Critical- Research Essay

HAMLET ESSAY REVENGE THEMEThe essay should have a minimum of fivesources; at least twoshould be print books, and the others should be scholarly articles found in the HCCS Library databases. There are TWO exceptions: you can use film reviews, which are often available on the open Internet; and, if you find an open-Internet source that you feel is of scholarly quality, you can send me the link and ask permission to use it.Although there are many wonderful things on the Internet, this project is mainly to train you in the use of traditional academic materials. So, I will look skeptically on much that you might find useful in simply Googling “Hamlet.” Wikipedia is a wonderful source, and I recommend using it for “grounding” yourself, but it is not an acceptable scholarly resource (though it might point your toward them). Also, eNotes, SparkNotes, and the innumerable other such sites are generally too inconsistent in quality to be acceptable for a formal academic project.The finished essay must be at least 1600words long, NOT counting the Works Cited. It must be formatted using MLA guidelines – accurately and consistently.
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write a research-based essay in which you offer a focused, specific, interpretive argument about
some aspect of the play, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
Parameters: The essay should have a minimum of five sources; at least two should be print
books, and the others should be scholarly articles found in the HCCS Library databases. There
are TWO exceptions: you can use film reviews, which are often available on the open Internet;
and, if you find an open-Internet source that you feel is of scholarly quality, you can send me the
link and ask permission to use it.
Although there are many wonderful things on the Internet, this project is mainly to train you in
the use of traditional academic materials. So, I will look skeptically on much that you might find
useful in simply Googling “Hamlet.” Wikipedia is a wonderful source, and I recommend using it
for “grounding” yourself, but it is not an acceptable scholarly resource (though it might point
your toward them). Also, eNotes, SparkNotes, and the innumerable other such sites are generally
too inconsistent in quality to be acceptable for a formal academic project.
The finished essay must be at least 1600 words long, not counting the Works Cited. It must be
formatted using MLA guidelines – accurately and consistently.
You should construct an argument about some aspect of the play. I will provide written lectures
and other forms of guidance along the way, but essentially, you should not try to explain the
whole play; instead, you might focus on one character, one scene, or one clearly-defined and
narrowed theme of the play. You will argue in some manner about how one should properly
understand or interpret the play; or about how some aspect of the play “works” or functions. We
will study critical discourse about the play; you will be essentially imitating the patterns,
gestures, and language of literary critics in this essay.
You must cite all research, using MLA guidelines. You must clearly distinguish between
paraphrase and quotation. You must write clear prose, and construct unified, cohesive
paragraphs.
When you submit the essay, send it to the Assignments link as an attached file. Name the file
lastname_firstname_2
Make sure you have used MLA format guidelines; look up how to use MS Word (or Works, or
Open Office, etc.) for spacing, setting margins, inserting running headers, page breaks, changing
font size and type, etc.
Copyright © 2015. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or
applicable copyright law.
T wo
How All Occasions Do
Inform Against Me and
Spur a Dull Revenge
This chapter undertakes a challenging task: unpacking the import and
extent of its title’s dramatic irony. When Hamlet voices the self-accusation
above as he reviews Fortinbras’ troops on their way to a meritless campaign against Poland, he clearly intends to declare by it that he has been
derelict in not yet having satisfied his sacred vow to avenge his father’s
murder. Every “occasion” in which he has held fire since he made that
vow all now stand before his mind’s eye to upbraid him for having been
insufficiently dutiful and prompt in carrying out the moral obligation
he incurred there. The statement’s potential dramatic irony insinuates,
however, that while the Bard does believe the prince’s truancy is real
enough, he thinks Hamlet’s sense of it myopic. The more telling selfcondemnation in Hamlet’s words lies buried in a sense of them whose
most revelatory import never dawns on him. The poet would have his
readers know that his hero’s shortcomings and dereliction are not a lack
of nerve and reckless daring, as the prince suspects, but too much of
these things; it is his “dull” (that is, ‘unenlightened’ and ‘inadequately
reflective’), morally compromising insistence on identifying his desire for
violent revenge with just punishment for a capital crime (an insistence he
never interrogates in any way) that informs against him. The problem is
not that Hamlet ever falters in keeping the dictates of his own conscience
before himself, even when those dictates only make him quake in his
boots; it is, paradoxically enough, that his hesitation should be other
than it is: a ‘pause’ yet more reflective and reconsidered than the one in
which we witness him persisting in the play’s temporal action.1 Hamlet’s
nerving himself to a duty that is never examined or interrogated further
is an unknowing laxity of conscience—a deadly “imposthume” within—
that occludes access to a more humane moral enlightenment and a more
constructive, less deadly path toward the justice he rightly should serve.
In the seemingly less than empathic effort to examine dispassionately
the nature and extent of this moral occlusion ‘informing’ against the
prince at every turn, the risk is that the bill of particulars against him,
53
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54
Chapter Two
cumulatively developed, might jaundice a fair and balanced regard for
the man. The blindness in his moral obliquities, though painful to behold,
should not blind us in our turn to the deep respect that should maintain
itself in us for his undeviating and wholly courageous willingness to
endure on virtue’s account the trials—internal as well as external—with
which his experience in the play taxes him. If laxity of conscience is in
fact the tragic corruption eating away at his character, that laxity operates unseen in one of the most conscience-stricken figures in our literary
tradition, a young man whose deeply aggrieved reflections and yearning
to nerve himself to redress horrific wrongs, regardless of the cost, earns
an audience’s admiration from the outset.2 That audience identification
with him in his trials always acts as a counterweight to growing dismay
as we witness the errors of his ways multiply and compound themselves.
However compromising to his high-mindedness and yet greater potential
worth of character and destiny his flaws do prove, admiration for the
prince and deepening dismay at his misbehavior battle to a stalemate
while Hamlet proceeds to his premature grave, ever innocently unaware
of the terrible wrongs he is committing—most notably of all, to himself.
As we proceed with the clinical post-mortem to follow, it is important to
remain aware that the paradoxical hero we witness regularly behaving in
unsavory ways is just as incontestably the same man who never ceases to
battle against his own backsliding in order to submit himself to the commanding discipline of righteousness and sacred obligation as he sees it,
even if that commitment might require the damnation of his own soul.
His truancies—moral and otherwise—though manifold, never devalue
him sufficiently in our estimation to transform him into the simple villain
lesser avengers guilty of the same lapses would. Hamlet’s plight and his
responses to it arouse and maintain, instead, the grand tragic melding of
pity and terror.
II
One of the enduring mysteries about Hamlet’s behavior is why he decides
to adopt an antic persona. There is, of course, the precedent in the originating source of the tale; but in the Saxo Grammaticus Amleth licenses his
role as mad fool at court for reasons that make transparent sense: Feng’s
murder of his brother is a known fact to all and so Amleth’s disguise as
madman is an ingenious ruse to avoid the wrath of the killer who would
naturally now suspect him, sane, to be a worrisome threat to his security. In Hamlet no such necessity obtains. The logical thing for Hamlet to
have done—once Claudius’ villainous secret has been disclosed by the
ghost—would have been to lie as low as possible, make it seem as if noth-
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How All Occasions Do Inform Against Me and Spur a Dull Revenge
55
ing whatever were out of the ordinary, and ‘play along’ with his mother
and stepfather’s return to normalcy at Elsinore, while, unsuspected, more
safely plotting his desired revenge. Instead, no sooner does his interview
with his father’s ghost end than he adopts his off-putting incivilities,
recklessly calling attention to himself rather than lying low in ambush.
At every turn thereafter he alarms and irritates his elders and friends and
even threatens the king (in The Mousetrap openly identifying the king’s
killer as his nephew), thus unnecessarily jeopardizing the most effective
weapon he possesses—the element of surprise.
Among the legions of those who believe that Hamlet has returned
from his sea voyage in Act 4 a different, more spiritually mature figure,
much has been made of the absence of mocking verbal byplay from him
thereafter; but the elision of important evidence to the contrary makes
such claims little more than wishful thinking. Overlooked in the note he
sends to announce his escape from Claudius’ plot to kill him, for instance,
is the prince’s taunt (designed to unsettle Claudius) declaring his return
to Denmark “naked” and, in a post-script, “alone” (4.7.51–2). The trouble
with the ‘hectic’ satisfaction Hamlet must have taken in saying so is the
folly of its recklessness. Claudius is, in fact, in no way caged and therefore quite unsafe to taunt. Even at this purportedly enlightened stage,
then, the prince continues to take short-sighted gratification in goading
an enemy when he is seemingly without any sensibly self-protective way
forward. Then, a bit later, pricked on by emulate pride, but without strategic or tactical logic, the prince forsakes the cover he enjoys at Ophelia’s
interment to make instead an unguarded spectacle of himself by leaping
upon Laertes in Ophelia’s grave to squabble indecorously with him about
which of the two loved the dead girl more.3 Even for someone who may
now believe that divine providence will guide him to his opportunity for
vengeance, were reprisal for his father’s death at the forefront of his consciousness, this naked exposure of himself to Claudius when he need not
have risked it seems witlessly unreflective.
One could, of course, discount this odd graveside behavior as but a
moment in which the prince loses control of himself under the duress
of strong feeling for Ophelia (as Hamlet himself claims to Horatio afterward); but that does nothing to wish away the other two madcap
episodes that in nearby scenes squander the brief “interim” Hamlet has
rightly concluded remains to him—the satiric interlude in which the
prince ‘plays along’ with Osric for no other discernible reason than to torment the fop and the dark comic absurdity of Hamlet’s idle contest of wits
with the gravedigger. Despite the seemingly apt satirical commentary
elicited from him by the exchange with Osric, it remains dim-wittedly
truant on the prince’s part to while away his time in a mocking charade
of this sort with the likes of Osric, given the matters of much greater note
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56
Chapter Two
he needs to address with a more appropriate sense of urgency. Nor does it
misrepresent the case to describe the exchanges between Hamlet and the
Gravedigger as a silly verbal ‘duel’ wherein Hamlet for the first time is
simply out-anticked, disarmed, and unmanned by a more accomplished
court fool. Hamlet’s madcap attempts at put-downs, then, are a more undeviating phenomenon in the play than is often acknowledged. Even very
near play’s end, the prince wantonly eggs on Laertes, explicitly goading
him to renewed (and lethal) fury after Laertes has confessed in an aside
his reluctance to continue with his deadly plot against the prince.
In Amleth’s case, the hero licenses himself to play the manic simpleton
wisely; in Hamlet, the hero’s ‘playing the fool’ as manic simpleton comes
naturally—and with predictably disastrous consequences. Whatever the
prince may think he is doing after his Act 1 vow to the Ghost, the actual
task and responsibility for just retribution he claims to keep front and
center in his being and thought is not in fact, uncontestedly, what is truly
front and center in his heart of hearts any more than the affection and
sense of loss both Laertes and Hamlet feel for Ophelia is most centrally
the issue between them (or in each of them respectively) when they face
off over a plot of ground not large enough—literally—to bury the dead
who might well lose their lives to win it. The embattled yearning these
two young men display there, pricked on by emulate pride, is not ultimately for Ophelia (despite what they imagine), but for an airy nothing:
each man’s delusory hope to realize preeminence of place at this sad rite
they further maim. They battle to a stalemate trying to force the other to
pay tribute to the ‘unrivaled’ superiority of his antagonist’s devotion to
a maiden each has, in fact, abandoned—here, figuratively, as profoundly
as when, previously, both men literally banished her from their respective
thoughts and care.4
One of the first signs that Hamlet is not doing what he supposes he’s
doing surfaces immediately after his vow to the Ghost, when he breaks
his pledge to erase for good everything else but revenge from the “table
of [his] memory” so that “thy commandement all alone shall live /
Within the book and volume of my brain” (1.5.98, 102–3). Reversing himself but moments later, however, the prince then scrambles to find his
“tables” again to record there—writing again in the “table of memory”
he had just promised to keep cleansed of all trivial concerns—the less
than earth-shattering insight he suddenly thinks commands mindfulness: “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain” (1.5.108). Contradicting himself so precipitously is the first hint that egoistic fascination with
the cleverness of his own mind’s workings and satisfactions is already
unwittingly compromising unswerving devotion to the higher duty to
which he now believes he is exclusively committed. Analogously, his
subsequent assumption of the role of antic has less to do with sensibly
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How All Occasions Do Inform Against Me and Spur a Dull Revenge
57
covering his tracks while he promptly fulfills his vow to the Ghost (as
his initial remarks to the other watchmen would seem to imply) and
more to do—unwittingly, of course—with a considerably less focused
concern than Claudius’ execution: the ego gratification of rubbing the
court’s noses in the stench of the maddening outrage he himself is presently enduring at their hands even though, in doing so, he is thereby
distracting himself from a single-minded concentration on discovering
the means and opportunity to exact blood for blood. To his outraged
consternation, after his mother’s hasty marriage to Claudius, everyone at
court has negligently moved on without him. Besides alienated affection,
all that’s left to the prince, as he sees it, is disillusioned shame for and
revulsion at those he once respected. Their seemingly unfeeling hope to
‘get back to normal’ makes of them no longer idle witnesses to, but now
a contributing cause of his compounded mourning. All his life this son
has been forced to absorb his father’s neglect of his person subliminally;
now that same spiritual laceration has been made raw again by everyone
who might otherwise have mattered to him had they merely shown him
the consideration and care he thought he could depend upon from them.
Though it can be but a taste of the bitter medicine he has had to swallow
from them, the cutting wit he wields at court vents a rage he will not suppress or silence because without it he and everything he holds dear and
holy—his father’s memory and his loving devotion to the dead king as his
son—would face utter disregard (indeed, find itself null and void) in the
new dispensation. It was hideous enough to suffer the loss of his father
(the prince subliminally testifies), but to have the memory of that largerthan-life figure be completely erased (a new crime he sees already well on
the way to its accomplishment in those around him) is utterly unbearable.
Were he to remain inconspicuously silent and let life proceed as a “certain
convocation of politic worms” (4.3.20) at court would prefer, he would
have given his mother the humiliating satisfaction of seeing him “cast
his nighted color off” and make his “eye look like a friend on Denmark”
(1.2.68–9), a Denmark he now despises so—subliminally—that he can no
longer even see straight. To ‘play along’ with their designs would give
Claudius the triumphant satisfaction of thinking that Hamlet saw some
wisdom in his stepfather’s insulting estimation of the prince’s grief for the
idol he worships as “obstinate condolement,” “impious stubbornness,”
“unmanly grief,” a “will most incorrect to heaven, / A heart unfortified, or mind impatient, / An understanding simple and unschooled”
(1.2.93–7). In his grief, mortified pride, and moral outrage, Hamlet cannot
and will not give these vile creatures that blasphemous satisfaction. Even
to look like a friend on Denmark, let alone allow the fratricidal usurper
to imagine for one second that Hamlet could now “think of us / As of a
father” (1.2.107–8), makes the prince’s gorge rise.
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58
Chapter Two
From the outside looking in, Hamlet’s outrageous antics take unnecessary, even wanton risks with his own safety; from the inside looking out,
not to behave so would make the life he had thus preserved not worth
living—an ‘act’ in his tormented estimation that would contaminate him
with the Danish court’s mere pretense of care and concern, a fate worse
than physical death. The prince’s need to ‘get at’ them in some way for
the wounds they have already given hi …
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