Spiritual Powers in Hamlet

Spiritual Powers in Hamlet

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Hamlet was not an entirely original play, but in some ways typical of a popular contemporary genre: ghost tragedy. It seems likely that there was at least one earlier version of the play, of which no text survives, but which is mentioned by the writer Thomas Nash as early as 1589. The genre seems to have become popular with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy and continued to be performed after Shakespeare’s death, as the success of plays such as John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi demonstrates. The protagonist of these dramas is typically a noble character driven to deceit and cunning in order to avenge some terrible wrong done to him. The setting is never in England: since revenge tragedy presents corrupt rulers, it was more political if these scandalous narratives were set in allegedly more hot-tempered locations. Popular as a genre, revenge tragedy ignores the “unities”, the “rules” enshrined in high-status Greek and Roman drama. The action of revenge tragedy unfolds over more than a day and combines together several behave plotlines, contrary to unity of time. In particular, in the William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, characters often behave in ways quite inappropriate for their social station, and can mix with characters from lower orders. Comedy intertwines with tragedy, not only in certain characters and dialogue, but also when moment’s of high seriousness in the play can seem to teeter on the edge of black comedy. The final act features some mosque or entertainment which conceal a murderous plot, and which concludes with the deaths of main characters. Revenge tragedy thus offended against the classical notion of the idea that language, action and character should all be appropriate to each another.

In the play, revenge as a concept had a particular resonance in the early modern period in England where the play was set. The right to exact a private punishment without legal process was a privilege traditionally claimed by the aristocracy. A more radical principle came from two powerful sources. The culture and society of ancient Rome, and in particular that of the Roman Republic, enjoyed enormous prestige among the intelligentsia of the time, whose education had been primarily in Latin authors of republican sentiment (Shakespeare & Hapgood, 1999). Religious belief also played a political role in the play. The reformation of the Christian Church in Western Europe during the time which the play was set had polarized the continent between those who remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church and those whose allegiance was to the reformed, Protestant religion. Protestantism taught that each person soul had a relationship with God unmediated by any authority, religious or secular.

One good example is seen in scene five, privately, King Hamlet’s spirit of reveals to his son the need of compensating sins in hell. The ghost then informs Prince Hamlet the way Claudius, King Hamlet’s brother, poured yew juice in his ears and murdered him and never forgives his sins. Claudius then took the crown and got married to King Hamlet’s widow, Gertrude. Prince hamlet swears to avenge his father’s murder. On Hamlet sword, he pledges Marcellus and Horatio to confidentiality as the prince examined the facts of the ghost’s charges. The tragedy of Hamlet opens a dark and foreboding scene where nervous sentinels cross paths during their nightly watch. And, among this group of guards is Hamlet’s friend, Horatio. We soon learn the reason for their anxiety, namely that during the past two nights they had been visited by a ghost apportion in the form of Old Hamlet, the recently deceased father of the prince that bears his name.

From opening scene of darkness and strange visitations, we now enter scene of ceremony and celebration at the Danish court (Act 1, scene 2). Nevertheless, despite the abrupt and the pretense of an orderly state emits an aura of confidence, the audience cannot so easily forget the terrors of the night watch. As the scene opens, Claudius, brother of the dead King Hamlet, is performing the public officers of kingship (Bloom, 2009). Though he acknowledges a communal grief at the passing of Old Hamlet, declaring the whole kingdom and gracefully alludes to his own marriage to Old Hamlet’s widow. Claudius continues by thanking everyone for their support dispatches his ambassadors to Fortinbras’s uncle, the current (by then) king of Norway, asking him to stop his nephew’s warlike ambitions and, finally, grants young Laertes leave to travel to France.

Having perfumed his state functions, Claudius turns his attention to hamlet, who had recently returned from his studies in order to attend the funnel of his father and the wedding of his newly widowed mother to Claudius. From the start, hamlet becomes the focal point of attention at court. Dressed in funeral attire, he is the sole figure on the crowded stage dressed in the “customary suits of solemn black,” and his manner of speaking is in sharp contrast to the formal rhetoric of state functions, for Hamlet’s responses are full of puns, double entendres, and bitterness towards the outrageous pretenses of Claudius and Gertrude. Interestingly, it is also here that Hamlet offers a clue to his true theatrical genius he will display throughout the course of the play when he tells Gertrude that his melancholic demeanor reveals only a small part of his true feelings.

The soliloquies are of great importance as they provide a glimpse into hamlet’s private thoughts, which are continually weighed against his public statements and actions. In this first soliloquy, we learn that Hamlet has an exalted opinion of his father and revulsion towards women stemming from his disgust at Gertrude’s quick and incestuous remarriage to her brother-in law Claudius (Shakespeare, 1998). Horatio appears on the heels of Hamlet’s soliloquy with news of ghost, and Hamlet agrees to join the watch at the appointed time.

Another example of spiritual powers is seen in act four which begins by Hamlet and Horatio joining the sentinels in their watch at night, while boisterous party at court is heard in the background. To Hamlet’s great astonishment, the ghost soon reappears and beckons to him. Though the others try to dissuade him, hamlet believes he must follow anyone who tries to prevent him. Alone with Prince Hamlet (seen in the fifth scene), the aspiration announces that he is in fact the spirit of Old Hamlet, doomed for a given term to walk the night, and promises a story. Whose lightest word would harrow up the soul and freeze young blood. The ghost informs Hamlet how his brother Claudius murdered him by poured poison in his ear while he was sleeping, and then seduced his wife. Moreover, since old Hamlet was murdered while sleeping, he never had a chance to receive absolution for his earthly sins and has a chance to receive torments in purgatory. Old Hamlet then gives his son specific commands to avenge his murder by killing Claudius but not harming his mother, Gertrude. The ghost then takes a leave and do not forget to say goodbye to the people.

Hamlet’s response to the ghost’s poignant departure, confirms his belief that his Claudius overhasty marriage makes Hamlet resolute in accomplishing the revenge his father so richly desires. Rejoined by Horatio and a guard, Hamlet greets them, but refuses to tell them what had transpired. Hamlet asks his companions three times t swear absolute secrecy about what they had seen; each time the voice of the ghost echoed, “swear” from below the stage, and every time, they swear to keep silent. Interestingly, in yet another suggestion about the theatricality of his personality, hamlet intimidates that it may ne necessary for him to “put an antic disposition on” and reduces that his companions understand and maintain absolute secrecy about any strange behavior he may display in the future. Though the play has, any elements and themes in discussion, the theme of spiritual powers comes out clearly and this is evident in most scenes. The author, maybe, had an intention of demonstration how the spiritual powers can affect the living and the way the living do perceive the spiritual powers. Most importantly, the relationships between the spiritual powers and the living are clearly brought out almost in every chapter.

References

Shakespeare, W. (1998). Hamlet. Penguin Group Publisher.

Bloom, H. (2009). William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. InfoBase Publishers.

Shakespeare, W. and Hapgood, R. (1999). Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Cambridge University Press.

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