desdemona is not frightened to use her position and sexuality:

‘Tell me, Othello. I wonder in my soul
What you would ask me that I should deny,
Or stand so mammering on?’ (III.3.68-70)

In this instance, she refers to her own unquestioning desire to please Othello, implying that he cannot love her as she loves him if he is able to refuse her what she wants. Othello responds with the interestingly oxymoronic term of endearment ‘Excellent wretch’ (III.3.90), suggesting that he is aware that her manipulation of him is fairly ‘wretched’, yet finds it ‘excellently’ compelling.

Later in the play, however, Othello ceases to find Desdemona’s sexual power so entertaining. Speaking to Iago about his planned murder of Desdemona, Othello is adamant that he will ‘not expostulate with her, lest her body and beauty unprovide my mind again’ (IV.1.203-5). As far is Othello is concerned, if he is tempted into conversation and interaction with his wife, then her overpowering sexuality will deter him from the right and inevitable course of action. Her considers her to be a sexual hazard, a strumpet intent on using her body to blind and deceive him. Male society, in addition to constructing women as second-rate citizens, also constructs their sexual allure as evil.

Women as ‘whores’ Othello’s fear of Desdemona’s sexuality erupts into slanderous abuse on a number of occasions. He refers to her as ‘whore’ (III.3.356), a ‘subtle whore’ (IV.2.20) and a ‘cunning whore’ (IV.2.88), in addition to multiple references to her as a ‘strumpet’. Bianca is described by Iago as a ‘housewife’ (IV.1.95) and ‘strumpet’ (IV.1.97), although there is no evidence to suggest that she actually is a prostitute. When she reveals his part in the horrific events of Act V, Iago vents his fury upon Emilia, labelling her a ‘villainous whore’ (V.2.227).

Admonishing his wife for being a nag in Act II, Iago goes on to compound this stereotype by suggesting that all women are not as they appear. He seems to believe that all women are, essentially, ‘wild-cats’ (II.1.109) and ‘housewives’ (II.1.111). All three women of the play are accused of prostitution and inappropriate sexual conduct, yet it appears that none of them are guilty. As male society falls apart in Cyprus, its constituent members seen to vent their spleen and anger by labelling all of the female characters ‘whore’. When things go wrong, it appears to be acceptable for men to blame the women.

What is the role of women?

The patriarchal Venetian society presented in Othello, moulded on the ideology of Elizabethan England, seems to put women firmly in their place. Men consider women to be possessions, who ought to remain submissive and meek at all times. The only power that women do seem to be able to wield – their sexual power - is considered to be an ‘evil’ which must be resisted by the men in society. Men seem free to be able to refer to women as ‘whores’ and get away with it. The language that Shakespeare gives to his female characters suggests that they have internalised society’s expectations of them, and apart from in moments of private conversation, behave as men
expect, believing this to be ‘natural’.

There is a suggestion, however, that women are beginning to question the validity of unchecked male authority. These notes have considered Emilia’s seemingly feminist opinions, but it is Desdemona, who in conversation with Emilia, indicates that the tide may be finally turning:

‘Nay, we must think men are not gods’ (III.4.144) By definition, this suggests that Desdemona has certainly perceived men to be god-like figures in the past, but indicates that her experiences with Othello have taught her a lesson. It is a clear that the actions and language of Shakespeare’s three female characters, although seemingly subservient, signify a tentative step towards an egalitarian society.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The comic elements with tragic potential in Measure for Measure

Though Measure for Measure ends with marriages like a conventional comedy ,the play contains many dark and tragic elements. The characters and plot of the play are linked by tragic themes and pose troublesome moral questions to the audience.In fact ,for this combination of the tragic and comic elements Measure for Measure has frequently been termed a “Problem Play”. Scholars have argued that the play is a comedy only by the force of the contrived happy ending. Its theme, characters, and action are tragic, and only the manipulations of the duke, who acts as a deus ex machina, bring the play to a happy conclusion. The eloquent poetic passages on the ephemerality of life and the fear of death's unknown realm are cited as indications of the tragic style.Coleridge called it a painful play made of disgusting comedy and horrible tragedy.

The play combines the comic and tragic conventions

Measure for measure contains both the elements of a comedy and also the elements of a tragi-comedy. Comedy in Shakespeare's time was chiefly identified by its happy ending.Other conventions of romantic comedy of the seventeenth century included an idealized heroine, love as the basic theme, and a problem brought to happy conclusion. In this respect the play is a comedy.

But the play can also be called a tragicomedy.Tragicomedy offered a tragic theme with a happy close brought about by the intervention of a deus ex machina. Conventions included characters of noble rank, love as the central theme (its ideal forms contrasted with the vulgar), disguise, and virtue and vice thrown into sharp contrast. Clearly, Measure for Measure might fall into either category and may reasonably be considered both romantic comedy and tragicomedy.

The tragic elements in the play

The first half of the paly is vary much tragic in nature, both in the darkness of the issues presented, and the depth of characterization.The main tragic plot is introduced in the second scene of the play when Young Claudio is arrested at the command of the new deputy Angelo for getting Juliet with child before they are married. Fornication is forbidden according to a law that has been allowed to sleep; Angelo reactivates the law and throws Claudio into jail.Claudio is to be executed some three days hence, at the command of Angelo.He is impervious to the entreaties of Claudio's friends and others, and indifferent to Juliet's fate. This deputy, uncompromising and assured of his own virtue, seeks to literalize the Bible’s warning that “the wages of sin is death”, usurping divine prerogatives for the State. He condemns the pregnant young woman to prison, and her lover to the executioner’s block, certain that “Tis one thing to be tempted…another thing to fall”.

The first tragic plot brings the second tragic plot of the play.In Act 2,Scene 2 Isabella,Claudio’s sister arrives to beg the deputy to reconsider her brother's sentence.She makes requests by making direct reference to Christran forgiveness. Christ, she declares, who was in a position to judge us all, showed mercy: Angelo should do likewise. The allusion to the Sermon on the Mount is clear: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Mark 4.24). But it is the law, according to the deputy, that condemns Claudio.Isabella then turns to the aspect of the case mentioned earlier in this same scene by the provost: "Who is it that hath died for this offence? / There's many have committed it" (88-89). Still, Angelo is determined to enforce the law, which he says has been long asleep. Isabella's grief drives her to fine tragic poetry. She compares Angelo to a tyrannous giant. "Man, proud man, / Drest in a little brief authority" (17-18) is too proud of his power to show mercy.

But in the course of their conversation Angelo is completely bewitched by Isabella. Having never before experienced an erotic passion he is quite unprepared for the havoc which lust now wreaks within him. Angelo stands firm but finally suggests that Isabella return on the following day. After her departure, his closing soliloquy reveals that he has been shaken by the temptation her maidenhood represents.Thus the audience suspensefuly waits for further tragic happenings.

In Act 2,Scene 3 Isabella arrives to ask Angelo's decision with regard to her brother. Angelo at first states that he must die, then hints subtly that he may yet be saved. His hints become broad, but still Isabella fails to take his meaning. Finally, the deputy asks what Isabella would do if by surrendering her body she might save her brother. In her response, the reader sees again the fine tragic poetry that Shakespeare gave Isabella in the earlier scene between herself and the deputy: "As much for my poor brother as myself: / That is, were I under the terms of death, / The impression of keen whips I'ld wear as rubies" (II. iv. 99-101). Isabella is trapped. She cannot accuse him openly since his reputation would back up his denial. She has no choice but to go to her brother with the story so that he may prepare himself for his execution.

Isabella finds herself being sexually blackmailed by the seemingly upright judge: her virginity for Claudio’s survival.This is an essentially tragic motif. The corrupt judge’s abuse of power makes all authority suspect. Claudio, young and terrified of dying, abandons his code of honor and begs his sister to save him by submitting to the rape. Isabella, faced with this double masculine betrayal, rebukes Claudio cruelly, and thus fails in the Christian charity she espouses. All three characters are in crisis. There seems no remedy to the tragic dilemma: either a life must be lost, or a soul destroyed.

Deus ex machina

Then suddenly, the Duke, disguised as a friar, intervenes (III, ii, 151) and the rest of the play is “comic” in the sense that solutions are found to each dilemma.A substitute bedmate – Mariana - once contracted to the Deputy, is disguised to take Isabella’s place with the lustful Angelo. A substitute head is found to replace Claudio’s when Angelo breaks his word and goes forward with the execution. Angelo's moral position is now far worse than that of any of the others: Planning to deflower a novice-nun, he has ordered her brother's execution to cover up his own crime — a particularly serious form of murder, in fact.

The tragic intensity reaches to the point of climax in Act 4,Scene 2.Here the provost informs Claudio that he is to die on the following day, along with a condemned murderer. The duke arrives, expecting to hear of Claudio's pardon, only to be on hand as a letter is received from Angelo urging an early morning execution. The duke, however, persuades the provost to spare Claudio, sending the murderer Barnardine's head in his place.

Later Barnardine is found unready to die and it is decided that another prisoner’s head ,who has died of a fever will be a substitute, and Barnardine will be hidden along with Claudio. When Isabella arrives, the disguised duke allows her to think that her brother's execution has gone forward. He tells her that the duke is returning and she must be present at the gates along with Angelo in order to reveal the truth and have her revenge.

Thus the tragic atmosphere is carried to the final scene of the play ,in which everything suddenly ends in seemingly happy manner. In the final scene, virtually everyone is to be married and no one is killed, not even the murderer Barnadine. However,many scholars and audience members find the Duke’s wholesale justice dubious.

The play ends in marriage for Angelo and Mariana, Claudio and Juliet, and the Duke and Isabella. Even Lucio will probably be forced to marry a prostitute whom he has impregnated. This is a traditional ending to comedies, and it provides somewhat of a conclusion, at least suggesting that all the characters are about to embark on another phase in their lives. However, it is not really a happy solution for Angelo or Lucio, who would rather remain bachelors. Isabella's willingness to marry is also unlikely, since she wanted to be a nun.

How measure for measure is achieved in Measure for Measure?

The title of Measure for Measure is taken from the Bible: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure you get" (Matthew 7.1 and 7.2). This quotation from Christ's Sermon on the Mount, stating generally that each individual will be judged as harshly as he has judged others, implies that mercy and human sympathy should temper justice.In Mark, the thought is expressed again: "And he said to them, 'Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you'" (Mark 4.24).It is interesting to note that the phrase also appears in one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, King Henry VI, Part 3: "Measure for measure must be answered" (II. vi. 55).

Generally, the title of any work is reflective of the central theme and/or plot of the piece of literature. The title Measure for Measure is truly an explication of the play's theme. The word measure means to judge, and throughout the play, judgment is being made; sometimes mercifully and sometimes unmercifully. Sometimes the judgment is made of others; sometimes the character looks inside and judges his/her own heart.

It is an irony of fate that Isabella sought justice from Angelo, and got the opposite. Subsequently, she demanded justice from the Duke, and received it "measure for measure." The Duke appears to be an exponent of the Mosaic law of justice "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', and that is precisely why he says "An Angelo for Claudio, death for death."

He dispenses his justice measure by measure. That is why, in the end, he is able to pardon Claudio, Lucio, and even Angelo and mercifully fit their punishments measure for measure to their crimes. Only Angelo seems to get off very light; but the Duke explains that a measure of repentance is met with a measure of pardon. At the end of the play, Angelo does acknowledge his misdeeds and begs for forgiveness. The title Measure for Measure is certainly an appropriate one for this play.

The first part of the play dramatizes the measure for measure in a very unchristian way.Isabella comes to Angelo to plead for her brother's life. But Angelo is taken over by his lust while in her presence. He asks whether Isabella would consider a sin to be good, if it were to help someone else; soon, he asks her hypothetically whether she would give up her virginity in order to save her brother. Isabella vehemently insists that she would not, and that she prizes her virginity over even her brother's life. Angelo is angered, and tells her that either she relents, or her brother dies; Isabella grieves that Angelo's good appearance belies the corruption that seems to have taken him over, but is still resolute that she will not sleep with Angelo to save her brother.

Isabella comes to her brother Claudio to ask him get prepared for the execution.The duke then goes apart with Isabella to suggest a plan that he declares will save Claudio and be of some help to Mariana. The latter, betrothed to Angelo, was deserted by him when her dowry was lost in a shipwreck. Mariana, if she consents, will be a substitute for Isabella in meeting Angelo's demands. Isabella agrees to the plan.
The Duke says that Isabella should go to Angelo immediately, agree to his terms, and ask that the whole thing happen in darkness and be brief. Isabella will send Mariana in her stead, which means that Angelo will have to marry her after all, once it is revealed that he has taken her maidenhood. Isabella agrees heartily to this plan; she will go see Angelo, while the Duke fetches Mariana, and convinces her to go along with the ruse.

Isabella convinces a young woman whom she has just met to have sexual relations under bizarre circumstances with a man who has spurned her. The plan is a strange one, yet the woman gives her consent in a period so short that it would hardly be possible for Isabella to relate even a sketch of the reasons behind the deceit. The duke's lines themselves are strange since they have no bearing upon the current scene, alluding to the deceitful gossip to which persons in great places are subject. The lines in fact seem more appropriate to the duke's reactions in the previous scene to Lucio's falsehoods. It appears that some mix-up has occurred to confuse the scene.

In any case, Mariana agrees to the plan when the duke sanctions it. Significantly, the duke repeats his assurances that the scheme is not immoral or dishonorable since Angelo is Mariana's "husband on a pre-contract" (72).

The duke promises that "disguise shall, by the disguised, / Pay with falsehood false exacting" (294-95). In other words, the duke will punish Angelo's deceit with deceit of his own. The deputy's lust, disguised by counterfeit virtue, and his false promise to save Claudio's life are paid back with the duke's own tricks: the substitute bed partner and Ragozine's head for Claudio's. Angelo gets measure for measure.

The tragic intensity reaches to the point of climax in Act 4,Scene 2.Here the provost informs Claudio that he is to die on the following day, along with a condemned murderer. The duke arrives, expecting to hear of Claudio's pardon, only to be on hand as a letter is received from Angelo urging an early morning execution.
Angelo's crime is compounded by treachery. He writes the provost to execute Claudio four hours earlier than his original time and to deliver the head to him. In a sense, Angelo's treachery parallels that of the duke, Isabella, and Mariana. He is deceived by a surrogate bed partner, and he, in turn, deceives the conspirators by reneging on the promised pardon.

The duke, however, persuades the provost to spare Claudio, sending the murderer Barnardine's head in his place.

Later Barnardine is found unready to die and it is decided that another prisoner’s head ,who has died of a fever will be a substitute, and Barnardine will be hidden along with Claudio. Thus Isabella and the duke will have the last laugh by providing a substitute head to the deputy.

The measure for measure is also done in the last act.Here after everything is publicly exposed and the Duke proclaims that Angelo must die for committing the same sin as Claudio; Mariana protests this decision, and Isabella's intervention, to ask that Angelo be allowed the mercy her brother did not get, then causes the Duke to let Angelo go. Claudio is fetched from the prison, and the fact that he is alive is revealed to all. Immediately after his appearance, the Duke proposes marriage to Isabella, perhaps using her flood of happiness at seeing her brother to secure her quick consent. Lucio is then sentenced to marrying the prostitute he got pregnant, as punishment for slandering the Duke.

The Duke then says for Claudio to be reunited with Juliet, and for Mariana and Angelo to live happily. He calls Isabella to him, since they are to be joined, and calls the play to a close on a 'happy' note.

The main theme of Measure for Measure is that rational rules and regulations are necessary to maintain law and order. In Angelo's eagerness for reform, he demands "measure for measure," which means pure justice, without mercy. His belief is in 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' no matter the circumstances. Measure for Measure speaks about man's action, its results, and the need for mercy, even if there is a strict legal system. Justice has to be tempered with mercy; only then can a government conduct its affairs smoothly.

Shakespeare's Measure for Measure as a Problem Play

The play Measure for Measure is called the problem play, because it gives rise to many questions about the characters, themes and other issues which remain very problematic to the very end.The main characters of the play have the contrasting values in their personality,the theme of the play ’measure for measure’ has not been equally applied to all,and the play also touches upon some social,poletical and moral problems.

Problematic characters

In his book, Shakespeare and his Predecessors (1896), F.S. Boas calls All's Well that End's Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida, as Shakespeare's problem plays,because it presents as heroes or heroines characters who are seriously flawed in some way and, thus, problematical for audiences used to applauding and identifying with flawless heroes and heroines. For example, the duke is fair and just–but weak. Claudio grovels for his life. Mariana loves Angelo in spite of his egregious behavior. Isabella is admirable for her virtue but censurable for her coldness.

Problematic themes

Today, most critics agree that Measure for Measure has earned its designation as a "problem play"—both because it leaves us with moral issues which remain ambiguous to the end and because it refuses to be neatly classified. The resolution of the themes and debates seems inadequate and, in the final act, the deliverance of justice and completion one expects does not occur. Other definitions have been proposed since, however all center around the issue that these plays cannot be easily assigned to the traditional categories of comedy or tragedy.

Complexities of human life

A problem play reveals a perplexing and distressing complication in human life, which is presented in a spirit of high seriousness. The problem is usually one involving human conduct, as to which there are no fixed and immutable laws. Since human life is complex, problem plays, although structured similarly, are also complex and diversified in nature. Shakespeare, who masterfully depicted life's complications in his plays, wrote several dramas that are considered problem plays.

Problem with justice and mercy

The main problem in the play deals with justice and mercy. Angelo must decide the fate of Claudio, and condemns him to death. Isabella must decide whether it is more important to save a life or save a soul. She justifies her action through her Christian belief of salvation, refuses to accept Angelo's sinful proposition, thereby committing her brother to death and saving her soul. At the end of the play, Isabella becomes the symbol of mercy when she pleads for Angelo, the man who tried to seduce her and who condemned her brother. In a similar fashion, the Duke also reveals his mercy when he pardons Claudio, Lucio, and Angelo; their "punishment" is only to get married and be a good husbands." The Duke feels he hands out appropriate justice based on the nature of the crime, measure for measure. Shakespeare, in fact, seems to be pleading for a more humane and less literal interpretation of the law in Measure for Measure.

Problem with literary genre

It is called problem play also for the fact that the literary form of the play can’t be easily defined. It shows life to be complicated and exposes the worse sides of human existence. The problem plays have neither the humor of the comedies nor the redemption of the tragedies. Like a comedy, Measure for Measure ends in multiple marriages but not with unqualified joy. There is no ‘feel good’ factor to Measure. It ends in irresolution rather than with songs or dances.

Most critics have argued that the play is a comedy because of its happy ending. However, it is not called a romantic comedy since there is no spirit of adventure or joyous abandon, which are the hallmarks of the romantic comedies. Here, intellect rather than imagination drive the action of the play. And in the end, it is rather a dark comedy, where there are glimpses into the oppressive gloom of the prison and the oppressive deceit of the human heart. Measure for Measure is a drama of ideas, and it is the ideas that are the problems. At the spiritual level, excessive zeal is corrupted to pride, and cloistered virtue subordinates charity to chastity.
It is definitely difficult to categorize Measure for Measure. At best, it is probably called a tragicomedy, since the play offers a tragic theme but with a happy closure.

Deals with the social and political problems

“Measure for Measure” has been classified a “problem play” by many scholars, partly due to Shakespeare’s prowess in confronting the problems plaguing society. Definitely in ‘Measure for Measure,’ there is discussion of political corruption, sexual politics, hypocrisy (and) meaty social issues.”

In view of the overriding importance of religion and the spiritual life in early seventeenth-century England, and in view of the control exerted over both religion and morality by the State in this era when Parliament actually debated the death penalty for premarital sex, it is easy to see how Measure for Measure might capture its audience's interest. One such issue is the division of opinion about the role of government in shaping the morality of citizens. For those who regard such governmental action as intrusive, the duke may seem intolerably meddlesome in his interference in the lives of his people; for those who want government to act in the defense of conventional morality, the duke may be understood as properly exerting himself to impose standards of moral behavior on his people.

Problem with the two worlds

There are two worlds to this play: worlds of nuns and brothel madams, strict officials and perverse prisoners, moral severity and tawdriness. “Measure for Measure” concentrates on these opposing worlds and their intersections: the places where the subversive underbelly of Vienna touches the ethically austere surface. “As the play goes on you realize that there are lines connecting these two worlds, tendrils that never really were broken,” Manganello said. “Each of the worlds encodes the other one.”

Because of its peculiar transitions between disquieting subject matter and bouts of jolly jesting, “Measure for Measure” is also considered a problem play in the sense that it’s difficult to perform. But it’s no problem for this production: The jarring shifts only serve to highlight the actors' abilities and Shakespeare’s craftsmanship in emphasizing the main themes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a Revenge Tragedy

A Shakespearean tragedy is built upon a central conflict which runs through from the beginning to the end of the tragedy until the conflict is finally resolved.The conflict provides the exposition,suspense,climax and the catastrophe of the play.In the case of Hamlet it is not otherwise.The play is built upon the long,tragic conflict between Hamlet and Claudius and the conflict is built upon the motif of revenge.

So,the driving force that shapes the turns of the plot of the play namely exposition,gradual development of the plot,the suspense,climax and the catastrophe of the play is the revenge,especially the revenge for the death of father. It is not only Hamlet’s desire to take revenge ,but also that of Laertes’ that also acts as the driving force behind the plot. In the play Hamlet two of the character's fathers are brutishly murdered. The first murdered character is King Hamlet who is supposed to be revenged by his son prince Hamlet. The second murder is Polonius who is supposed to be revenged by his son Laertes. Both Prince Hamlet and Laertes go to seek revenge for the death of fathers, however they will each use different methods to accomplish their deeds.

But the play in which the central action springs from the revenge motif is called the revenge tragedy,which shares some other typical features.So,before going further let us see what motivated Shakespeare write such a tragedy in which revenge takes the driving wheel.At first,the writer was certainly influenced by his age.

Hamlet is a play that very closely follows the dramatic conventions of revenge in Elizabethan theater. All revenge tragedies originally stemmed from the Greeks, who wrote and performed the first plays. After the Greeks came Seneca who was very influential to all Elizabethan tragedy writers,including William Shakespeare. The two most famous English revenge tragedies written in the Elizabethan era were Hamlet, written by Shakespeare and The Spanish Tragedy, written by Thomas Kyd. These two plays used mostly all of the Elizabethan conventions for revenge tragedies in their plays. Hamlet especially incorporated all revenge conventions in one way or another, which truly made Hamlet a typical revenge play.

“Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of many heroes of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage who finds himself grievously wronged by a powerful figure, with no recourse to the law, and with a crime against his family to avenge.”

It is said that most of the time Shakespeare wrote the dramas that his contemporary audience wanted.During the time of Elizabethan theater, plays about tragedy and revenge were very common and a regular convention seemed to be formed on what aspects should be put into a typical revenge tragedy.

Now let us discuss in details how the revenge motif helps to carry out the plot. Before introducing the revenge motif,the dramatist at first sets an appropriate setting .In the beginning, Shakespeare sets up the scene, having a ghost on a dark night. Everyone is working and something strange is happening in Denmark. It is as if Shakespeare is saying that some kind of foul play has been committed. This sets up for the major theme in the play which is of course revenge.

The real tension of the play begins as soon as the ghost of the late king tells Hamlet about his murder. Hamlet learns that his father's death was no mistake, but it was Hamlet's uncle's plan to murder him. The ghost also tells Hamlet that he has been given the role of the person who will take revenge upon Claudius.So,like a typical revenge tragedy ,in Hamlet a crime (the killing of the king) is committed and for various reasons laws and justice cannot punish the crime so the individual ,Hamlet proceeds on to take revenge in spite of everything.

Hamlet must now think of how to take revenge on Claudius, although he doesn’t know what to do about it. He ponders his thoughts for a long period of time, expecting to do the deed immediately, but instead he drags it on until the end of the play. 

The conflict of the play gets further development when Hamlet feigns to be insane.Thus,the revenge motif drives him to disguise himself as a mad.

Hamlet starts a battle of wits with Claudius by acting mad and calling it his “antic disposition”, although the whole thing was a ploy to get closer to Claudius to be able to avenge his father’s death more easily. The tactic was a disadvantage in that it drew all attention upon himself. More importantly though it was an advantage that his “antic disposition”, isolated him from the rest of the court because of the people not paying attention to what he thought or did because of his craziness.

After this the revenge motif also structures the middle of the play.One important part of all revenge plays is that after the revenge is finally decided upon, the tragic hero delays the actual revenge until the end of the play.Hamlet does the same thing and his delay of killing Claudius takes on three distinct stages. Firstly he had to prove that the ghost was actually telling the truth,secondly his not killing of Claudius while praying and finally his accidental killing of Polonius.

Hamlet first decides to act abnormal which does not accomplish much besides warning his uncle that he might know he killed his father. Later in the play a troop of actors come to act out a play, and Hamlet has them reenact the murder of is father in front of his uncle Claudius. The actors murder scene also make Hamlet question himself about the fact that he has done nothing yet to avenge his father. Hamlet says " But am I Pigeon-livered and lack gall / To make oppression bitter, or ere this / I should ha' fatted all the region kites / With this slave's offal. Bloody, bawdy villain! ( Act II scene 2 page 84 line 577- 580 ).

During the play Hamlet watches is uncle Claudius to see his reaction when the actors perform the murder scene. Hamlet plan works his uncle throws a fit and runs out the room, where Hamlet goes after him. Now,Hamlet knows that Claudius is guilty.

Afterwards Hamlet finds his uncle as praying, and he pulls out his sword and gets ready to kill Claudius. But all the sudden Hamlet changes his mind because if he kills his uncle while he's praying he will go to heaven, and Hamlet wants him to go to hell. If Hamlet had done it here then Claudius would have gone to heaven because he confessed while Hamlet’s father was in purgatory because he did not get the opportunity to confess. So Hamlet therefore decided not to murder Claudius at this point in the play. So hamlet postpones the execution of his uncle.

The third delay was the fact that he got side tracked. He accidentally killed Polonius which created a whole new problem with the fact that Laertes now wanted Hamlet dead. After he commit this murder he was also sent off and unable to see the king for another few weeks until he could finally do the job.

So,the next confrontation between Hamlet and Claudius does not happen till the end of the book when Hamlet escapes from the latter's ill murder attempt on his life.Claudius tells Laertes that Hamlet is the one who killed his father and thus inspires Laertes to take revenge on Hamlet. Claudius hatchs a plan according to which Hamlet and Laertes will have a mock sword fight, but Laertes will be using a real poisoned sword. Laertes agrees with this, ready to claim Hamlets life for his father's vile murder.

Thus, Hamlet sword fences with Laertes. All the sudden Hamlet's mother Queen Gertrude drinks a poison glass intended for Hamlet. When Hamlet is not looking Laertes stabs him with a poison sword then Hamlet takes hold of the poisoned sword, and stabs Laertes with it. As this happens Queen Gertrude dies from the poison drink. As Laertes lays down dying he reveals to Hamlet that his uncle King Claudius was behind it all, the poisoned sword and drink that has just killed his mother. Hamlet then in a fit of rage runs his uncle through with the poison sword. Hamlet has now finally revenged his father through much time then after his task is completed he finally collapses from the poison on the sword.

In  Hamlet these two characters Hamlet and Laertes both seek to avenge their slayed fathers. Hamlet with his passive and scheming approach manages to kill his father's murder his uncle Claudius. Laertes with his direct, and forceful dedication slays his fathers killer Prince Hamlet. Altough Laertes took a much more direct approach than Hamlet wasting no time, they both however accomplished their goal but at the ultimate price of both their lives!

Hamlet: The Epitome of Melancholy

In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, Hamlet, the tragic hero, is profoundly affected in actions and thoughts by his unwavering state of melancholy. Melancholia is a medical condition defined as “A mental disorder characterized by severe depression, apathy and withdrawal.” The term was invented in ancient Greece and was associated with the belief that melancholia was caused by having an imbalance of black bile in the bloodstream. Black bile was one of the four humours that the Greeks believed were responsible for the temperaments of individuals. Hamlet succumbed to this ‘illness’ and displayed several of the characteristic signs of the ailment.

Hamlet was seen to have been composed of too much black bile, which led to the medical condition of melancholia. Some widely regarded and well-known symptoms of this state of being were depression,excessive mourning,self absorption, an excessively sentimental response to recent events, Indecisiveness,skepticism and an obstinate outlook and attitude in life; all of which are applicable and relative to the case of Hamlet. It is this fulfillment of the qualifications necessary for the diagnosis of an imbalanced humour that leads one to the conclusion that Hamlet is, indeed, melancholic.

Hamlet's constant thoughts and assessments about himself stem from his melancholy. His incessant introspection as to how he is thinking, feeling, and behaving at any given moment prevent him from acting on the directions given to him by his father's ghost. Hamlet manages to deny himself the act that he craves which consequently gives him more to dwell on when evaluating himself and the progress he has made.


Melancholy is nothing less than what in modern terms is called depression. Depression is not only a legitimate cause for inaction, but next to being dead, may be the best. Depression is a chemical imbalance of the brain that induces inactivity. If ever there was a man who had cause to depression it is Prince Hamlet.

The only action Hamlet can summon is inaction. Feigning madness is only an externalization and an active response to his depression. To that, he is embracing his sorrow instead of combating it. Today it is well accepted that severe depression can rarely be repaired without the use of drug related therapy. As noble as Hamlet may be, his mind has betrayed him with sorrowful thoughts and lead him down a path that has no clear return.

Excessive mourning

Hamlet's melancholy is also displayed by his overwhelming, all-encompassing emotion for any mood that is currently concerning him. Foremost is the death of his father, after which he sinks into a deep depression that traps his mind and spirit for the remainder of the play. He is not merely in a state of mourning; he has become nearly obsessive about preserving the memory and integrity of the former king. Hamlet is the last person in the kingdom to continue grieving for his father, and indicates his sadness by dressing only in “nighted color” (I, ii, 68). He is making a statement to any and all who observe him that he will not dismiss the death, perhaps in regard to the havoc set upon the state of Denmark in its wake. While his mother sees his choice of clothing as showing the whole of Hamlet's sentiments, Hamlet informs her that it “does not denote me truly” (I, ii, 83). He refers to the fact that his black attire barely shows how immense his sadness is; his true emotions run much deeper than can be expressed by the petty decision of what to wear. Hamlet is unable to live a long and fruitful life, the same opportunity which was stolen from his father.

Sudden emotional response

Hanlet is later consumed by a passion for the players who visit Elsinore to perform ‘The Mousetrap’ for the royal family. While his thoughts continue to have the underlying theme of the king's murder, he is overjoyed at the prospect of having the players perform for him. Quickly, he focuses all of his time and energy on the play, its perfection, and the speech which he will write out to be included in the performance. When he has finished setting down the lines for the player to recite, he spends an incredible amount of time directing the player on how it should be read. This action seems redundant since he has witnessed the player performing and was astounded at his intense emotion. The player is also very experienced and would be excellent in his performance, regardless of Hamlet's intervention. Hamlet then continues to plan how the play will be set up in order to achieve the goal of catching “the conscience of [the] king” (II, ii, 610). He has again become interested only in one small part of his life and has nearly forgotten everything else that he was once concerned with. Hamlet's behaviour shows that he is “disposed to be... absorbed in the feeling or mood that possessed him, whether it were joyous or depressed” (Bradley, 1904, p. 201); a clinical sign of melancholia.


Hamlet's hubris is his indecisiveness. Throughout this play, Hamlet's melancholy fuels his indecision. Hamlet’s indecisiveness leads him to present Claudius with the Mousetrap so Hamlet can judge Claudius’ reaction to the re-enactment of King Hamlet’s murder. Hamlet then uses Claudius’ reaction to decide that he will kill Claudius but then changes his mind when he sees him praying: "A villain kills my father, and for that I sole son, do this same villain send to heaven" (III; iii; 76-78). The source of Hamlet's indecision is that he can't decide whether or not to kill Claudius. This is Hamlet's hubris.

Laertes is a fine example of how Hamlet would act without the weight of such melancholy upon him. All in the play agree that Laertes is “a very noble youth” (V.i.191). Laertes sweeps to the revenge of his father in a way Hamlet wishes he could. Laertes even gains the opportunity to seize the throne as Hamlet should. Laertes is untroubled by doubts or fears of failure although he is arguably less endowed than is Hamlet. It is Hamlet’s superior brain that is also his undoing. Laertes acts while Hamlet is muddled in the darkness of his own indecision and grief.


Hamlet is preoccupied with the thought of death.He often contemplates ending his life. Before he even knows of his father’s murder, he wishes for “self-slaughter,” except that it is against God’s “canon” (I.ii.132). Before his “feigned madness,” his melancholy is already present, already torturing his mind, even in the first scenes of the play.

The play is Hamlet’s pursuit of his uncle’s death, his desire for his own death, and in the end, the death of all but Horatio.His vigorous morning for his father and his disgust at his mother manifest themselves as melancholy or “the loss of all [his] mirth” (II.ii.280). “The earth,” to Hamlet, “seems like a sterile promontory” (II.ii.282-283). This is an understatement of his world and Roland’s. They are grotesque. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”(---------). In part it is Hamlet’s attitude.

Living with such rancor, Hamlet has devalued his own existence. He ponders, “To be or not to be, that is the question” to question whether his life was worth the effort it takes to live, and further, whether it is worth fighting for what he believes (III.i.51). He wishes only

To die, to sleep –
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That the flesh is heir to - (III.i.60-63)

He has often, however ironically, commented that his life is not worth “a pin’s fee” and (I.iv.65). In regard to Polonius’ company, Hamlet says that there is nothing he would “more willingly part withal; except my life, except my life” (II.ii.209-210).


Hamlet’s skepticism is also the result of his melancholy.Hamlet's suspicion as to the motives for the actions of those around him are also borne out of his melancholic nature. He does not like to be taken advantage of and would prefer that others be as honest with him as he is, naturally, with them. Different people he comes in contact with try to hide an ulterior purpose: to deceive Hamlet into revealing either what he should not know or the extent of what he knows to be true. His friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, have been sent for by the king and queen to find the reason behind Hamlet's “antic disposition” (I, v, 72). When Hamlet says, “Were you not sent for? Is it your own inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come, come, deal justly with me,” (II, ii, 277-9) he is demanding an answer from his schoolmates as to their unexplained arrival. Hamlet's melancholic skepticism is an invaluable aid to him, since, had he told Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about his ‘madness,’ his cause would have been discovered and impeded by his parents. He will not allow himself to be “easier played on than a pipe” (III, ii, 373-4) by them; they should hold the sanctity of their camaraderie in higher esteem. Instead, they are betraying a long-time friendship because they are too weak in character to refuse their sevices to the monarchy.

Hamlet's mistrust again becomes evident when he doubts the source of the ghost of his father. In Hamlet's third soliloquy, he says to himself, “The spirit that I have seen may be the devil: and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy - as he is very potent with such spirits - abuses me to damn me” (II, ii, 603-8). Hamlet would like to believe the ghost but is wary because the Devil might be trying to tempt him into killing Claudius. He is reluctant to do the bidding of the ghost lest he go to Hell for the heinous act he is being asked to commit. By killing a king, Hamlet would suffer the same fate as Claudius, that of eternal torture in Hell, and be denied Heaven by his deeds. Hamlet is aware that he is in a fragile state of mind which the Devil may abuse to bring his spirit down to Hell, unless he can find a way to discover the true origin of his father's ghost. The perception that Hamlet “has a keener eye for the truth than those who are not melancholic,” (Freud, 1915, p. 255) coincides with his relentless pursuit of justice and veracity around him.


Hamlet's stubbornness is one of the survival tactics he has developed to counter his own reluctance to kill Claudius. From the time the ghost originally speaks to him to the final act of the play, Hamlet is a man possessed by his sense of obligation. Nothing can deter him from what he knows he must do to avenge his father. When, exasperated, he cries out, “The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right,” (I, v, 189-90) he is giving voice to his obstinacy. From his point of view, deciding not to comply with the instruction of the ghost is not an option. He must follow through, without being selfish to his own needs and to “revenge [his father's] foul and most unnatural murder” (I, iv, 25). Because of his love for his father, he is sacrificing his pure mind, body and destiny (Heaven) to free the ghost from the “sulphurous and tormenting flames [of purgatory]” (I, iv, 3). Hamlet also refuses to allow Denmark to go on living in sin as it has been since his father was killed. He is the only character in the play who cannot ignore what is happening around him. Hamlet takes it upon himself to stop the incest at Elsinore by confronting his mother in a vain effort to prevent her from continuing with her unforgivable behaviour. Neither she, nor Claudius, has made an attempt to hide their affair and the people of Denmark have been unwilling to make them reprehensible for their transgressions. The prince is thus left to wallow further in his failures and dwell on himself and his melancholia.

Hamlet, the protagonist in Shakespeare's classic tragedy Hamlet: Prince of Denmark suffers from melancholia, to which most of his actions can be credited. Caused by an excessive amount of black bile, as the physicians of Shakespeare's time had determined, melancholia was a common disorder of the four humours in the body. Hamlet's perpetual challenging of himself and his actions makes him unable to act on his inclinations consistently during the course of the play. Hamlet then becomes deeply absorbed in various emotions and moods that are currently affecting him, such as the rage of his father's death followed by the happy occasion of the players' visit to Elsinore. His natural apprehension allows him to be unbiased in his questioning of the motives of those around him, which protects him from his ignorance. The inflexibility he displays is the final sign of his melancholia. He will not permit his plans to be changed or delayed, except by himself, in order to remain in control of his own fate. As one can see, each of Hamlet's decisions and subsequent actions was determined and, in part, predicted by his melancholic nature. Without knowing it, Hamlet is predisposed to an imminent demise by the prognosis of an untreatable case of melancholia.

Hamlet’s melancholy “undoubtedly” pervades the breadth of the play and can be linked clearly to all that Hamlet does and fails to do. His disease is the invisible factor that handicaps this most “noble youth.” The fear and doubt that Hamlet expresses in his soliloquies make him an Everyman. He stands as the great figure of English literature. All people have lost and suffered so.

Hamlet’s Strange and Erratic Behaviour in Hamlet

Who is Hamlet? What type of person is he? Is he sane? Then how should we account for the erratic and strange behavior that he shows throughout the play? Then, is he insane? He is certainly not. There seems to be various interpretations of Hamlet’s psychology. The best that we can do is to judge his actions on the basis of the very situation and in this way we may reach a tentative solution.

So, at first some of his actions in the play are quite strange and erratic. In His such actions as fondness for ridiculing, his cruelty towards Ophelia, his broken sleep and bad dreams, his melancholy and his desire for secrecy, in the scene of Ophelia’s funeral Hamlet etc seem to be totally strange and out of control.

But some of his other actions such as putting an intentional ‘antic disposition on”, or giving direction to the players, or saying “I am mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly/ I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Or says “ It is not madness/That I have utter’d” obviously give the idea of a man who is not only cunning but also the controller of the underworld-the Godfather. All these actions actually indicate how deviously he hatched his intention, in guise of strange and erratic behavior.

Hamlet in a melancholic mood

Hamlet’s first appearance does not seem so eccentric rather melancholic. Here we find him very depressed because of his father's death and more importantly his mother's hasty marriage to his Uncle Claudius, one month after his father's death. He is very shocked not seeing any sign of mourning in his mother which is very clear when he refers Horatio that he (Horatio) has come for his “mother’s wedding” not for his father’s funeral. This unfaithfulness to the husband ultimately leads him to draw the conclusion that "frailty, thy name is woman". So till this point Hamlet comes as a grief, melancholic and gloomy person.

But we find Hamlet as an utterly changed man after his first encounter with the Ghost. Here he is informed a terrible truth that affects his whole vision of life. Then he takes a decision to put musk to conceal his real motive namely, to revenge for his father's murder.

The words of the ghost have an electrifying effect on Hamlet. He cries and almost goes mad. Here his actions can be judged on the basis of the situation. We can imagine how deeply he is shocked hearing the news of his father’s being killed. Hamlet, a sensitive youth and already divided by his mother’s hasty remarriage, can hardly bear the suffering. The effect is he behaves strangely. It will not be very unnatural if we compare his action with that of Ophelia’s after the death of the latter.

But he is somewhat recovered and becomes resolute to avenge his father’s death. Here we notice some grave changes in his character. Though we don’t have any handsome proofs, but still we can imagine that Hamlet’s this change is very intentional, purposeful and instrumental. He intends to present himself as harmless to Claudius. From now he becomes quite unpredictable.

In fact, almost all- Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius and Ophelia also begin to recognize the changes in Hamlet.

They become aware of Hamlet’s strange and erratic behavior. It is in the second scene of act 2, where the audience for the first time experiences the inconsistency in his behavior. Here Ophelia recalls to her father the meeting she had previously with Hamlet. She tells him that Hamlet came to her disheveled and in a shaken state of mind, speaking of "horrors" “as if he had been loosed out of hell”. Like the typical Elizabethan belief, Polonius immediately draws to the conclusion that “this is the very ecstasy of love” believing that he is mad for Ophelia’s love. This unusual behavior towards Ophelia can be seen from this point of view that Hamlet’s faith in women is shattered by his mother’s remarriage and it is also possible that Hamlet may realize that Ophelia would not also go beyond the restricted boundary that is drawn by that society.

Hamlet’ strange behavior with Polonius, calling him “a fish monger”

2nd instance of Hamlet’s eccentric behavior is seen when he meets with Polonius. He is playing Polonius by telling him he's a fishmonger and acting like he doesn't know him, because Polonius is a weasel and would go back and tell the king. Hamlet might as well give Polonius something to talk about. Hamlets sets in motion his insane behavior. "For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion, - Have you a daughter?" Whereas Polonius says to himself "Though this be madness, yet there is method in `t". In this discussion Hamlet shows antic behavior towards Polonius by mocking him when Hamlet would usually show great respect for him because of his age and high position in the court. This sudden question to Polonius has caused Polonius to believe that Hamlet has a form of love-sickness and that Polonius is sure to tell Claudius of his condition. Hamlet also accuses Polonius of being the "Jephthah, judge of Israel,” assuming that, like one of the judges of Israel, Polonius would put his country in front of his daughter. Hamlet has now convinced Polonius that he is in a state of madness. By convincing Polonius that he has no consideration for the well-being of others, Hamlet is then hoping that Polonius will tell the court of his emotional madness. So, we see that his behavior is intentional and instrumental by which he disguises his inner motif.

Hamlet’s strange conduct with Rosencrantz or Guildenstern

Again his behavior with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern shows that he is not in a very natural mood rather he is very critical towards them. He again and again asks them the reason behind their coming from the university. He deeply believes that neither Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern is trustworthy. But he willfully tries to test their trust using his eccentricity. But we the audience realize that his conversation with them in not really without any aim.

Here he discloses that Denmark is in prison which implies Claudius’s mistrustful behavior with the people of Denmark, as his ascending to the throne was not a legal one. He also befools them as he knows that whatever he tells them, will be relayed back to the King and Queen. In another incident, Hamlet plainly tells them that he is mad without any puns to hide the meaning. He tells: “ I am mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly/ I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Here it is again clear that his mad like behavior in not uninstrumental. Hamlet is also able to make smart remarks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, comparing them to sponges. "When he (Claudius) needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you and, sponge, you shall be dry again,". This is random and unexpected, as many of his actions, but the comparison makes sense; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern soak up all the king’s favors, only to become dry again after they mop up the King's “mess,” which was spying on Hamlet, and getting Polonius's body. Later, with Claudius, Hamlet tells how mean a king can be by saying, "A man (beggar) may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm," . This also makes sense, and is not quite as random; when Hamlet confronts Claudius, and the king asks where Polonius is, Hamlet immediately begins the comparison by telling Claudius that Polonuis is at supper. This proves that Hamlet had some kind of planning for this degrading comment, and that his thoughts are not scattered and he is able to stay focused.

Again theme of appearance and reality we find when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern inform him about the player’s arrival, he doesn’t want them feel that Hamlet treats the players better than his friends. He adds that he will be courteous in the prescribed way of society and “show his welcome as well as feel it.”

Hamlet’s usual behavior with the actors

After this scene we see Hamlet’s very usual behavior with the players. Here we find a contrast between his behavior with his two friends and the players. His directs the players how to act with quiet dignity and moderation. He advises them against extravagant gestures and melodramatic exhibitionism. So we see that his strange and erratic behavior before Ophelia or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Polonius is very intentional because the scene which is going to be performed in the next evening will resemble the murder of King Hamlet. He expects that if the ghost is telling the truth about Claudius murdering his father, then Claudius will react to the scene, admitting his guilt. Hamlet states "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.”. Anyone who can plot that, and think that far ahead, can never be mad.

Bed chamber scene 'Mad as the sea and wind when both contend'

After this scene when Gertrude calls her son to her chambers to discuss the reasoning of his putting on a play so closely related to the death of his father, we see his terrible earn nest to awaken the sleeping monster of conscience in the bosom of his mother. But he has such a wild and distracted look that his mother sees danger in it and cries out for help. Later he kills Polonius and his mother’s description( “ Mad as the sea and wind when both contend /Which is mightier”) also shows Hamlet's wanting others to think that he is truly mad. So it is not his insanity that brought about the rash action of killing the unknown man behind the tapestry rather it is his postponed revenge that consumed him.
His putting his two friends to death

That Hamlet is very cunning and quite normal is seen from the fact how aptly he managed put his friends into death.

Hamlet’s behavior in the grave of Ophelia

Such kind of reaction is not unexpected. As his speech indicates (40 thsnd brothers could not equal his love) he is terrible shocked by the sudden that of Ophelia. Though he did not behave well with Ophelia, Hamlet’s only solace of life was Ophelia, only Ophelia. But her death completely transports him to a friendless, loveless world. So, his lament is the lament of a frustrated young man who has lost his father, seen his mother go astray and also lost his more-dear-to-life beloved. It cannot be judged as unnatural or erratic.

Thus, throughout the play we see Hamlet act madly as well as soundly and there is a certain explanation behind each of his actions. To sum up, his behavior after the death of his father and his beloved Ophelia results from his deep frustration. Apart from these, all his insanity and seem-to-be-uncontrolled behaviors are instrumental and have a definite aim namely to avenge the murder of his father.