Monday, June 6, 2016

Monday 6 June

A-D  If you were to explain what early modern people believed about ghosts, what evidence could you use from Hamlet 1.1?

For early modern people, ghosts were not looked upon as things that were necessarily good. The three men in act one, scene one in Hamlet talks about how ghosts appear during the night: “Awake the god of day, and at his warning/…[the] spirit hies/To his confine” (1.1.151, 153-154). The night is a time of confusion and evil; therefore, the ghosts were probably believed to only show up when the sun was not out. The men show the early belief that the spirit cannot stay out in the daylight, while the ghost proves this by disappearing after the rooster crows, signaling the sunrise. Being evil creatures of the night, ghosts were viewed as signs of evil too: the ghost has the appearance of the dead king who “was and is the question [cause] of these wars” (1.1.110). When people thought they had seen a ghost, they did not run to it with joy, but reacted in fright, just as Horatio in this scene.
            Although ghosts are not viewed as good creatures, I would not necessarily say that the early modern people believed that they were to be despised and got rid of at the first sight of them. The character of Horatio is said to be an educated man in this scene, yet he does not immediately begin to exorcising it away. Instead, Horatio begins to speak with it; therefore, it is safe to say that early modern people believed that ghosts could communicate with them. Furthermore, Horatio asks if the ghost has brought them a warning about the future: “If thou art privy to thy country’s fate/Which happily foreknowing may avoid/Speak!” (1.1.132-134). People also most likely believed that ghosts only showed up because they needed someone to do something for them. Being dead, they would need someone else to carry out their unfinished business. Horatio proclaims, “If there be any good thing to be done/That may to thee do ease and grace to me,/Speak to me!” (1.1.129-131).
            I am not sure that ghosts were believed to be awful creatures, but I do believe that they were not sought after by many of the early modern people. The characters in Hamlet, at least, seem to have a complex view of them.


The men in Act 1 Scene 1 speak of the ghost as if it might have violent intentions yet they are curious to know what it wants. They know it is or looks like the spirit of the former king of Denmark. One presumption is that the spirit of the dead king has come to get revenge on the throne and lands that he lost with his life. The ghost, “had returned to the inheritance of Fortinbras” (1.1.96), after his death, “his fell to Hamlet” (1.1.99), this causes question among the men keeping watch as to the ghost’s motives.
While there is significant belief in the business like trade of wealth between the ghost and the prince, Horatio finds the ghost’s presence to be more of an omen. He refers back to the fall of Julius Caesar and the nearing of doomsday. To Horatio the ghost is more of a personification of disaster than it is a spirit of a person.
From the play it can be assumed that the early modern peoples’ thoughts toward ghosts had more to do with afterlife than with omens. As Horatio says when talking to the ghost, “Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life extorted treasure in the womb of Earth, for which, they say spirits oft walk in death” (1.1.41-42).  They (the people of the time) most likely thought spirits of the dead were more there as unresolved conflicts. In this case the unresolved matter of who receives the inheritance. Other such reasons would be committing suicide, not having a proper burial ceremony, and being murdered. These types of unresolved ends would cause a ghost. While ghosts and paranormal beings are typically considered bad omens in seems that the early modern people weren’t as scared of what the ghost stood for as they were scared of the ghost itself and the harm it intended to inflict.  


In the early modern era, Roman Catholics as well as Protestants and other religions believed in the idea of purgatory. If a ghost was to show itself to the living, this was often perceived as one that was essentially too good for hell, but not good enough for heaven. Others believed that your soul immediately went to heaven or hell, and those that did not were forever in limbo with no direction. These ghosts are often placed throughout literary works as a catalyst of change, or something that needs to be changed or resolved. Such is the case for Hamlet. Hamlet does not actually talk to the ghost until close to the end of Act I but there is some supporting evidence as to how the introductory characters feel about ghosts.
However, in Act I, it is clear that whether or not they want to believe in this ghost, they have some sort of validation in knowing that more than one person has seen the apparition with their own eyes. This still does not make it necessarily true or real however. It is clear that the ghost is not perceived as any type of good news. “What art thou that usurp’d this time of night” (1.1.45) indicates that it is nothing good…for nothing good could come about in the night as we have witnessed in other Shakespeare plays.
             But regardless of whether or not they do believe in it, they offer it human-like qualities and feelings. When provoked and does not answer back when asked, Marcellus believes that “It is offended” (1.1.47).  The more that they speak to each other about the ghost, the more of a reality it becomes. None of them want to believe that this is what they have witnessed but cannot deny its striking resemblance to the king. By the end of Act I, Scene I Horatio has already stated that the ghost is not only real, but indeed that of their late king”: Whose image even now but appeared to us” (1.1.80).

E-G What, if anything, strikes you as odd about Claudius's speech that begins 1.2?

In Act One Scene Two of Hamlet, we witness Claudius state a speech discussing what needs to occur after the death of his brother and former King of Denmark.  The speech is stated in front of members of the council and the current queen of Denmark, Gertrude, of whom will soon be married to Claudius.
            Claudius begins his speech stating the sorrow and grief he and the entire kingdom feels.  He states that because of this tragedy, this has altered aspects of the kingdom and the need for a King.  “Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen, / Th'imperial jointress to this warlike state" (1.2.8-9). Claudius states the word sometime which is referenced as the word former within the play.  Former sister represents that he once looked at Gertrude as a sister, but now he plans to look at her as his wife and marry her due to the need of a King in Denmark.  Although this can be seen as incest by many individuals because they were once seen as brother and sister, Claudius believes he is best suited for the position as King and the wife of Gertrude to help lead the country of Denmark and prohibit Fortinbras, the leader of Norway, from taking over the kingdom and altering what the previous King has already accomplished.  He implies that this is the best scenario for the kingdom because with extensive grief of the death of his brother, Fortinbras could take this as a weakness of the kingdom and cause turmoil.  This marriage will ensure the Kingdom is protected and has a strong man to make powerful decisions for all of the people involved.
            I found it extremely odd that this decision was made so quickly, almost as if it was planned.  In my opinion, Claudius and Gertrude had former feelings for each other, and the death of the former King made it possible for these two to get married and be happy together ruling Denmark.  I understand the meaning behind Claudius being the next King because keeping a close family member under rule to follow with the same lead the Kingdom needs makes more sense than having Gertrude marry someone unfit or unworthy of the position.


The first half of Claudius’s speech at the start of 1.2 is a contradiction. Throughout nearly the entire speech he is contrasting joy and grief; joy caused by his marriage to Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark, and grief brought about by the death of Gertrude’s former husband, King Hamlet of Denmark. The second half of King Claudius’s speech is regarding the current political state of Denmark, which is under siege by Fortinbras, the King of Norway’s nephew.
It would generally be thought of as odd to mix the joy and grief of marriage and death; however, with Denmark under attack there would hardly be any time for the queen to have a proper mourning period before remarrying. So although we can imagine that having a wedding so shortly after the deceased king’s funeral might be awkward, it is also a political move necessary for the state.
So being necessary, the speech is also beneficial to Claudius in the sense that it makes his new position as king seem essential to the kingdom. Claudius is truly glad to be marrying Queen Gertrude, for both the woman and the crown. But he knows that he can’t express too much joy over his marriage because she only recently became a widow and Denmark only recently lost King Hamlet. So his repetition and intermingling of joy and grief makes it seem as if the former king’s death is something that makes him sad, even though he is, in fact, the one who murdered King Hamlet.
At the same time, this combination of emotions in his speech takes the focus off of the grief of Hamlet’s death and reminding the kingdom that they have something to be celebrating. Because of this, the speech works two-fold by prompting the audience to remember their deceased king, as the new king also remembers him, and to look to the bright future that this new union brings.
One issue that is touched on in the speech is that of Claudius’s relation to the former King Hamlet. During his speech Claudius says, “Hamlet our dear brother” (1.2.1) and “our sometime sister, now our queen” (1.2.8). It turns out that Claudius was Hamlet’s brother. He is now married to his brother’s wife, which would be considered incestuous according to the English canon law. The law states that former sisters- and brothers-in-law cannot be wed.
Whether or not this law would be taken into account in Denmark is unsure, but as the play’s audience would have been Englishmen, Shakespeare likely didn’t bother to think through that.


The most striking aspect of Claudius’ speech at the beginning of 1.2 in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the newly-crowned king’s deft ability to gloss-over important details and make it seem as if everything he has done is in the best interest of Denmark, when, in truth, he is the only one actually gaining anything by the events that have transpired. For example, in Claudius’ lengthy speech, he never actually gives a cause for his late brother’s death, a detail that is also surprisingly not mentioned in the first scene either. Perhaps, this omission is Shakespeare’s suggestion of how illusive the truth can be sometimes, especially in dealing with issues of politics and the state.
Furthermore, Claudius, who appears to be comfortable maneuvering within this landscape, consequentially has a firm control over the truth. This can be seen by the fact that Claudius seems to have good intel on the actions of the Norwegian prince Fortinbras that even surpasses that of the king of Norway, who is described as “impotent and bedridden,” further emphasizing the feebleness of having a dearth of knowledge. Additionally, Cornelius and Voltemand, the men assigned by Claudius to deliver a letter to the King of Norway, are specifically instructed not to deal with the king of  Norway “more than the scope of these delated articles allow.” In this manner, Cornelius and Voltemand can be thought of as stand-ins for the audience as well as most of Denmark, only knowing as much as Claudius allows us to.

Another manipulative ploy used by Claudius is his use of the royal “we” when addressing the council and other important members of the state. Doing this makes it seem like the King and all of Denmark, together,  are all simply the victims of chance and circumstance, even though, we will soon find out that Claudius actually had a nefarious hand in his late brother’s death. Aligning himself with the people of Denmark, his subjects, further stresses Claudius’ objective of moving forward from his brother’s death and celebrating his new marriage to his former sister-in-law: “With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, / In equal scale weighing delight and dole.”

H-O  In Hamlet's first soliloquy (1.2.130), what important concepts are mentioned that inform the entire play, as you know it?

           In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, he immediately ruminates on the topic of suicide or the “canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” (1.2.132). There is a theme of suicide in Hamlet, but there is also an indifference towards dying that the reader should be prepared for. It does seem that Hamlet is being dramatic, especially since his friends were just telling him that he needed to start moving on from his father’s death. They also point out, despite Hamlet’s displeasure, how his mother, Queen Gertrude, had already moved on by marrying his uncle. These lines given by Hamlet, as well as his statement that life seems so “weary, stale, and unprofitable” (1.2.133), give the play a tone of an almost nihilistic disregard for living or dying.
            The way in which Hamlet speaks about his mother in this soliloquy is also significant to setting up the rest of the play. He does seem to care about his mother, but he laments that she did not mourn his father, the king, long enough to suit his liking. “Would have mourned longer!” (1.2.151) It could be said that Hamlet’s complaints about his mother, and women in general, foretells of future situations in which Hamlet will disregard a woman’s feelings or treat her emotions as some kind of personal burden or affront. It does not seem to matter to him that he is the only one that seems to hold his complaint and, in the future, will most likely care more about how other people’s actions and feelings will affect him even when does nothing to resolve it.


Hamlet is a deeply conflicted young man who is troubled with his concerns about his disloyal mother so quickly remarrying after the death of his father. He is very loyal to his father, and thinks highly of him, as this passage shows, “so loving to my mother / That he might not be teem the winds of heaven / Visit her face too roughly”. (1.2.140-142) Hamlet speaks of the love and devotion his father had for his mother, she was so precious to him, that he would not bear the winds of heaven to blow upon her face too harshly. This is clearly symbolic language intending to show how protective of her Hamlet’s father truly was. Then to repay this devotion she marries his brother within two months time, Hamlet sees this as a total betrayal of his father’s honor, and a sign of his mother’s weakness. He speaks of it in this passage, “yet within a month— / Let me not think on’t—Frailty, thy name is woman”. (1.2.145-146) This is the point where Hamlet directly criticizes his mother for her weakness and frailty in not being able to honor the memory of her former husband, Hamlet’s father. This relationship is strained by Hamlet’s unwavering attitude, and his mother’s focus on her personal desire, and weakness.
Hamlet also loathed that his mother upon choosing to remarry came to the conclusion that the brother of her former husband was a fit husband to choose. He is so enraged he describes he thusly, “O God, a beast that wants discourse of of reason / Would have mourned longer—married with my uncle, / My father’s brother, but no more like my father / Than I to Hercules.”. (1.2.150-153) These lines show the contempt Hamlet feels for his mother, and Uncle, declaring them to be without reason, the single attribute that makes man human. His reference to his mother as a beast demonstrates the utter disdain he feels for her, and with the respect he showed for his father it is likely we should view the reference to Hercules as a reference to a man driven by rage and incapable of guiding himself to a wise and just path.
P-R  Some readers and spectators have found the initial extended exchange between Laertes and Ophelia (1.3.10-49) to be awkward, odd, disturbing, "creepy." Why would anyone say that?

     In Hamlet 1:3, the conversation between Ophelia and Laertes could be interpreted as odd, inappropriate, or creepy because it is a conversation between a brother and sister about sexual matters. Laertes is trying to give his sister advice as to the real meaning of Hamlet’s affections and advising Ophelia to ignore his advances. Laertes says that both Ophelia and Hamlet are young and full of hormones and their feelings now will not continue in the future. It is weird for a brother to say to a sister, “Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open” (1.3.30), meaning don’t have lose your mind and have sex with Hamlet. It is acceptable for a brother to give advice to his younger sister, but the way Laertes goes about it is very creepy.  He talks about Hamlet being horny and Ophelia needs to be careful how she acts because, “Contagious blastments are most imminent. (1.3.41), meaning that people will call her a whore even if she doesn’t do anything to warrant it.
     Laertes is creepy with the way he talks to his sister but when Ophelia says, “Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads/ and recks not his own rede. (1.3.48-49), the reader starts to wonder what kind of relationship these siblings have. Why does Ophelia know so much about her brother’s sexual escapades? But wait, how does Laertes know so much about what is going on Ophelia? By line 49 the entire relationship between these two was questionable and appeared borderline incestuous. What started off as a warning from an older brother to a younger sister turned into an uncomfortable conversation that no brother and sister should ever have.

S-Z  "So oft it chances in particular men" (1.4.22-38) occurs only in one of the three early texts of Hamlet  (Q2), which might mean that Shakespeare's early audiences or readers had a one in three chance of experiencing it.  What does it add to the play, and what would happen if it were omitted?

When any piece of literature is omitted, it leaves the audience with the question of why. Lines 22-38 of Act 1, Scene 4 in Hamlet are omitted in two of the three versions of this play, leaving the readers to wonder why this was done. In this section, Hamlet discusses the flaws people are born with. He even points out that “As in their birth wherein they are not guilty” (1.4.25). In this line, he is basically saying that no one chooses to be born, or chooses how they are born. This first part of the section when Hamlet discusses this is important to the text. It shows the audience how Hamlet feels about his life and the many flaws he was born with. Being able to see this philosophy he has allows the audience to connect with his character more and understand his future actions.
            Hamlet then goes on to talk about the strong effects that the possession of struggling with these flaws can have on a person. Some important lines in this passage are “His virtues else, be they as pure as grace,/As infinite as man may undergo,/Shall in the general censure take corruption” (1.4.32-35).  In these lines, he is saying that no matter how good of a person someone is or has been through life, just that one flaw can “take corruption” upon the rest of that person’s life. Once again, this allows the audience a bit of foreshadowing into the rest of the play as well as some further character explanation.
             This passage being omitted makes a reader wonder why anyone would take it out. These fourteen lines of Hamlet’s speech give the audience so much insight. Without having this passage here, a lot of character development is lost as well as a lot of foreshadowing and insight to the play as a whole. However, while reading this section, it almost seems repetitive and wordy to the reader. This is maybe a reason that it would have been omitted in the two other versions of Hamlet. The other reason it may have been omitted is that when reading the rest of Hamlet’s speech that comes before this part, it does not seem to be the right place to talk about the way people are born. Hamlet is discussing with Horatio the custom of drunkenness among his people. He mentions that that is just the way they do things and that was what they were raised into. This is when he goes in and talks about the flaws of humans when they are born. It just does not seem like the right place to put this passage.
            Overall, this passage should be left in the play. Although it may seem wordy and misplaced, it provides the audience too much insight, foreshadowing, and character development to omit from the play entirely.


Every young man notices their parents’ vices, especially throughout puberty. It is a common theme that the youth want to change the dark heritage and desire not to fall into the same faulty traditions, but end up turning into their father anyway. This is typically called generational sin. The story of Hamlet follows the same line, but with the emotional distress of the murder of King Hamlet.
Hamlet admires and adores his father, but he does not want to follow exactly in his footsteps. He understands that everyone is not perfect and that King Hamlet has his own sins.  As Hamlet berates Denmark’s foul drinking and praises Denmark for their hearts, he mutters “So oft it chances in particular men” (1.4.26). This is to demonstrate to the reader that, while he does believe Denmark’s reputation is belittled due their partying, he is also alluding to his father’s debauchery of alcohol. It also offers another point of view of Hamlet. He does not have a rose colored glasses on when it comes to his father, but sees him with true eyes which is why he does not want to follow exactly in King Hamlet’s footsteps.
If this quote was omitted then it would seem that Hamlet was talking just about his country and not about certain people. This would make it less personal and more meaningless to add in the play. Since this quote exists, the readers can also look through the eyes outside of Denmark. It gives a wider view of how Denmark is seen historically.
The ghost of Hamlet relates his tomfoolery later on saying ““Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature/ Are burnt and purged away” (1.5.12-13). This sin was so strong that, when the uncle did not give him time to repent, he was banished to purgatory until his murderer was found guilty. This allowed both former King Hamlet and King Claude to pay penance for their sins. As a ghost, King Hamlet warned Hamlet of the truth.  The audience would not understand clearly what the vice would have been if it were not for Hamlet’s speech about drunkenness.
Even though Hamlet realizes his father’s follies, he drives himself into a sinful path. Even though Hamlet seems to admire his father, it might be why his father might see Hamlet differently. When Hamlet greets his father’s ghost, the ghost does not greet him like a son. Instead he treats him like an errand boy, sent to do what he cannot. His uncle spoke to him more warmly, calling him son, but the father merely focuses on the matter at hand and calling him Hamlet, even though he calls the person who murdered brother. He does not seem to despair the fact that he will never see his son again. Did this sin drive a wedge between Hamlet and King Hamlet? That is why Hamlet is so angry at the manner of drunkenness.
This path is mot debauchery, but vengeance and hate. Hate is similar to debauchery because both are all consuming and hard to control. This destructive path lies in treachery for both. Hamlet finally slips into the dark realm, where sanity is left behind and insanity deems holds the tenure of the brain. The reader does not know the details of King Hamlet’s sin other than that it lead others to approach Denmark with scowls and lead him to Purgatory. It gave “the noble substance of a doubt/ To his own scandal” (1.4.40-41)”

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