William Shakespeare and Hamlet
By Scott Hanks
The Life of William Shakespeare
To this day nobody has discovered any records that officially date his birth although a variety of church records indicate that he was baptized at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon on April 26, 1564. Stratford-Upon-Avon is located 103 miles from London and was thought to be a small village. William Shakespeare’s father was a leather merchant while his mother had inherited a lot of family money. Shakespeare had several sisters and brothers as well. There are no records that exist from his childhood or education. Many people have researched his life and concluded that he likely attended the Kings New School in Stratford. November 28, 1582 marked his marriage to Anne Hathaway in Worcester. William was only eighteen at the time of his marriage while his wife was 26. On May 26, 1583 their first child was born and two years later another two children followed. A long period of darkness occurred where no records of Shakespeare life exist. Post 1952 Shakespeare worked as an actor and playwright in London and is thought to have produced several fairly successful plays. By the early 1590s Shakespeare was a managing partner in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in London. The success of Shakespeare began to pick up in the late 1590s with 15 of 37 plays published and his purchasing of a large house in Stratford called the “New House.” The Globe was eventually constructed in 1599, which was his own theater. Shakespeare’s play company was considered one of the most successful in London. In 1611 Shakespeare had written his will gave most of his possessions to his eldest daughter and eventually died on April 23, 1616.
Fun Facts of William Shakespeare
-William Shakespeare may have been in hiding for years after poaching game from his local landlord.
- Shakespeare may have worked as an assistant schoolmaster in the town of Lancashire.
-Shakespeare lived until he was 52.
-Shakespeare had seven siblings in total.
- Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, was pregnant when they married.
-Shakespeare was buried in the Holy Trinity Church and put a curse on anyone who attempted to move his body. His grave is still undisturbed to this day.
-In total Shakespeare had written 37 plays as well as a total of 154 sonnets.
Why are William Shakespeare's Plays Important?
William Shakespeare is important for a variety of reasons. The first reason as to why William Shakespeare is so important is because of the plays ability to express a variety of different human emotions in such a short period of time. It is thought that if one is searching for ways to describe how they feel then they can refer to his pieces of literature for answers. Another reason as to why Shakespeare has grown so popular is due to his terrific stories. WS is undoubtedly one of the greatest storytellers of all time with his range of abilities immeasurable. Shakespeare successfully crafted stories revolving around comedy, tragedy, adventure, history, fairy tales and even melodrama. Shakespeare has grown to become a household name. Shakespeare’s characters that are featured in his stories are also very unique. The complexity of them is something found nowhere else in literature.
The Renaissance Period and it's relation to Shakespeare
The Renaissance Period occurred from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth century. During the Renaissance period, Europe saw a revival in the classical learning and values of both ancient Greece and Rome. A variety of new technologies were created during this time including the printing press, likely used to publish Shakespeare’s works as well as a blossoming of philosophy and art. The goal of renaissance art was to capture the experience of the individual by relaying their emotions to a viewer or reader. During this time period many people began to question their relation to god and did not necessarily believe that god is the ultimate ruler of the land. The traditional ideas of the past were forgotten and new ideas emerged. The core values of the Renaissance Period were to develop a keen sense of humanism that was focused on human’s achievements rather than religion, become a “renaissance man” who masters all areas of study as well as knowing the classics of literature. Shakespeare had a massive effect on the Renaissance movement. As the popularity of his sonnets and plays surged Shakespeare managed to standardize the English language and further expand its vocabulary. Shakespeare also managed to be the first true literary master who was able to give complex emotional traits to his characters. Shakespeare was able to bring a variety of Renaissance characteristics to English theater. Through his plays Shakespeare was able to create new words and expressions that allowed for English to become much more than a language but something that could genuinely deliver emotions. In a sense the Renaissance period formed the writer that Shakespeare was known as at the time. The whole purpose of Shakespeare’s plays was to capture human traits and emotions and convey those to the viewer. The reason as to why Shakespeare’s work became so popular was due to the fact that no writer had been able to achieve this before him.
Audience Members of William Shakespeare's Plays
Shakespeare’s audience members consisted of a variety of people from varying classes. The less wealthy audience members referred to as the “groundlings” would pay the sum of one penny to stand in front of the stage. The wealthier audience members would pay large sums of money to sit in galleries that were covered. The audience members’ professions would also largely vary too from butchers to tanners and even seamen from the ships that were docked along the Thames River. The diversity of the audience members was astounding. In the plays of William Shakespeare moral lessons were relayed to the audience. In the story Hamlet a few moral messages are taught to the audience through Hamlet’s procrastination, and also Claudius’ irreparable mental state after killing his own brother.
Women in Shakespeare's Plays
The female characters in Shakespeare’s plays are very important to the role of the story. The purpose of the female characters is to provide a useful contrast to the male characters. In the plays young women characters often display a high level of intelligence as well as a very resilient sense of independence. In Shakespeare’s plays it seems as though he had gone a different path from the traditional norms by displaying women without the common stereotypes of the time. Although William Shakespeare could be considered an innovator by the ways they are portrayed in his plays often times Shakespeare is seen not free of misogynistic tendencies that were so embedded in the times he had lived. Although women are positively seen as being highly intelligent, Shakespeare also manages to make them seem corruptible.
Brief summary of Hamlet and Themes
The play opens up on a winter night where a ghost roams around Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Watchmen and then Horatio first discover the ghost. It is thought that the ghost most closely resembles King Hamlet who had recently died. Hamlet’s brother Claudius has now inherited the throne and married the widow of the King whose name is Queen Gertrude. Horatio and the Watchmen bring the son of Gertrude, Prince Hamlet to see the ghost. The ghost speaks to the Prince and explains that he is the spirit of his father. The ghost goes on to explain that Claudius killed him. The ghost orders that Hamlet must seek revenge on the man who had taken the throne and his wife. Prince Hamlet is infuriated by what the ghost has said and decides that he will avenge his father’s death. Prince Hamlet delays as he enters a state of complete and utter madness where he contemplates his next actions. Claudius and Gertrude are intrigued by what has caused Prince Hamlet’s odd behavior and decide that they must investigate. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are employed to keep a close eye on the Prince. Eventually a group of traveling actors travels to the castle and Hamlet comes up with the idea to test his uncle’s guilt. A scene is devised in which it would mimic the actions of his uncle in hopes he would feel a sense of guilt around this. As the murder is about to occur Claudius leaves the room confirming that he had in fact killed the ghost. Hamlet goes to kill Claudius but finds him in prayer. Claudius is intimidated by Hamlets increasing madness and decides he must be sent to England. Hamlet decides that it is now time to confront his mother. Hamlet believes he sees the king hiding behind the tapestry and decides to draw his sword and stab through the fabric. This action kills Polonius. For this crime the Prince is immediately sent to England. Ophelia drowns herself in a river after the father’s death, as she can simply not deal with it. Laertes returns to Denmark in a rage at what has occurred. Claudius manages to blame much of what had happened on Hamlet. Claudius attempts to use Laertes rage against the Prince to kill him. During a harmless fencing match Hamlet will die from a poisoned blade. A poisoned goblet is placed as a backup just in case the Prince manages to strike first. Hamlet eventually returns to the castle as Ophelia’s funeral is taking place. The sword fighting between both Laertes and the Prince ensues and Hamlet strikes first but decides not to drink from the goblet. Gertrude decides to take a sip and is killed by the poison. Although Laertes strikes Hamlet he does not die but instead the blade also injures him. Laertes later reveals that Claudius is responsible for the death of the queen as he dies from being struck by his own blade. Claudius eventually dies, as does Hamlet after finally achieving his revenge. Fortinbras takes over the castle and honors Hamlet death like a fallen soldier. One of the themes of the text is the will to take action regardless of how complicated the manner is. In Hamlet many people are forced to take actions to do what they believe is right. There are many severe consequences that stem from taking some of these actions.
Elsinore castle is actually located at Kronbord Castle, which is a real castle on an area of land between Sweden and also Denmark.
Shakespeare's Inspiration for Hamlet
It is believed that Hamlet likely got the inspiration to write his play from the death of his 11-year-old son in 1596. The dark tone of Shakespeare’s later works was likely due to the unknown illness that caused his son’s death. A variety of other scholars believe that what may have caused Shakespeare to write this play was the death of his son in 1601, which coincidentally was the same year that Hamlet was written.
Characters of Hamlet
Hamlet the ghost- thought to be the shadow of Hamlet’s deceased father. The ghost explains that Claudius had murdered him. The ghost’s requests to Hamlet to avenge him. Hamlet believes the ghost could have been a devil that was sent to trick him. The true roots of the ghost are never uncovered.
Hamlet the prince- The Prince of Denmark and also the protagonist of the story. Hamlets thirty years of age at the start of the play and the son of Queen Gertrude and King Hamlet. Hamlet the Prince is very angry throughout the play due to his uncle’s ways. The reader never truly knows what brash decisions Hamlet the Prince will make.
Claudius- The King of Denmark as well as Hamlet’s uncle in the play. Thought to be the antagonist. His sincere love for Gertrude causes many issues throughout the play.
Gertrude- The Queen of Denmark and also Hamlet’s mother. Gertrude marries Claudius although she does not mean any harm as she has a genuine love for her son.
Ophelia-Polonius’s daughter and the woman who Hamlet loves. Ophelia is very obedient to her father and her brother. Ophelia spy’s on Hamlet per the request of Polonius.
Horatio- Hamlet’s very close friend who had studied alongside the prince at the University of Wittenberg. Horatio is the storyteller of the events.
Polonius-Father of Laertes and also Ophelia.
Laertes-Polonius’s son and also Ophelia’s brother. Spends a lot of his time in France. Laertes proves to be challenge to Hamlet throughout the play.
Rosencrantz -Courtiers and former friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg. Claudius and Gertrude to see why Hamlet is acting so strangely hire Rosencrantz and also Guildenstern.