The meaning of nothing
Cordelia is a very interesting character indeed. Her deeds come up from her ability not to say anything. By saying nothing she expresses her feelings and opinion about her sisters. Lear, proud of himself, cannot understand this at the very beginning of the play:
Lear: A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak
Cordelia: Nothing, my lord.
Lear: Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
Cordelia: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your Majesty
According to my bond; no more no less.
(King Lear, Act I, Scene I, 85-92)
She cannot tell him some lies. She knows that she is breaking ties with him. She speaks only about what she feels in her heart. The old King is able to understand her feelings only after he escapes from the blindness caused by Goneril and Regan and it is too late. But Cordelia never stopped loving her father even for a while. But she could never stop being honest and tell a lie, even if it should mean to break the ties with her father.
Lear banishes Cordelia from his land and Cordelia disappears even from the play for some time. Or does not she? The King has Cordelia by his side all the time without knowing about it. These two characters are so deeply bound that they could not possibly exist without each other. Shakespeare introduces another character, the character of a Fool, into a play. According to Hilský, this character is connected directly to the one of Cordelia. He enters the play right after Cordelia’s departure and disappears when Cordelia enters the play again at the end (Hilský, 603). The Fool accompanies Lear in the time of Cordelia’s absence. The relationship between the Fool and Lear starts the same as the relationship between Lear and Cordelia ended, with the word nothing:
Kent: This is nothing, Fool.
Fool: Then ‘tis like the breath of an unfee’d lawyer; you
Gave me nothing for’t. Can you make no use of nothing, Nuncle?
Lear: Why no, no boy; nothing can be made out of nothing.
(King Lear, Act I, Scene IV, 126-130)
The last Lear’s words in this scene sound exactly the same as the words in the conversation with Cordelia, mentioned above. Again the implication of a word nothing is made here. The same ability has the Fool as well as Cordelia. Again the word nothing means so much to Cordelia but does not mean anything to Lear. He is still not prepared to realize the fact that he was betrayed by the words, by the things that mean nothing indeed. These lines stand as the example of how much the characters of the Fool and Cordelia are almost the same. The Fool speaks in the same way and tries to teach the King a lesson.
Cordelia’s kind heart and an inevitable end
It can sound really strange but Cordelia never forgot about her father. When he finally finds out how terribly he treated her, she forgives him. In fact, she could never forget about him because she is a part of him, the very important part in his destiny.
Lear: For, as I am a man, I think this lady
To be my child Cordelia.
Cordelia: And so I am, I am.
Lear: Be your tears wet? Yes, faith. I pry, weep not:
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong:
You have some cause, they have not.
Cordelia: No cause, no cause.
(King Lear, Act IV, Scene VII, 59-75)
Lear finally finds out about the truth. After this dialogue with his daughter, he could be quite satisfied because Cordelia forgives the old man everything. He realizes how foolish he was when he trusted Goneril and Regan. Yet, still there is no happy ending as it could be assumed. The antagonists still live and cause pain to the protagonists. Cordelia as well as King Lear are destined to be together from the very beginning of the play. Their reunion is not over yet. They have to die in order to be happily together. There is no other way to do that. One cannot live without the other. The scene where Lear comes out with Cordelia in his hands is one of the most emotional scenes ever. Kent and Albany, as Hilský says, explicitly name the apocalyptical meanings of the play (Hilský, 616). But in Lear’s words, there is still some hope:
Lear: Howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why then she lives.
(King Lear, Act V, Scene III, 256-262)
This scene is not only the end of Cordelia but the end of King Lear himself, as well. One part of him died with the tragic death of his daughter, the other part died right after it. Cordelia’s death is an undeserved way of ending of this young lady but it was inevitable as her death was a part of her destiny and her personality of a stubborn woman not willing to change her attitude towards world. She was, undoubtedly a part of King Lear and it prevailed even after their death. Maybe this world was not good enough for her.
The power of flattering
Lear is the old, wealthy man who decided to pass his kingdom on his daughters. As it was already written, the passing did not turn out very well and resulted in the complete destruction of the King. Lear recognizes too late that two older daughters are only playing games with him and do not mean their words. Sonnet 82 speaks nicely about silence and flattering:
I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set;
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
The barren tender of a poet’s debt;
And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.
This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb;
For I impair not beauty, being mute,
When others would give life and bring a tomb.
There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can praise in device.
(The Sonnets, Sonnet 83, 249)
The sonnet implies that it is better not to write poetry than to write it falsely, to give somebody false praises. Of course, the false praises are the most important in King Lear. The division of the kingdom relies on the vast words of flattering and praising.
In a Simplified Approach to Shakespeare: King Lear the author writes: “Moreover, when he begins the division he gives the first daughter her portion before he hears how the second will answer; and the second portion before he hears the third. His real reason, then, for instituting the love-test is his egotism. Both Goneril and Regan know that their father wants to be flattered, and they give him what he wants. Because of his self-centeredness, he is unable to see through their hypocrisy” (Byrd, Nolan, 21). It is interesting that Lear already made up the division of the kingdom regardless of the answers of the daughters. So when he hears what he wants he gives a part of the kingdom. Of course, it is not the cause of Cordelia. The destiny of the old King is beginning to fulfil here as he is so tightly bound to his youngest daughter and cannot be without her. He, of course, does not know it yet but he is about to find out.
Throughout the play the position of Lear in the society changes rapidly. At first he is the highest power in the land and his behavior proves it. He speaks in imperatives, does not take anyone else’s opinion into consideration and does not doubt his decisions:
Lear: Attend the Lords of France and Burgundy,
Gloucester: I shall, my Liege.
Lear: Meantime, we shall express our darker purpose.
Give the map there.
(King Lear, Act I, Scene I, 32-36)
His commands here shows the authority he has throughout the kingdom as the King. Everyone obeys the commands and nobody tries to question them, upon the pain of death. The same could be seen in the next lines where Lear banishes Kent, one of the people that really want to help him. Another example of a bad decision is shown here:
Kent: Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least;
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds
Reverb no hollowness.
Lear: Kent, on thy life, no more.
Kent: My life I never held but as a pawn
To wage against thine enemies; nor fear to lose it,
Thy safety being motive
Lear: Out of my sight!
(King Lear, Act I, Scene I, 151-156)
Hilský points out: “Lear at the beginning of the play addresses other people, gives them orders, speaks like a King. Gradually he falls into his own world and communicates either with himself, or addresses the nature, the elements or animals. This is connected with his abdication from the office. Lear gives up the power he once had, gives up the kingdom, he begins to lose the social interaction and feels himself isolated” (Hilský, 612)5. He is not able to live his life properly without his second part, Cordelia. Lear’s addressing to the nature can be seen perfectly in the second scene from the third act. Lear is already desperate from what happened to him and so he wants to destroy the world.
Lear: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulph’rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’th’world!
Crack Nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once
That makes ingrateful man!
(King Lear, Act III, Scene II, 1-9)
He might think that by destroying the whole bad and unjust world he can save his life and avoid being tortured by his terrible past. Unfortunately, it is not that easy and the destiny still has many obstacles for him.
Lear’s awakening and his death
As it has been said in the chapter about Cordelia, Lear, in fact, never lost contact with his daughter Cordelia. She actually disappears but is replaced by the Fool who plays her role and accompanies King Lear on his way to destruction. On this way he slowly realizes that he treated his youngest daughter badly. From the behavior of Goneril and Regan he finds out what they meant by their words of flattery.
Lear: What! has his daughters brought him to this pass?
Couldst thou save nothing? Woulds’t thou give’em all?
Fool: Nay, he reserv’d a blanket, else we had been all sham’d.
Lear: Now all the plagues that in the pendulous air
Hand fated o’er men’s faults light on thy daughters!
(King Lear, Act III, Scene IV, 62-66)
This realization of Lear’s bad deeds leads us to the reconnection with his beloved daughter Cordelia. The reconnection becomes fatal as both of them eventually die. Some characters were probably able to prevent these deaths but yet, Cordelia and Lear were predestined to be together and so they have to die together. At the end Lear is holding his dead daughter in his arms and is about to die as well. “His last thoughts aim to his dead fool but he thinks also about dogs, horses and rats. And then he speaks about the button” (Hilský, 617)6.
Lear: And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thoul’t come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, Sir.
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there!
(King Lear, Act V, Scene III, 304-310)
These words clearly explain the justice of the death. It takes everybody and
does not look at the position of the person in society. Unfortunately the death also takes the so called good people even though they do not deserve it. Lear speaks about the injustice of Cordelia’s demise. He says that the inferior creatures, such as dogs or rats can still live whereas his beloved one has to pass away without any reason. Lear can only talk about the death of her daughter and how unfair it is. The dog is still alive, the horse is still alive even the rat is still alive, so why not his daughter who did nothing bad to the world. It is the destiny of living creatures to die eventually. In this play the death of these two characters is the only result. This world is not good enough for Cordelia and the destiny of King Lear is to stay with his soulmate forever.
The tragedy of King Lear becomes the most tragic of all of Shakespeare’s plays. The reality of our lives is very cruel and people have to pay for their deeds and for the deeds made by others. The rawness of the world has no boundaries and the main characters of this play get to know it very well. Cordelia’s death is in some way unjust because she died, even though she did nothing wrong. Goneril’s and Regan’s deaths are well-deserved but Cordelia dies as well. One false step changes the lives of many. The tragic nature rises from the fact that the innocent girl has to pay a really high price for her father. She has to redeem her father’s soul by her own sacrifice. The bond between the two of them ties them really strongly, Lear recognizes it and dies as well, in the name of his beloved daughter, Cordelia. The destiny spoke here and no one could do anything about it. They are dead but together.
Romeo and Juliet- the Tragedy of Tragic Love and Death
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is introduced by a sonnet performed by
Chorus: Two households both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene)
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life,
Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
(Romeo and Juliet, The prologue)
This sonnet perfectly evokes the atmosphere of the play. Romeo and Juliet are two people coming from two different families that cannot stand each other. Romeo comes from the house of Montagues, Juliet comes from the house of Capulets. This is the story of their love that brings the disaster. “Romeo and Juliet is not among the greatest tragedies; it is a pretty tale of youthful lovers’ woe. Their tragedy is affecting; yet the wounds of young love, while they may leave permanent scars, are seldom mortal” (Spencer, 214). It may be not the best story written by Shakespeare but it is definitely a great source for analyzing a tragic death and the role of destiny. Both Romeo and Juliet end tragically in the end. Their doom comes from the social setting. The families of Montagues and Capulets are the prophets of the destiny. Their hatred brings the disaster of enormous form. At first let us have a look at the origin of the story.
The origin of the story
Shakespeare as well as other writers of his time was acquainted with the stories of lovers who die for their love, such as the stories of Tristan and Isolde or Pyramus and Thisbe, Hilský writes. But Romeo and Juliet takes the inspiration from Italian legends, especially the one written by Luigi da Porto. Da Porto was not the first one to write about this, the similar plot has also a story of Mariotto and Ganozza. The names of the two houses, Montagues and Capulets, come from Dante’s Divine Comedy. (Hilský, 425-426)7.
The garden of the empire to run waste.
Come see the Capulets and Montagues
(Cary, Purgatory Canto VI, 106-107)
After da Porto, the story was written also by Matteo Bandello, Bandello’s version was translated into French by Pierre Boaistuau and Boaistuau’s version was translated into English by Arthur Brooke. Shakespeare was probably mostly inspired by the Brooke’s version. “Bandello, through Boaistuau, is the source of a jog-trot poem by Arthur Broke (or Brooke), The Tragical History of Romeus and Iuliet (1562). It is a clumsy, long winded piece; but in it the Nurse is much developed as a comic character and there are several new details, among them her acceptance of bribery, her advocacy of Paris, the despair of Romeus at the Friar’s cell, and the change of the messenger’s name to John” ( Spencer, 217-218).
In the next chapter the analyses of Romeo and Juliet will be made. They will be analyzed together because they belong to each other.
Juliet and Romeo – Love until the End
A young and innocent girl
The first appearance of Juliet in the play is at the very beginning of the third scene in the first act. She is presented as a very young and innocent girl, in her almost fourteenth year of age.
Lady Cap.: This is the matter. Nurse, give leave awhile,
We must talk in secret. Nurse, come back again,
I have rememer’d me, thou’s hear our counsel.
Thou knowest my daughter’s of a pretty age.
Nurse: Faith, I can tell her age unto hour.
Lady Cap.: She’s not fourteen.
(Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene III, 7-12)
Juliet is in the best age to be married, being in her pretty age. Later in the play, her mother makes an offer about the marriage. Mrs. Capulet would be very happy to see her daughter marry Paris, a man that Juliet’s parents want for her. She is not very happy about this offer but she has to obey their wishes. Of course, nobody knows how the things are going to change rapidly. Juliet is about to meet a stranger called Romeo.
Romeo, the traditional lover
The first reference to Romeo in the play comes from the head of Montagues family. He mentions his morning walks. Romeo thinks there about love.
Mont.: Many a morning hath he there been seen,
With tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew
Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs;
(Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene I, 129-131)
Romeo’s father, Mr. Montague is worried about his son’s behavior. He wants to know what causes Romeo’s pain and remove it from him. Unfortunately for Mr. Montague, Romeo does not want to share his problems to his father. He is in sorrow because of his first love in the play who is not present in the whole play, only in Romeo’s mind.
Romeo is deeply in love with Rosaline who does not return him her love. Romeo is really desperate and tries to find out the way to her. Rosaline represents an unseen character in the play, yet she is very important for the whole story. If it was not for Rosaline, Romeo would never meet Juliet. He wants to sneak into the Capulet party in order to meet Rosaline. But the destiny likes to play with people and instead of being with Rosaline, Romeo meets his “femme fatale”. Anyway, the first speech of Romeo about love belongs to Rosaline. Hilský writes that Rosaline is Romeo’s first love and that she does not love him as he does. But he never uses her name in his speech (Hilský, 430).
Romeo: Here’s too much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeing forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health
Still-waking sleep that is not what it is!
This love feel I that feel no love in this.
( Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene I, 173-180)
Moreover, this speech about love is full of opposite words, such as feather of lead, bright smoke. Romeo cannot be truly in love with Rosaline. His words here are empty, he only tries to show his rhetorical skills and he succeeds in it. But no word goes exactly for Rosaline.
The phenomenon of the love at first sight
Well, while Romeo is in a platonic love with Rosaline who does not want to be with him, Juliet lives her careless life. Her only thoughts aim to the possibility of marriage introduced to her by her mother. Everything changes in the moment when the sights of Romeo and Juliet meet. Romeo has the only intention in his head when he enters the carnival in the house of Capulets. The intention is to meet a love of his life, Rosaline. Or at least he thinks she is the love of his life, at least until the moment he sees Juliet. After meeting Juliet, he acts as if Rosaline never existed. E. K. Chambers in his book Shakespeare: A survey writes:
Love comes into life like a sword, touching here a man and there a woman, and scorching them with a terrible flame. The boy and girl lovers are doomed souls from the beginning. They are raised into the highest heaven, merely that an envious fate may pluck them down again. Love is a mighty power, but destiny is mightier still, and cruel. And the conflict of these Titanic forces, crushing the young lives between them, is the issue of the tragedy (70).
The destiny is a cruel thing, especially for lovers. And Romeo is about to find out very soon. The way Romeo speaks about love in the first time changes significantly when he meets Juliet. Romeo together with Juliet creates a sonnet when they speak with each other. They create an intimate space between them.
Romeo: If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Juliet: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Romeo: Have not saint lips, and holy palmers too?
Juliet: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
Romeo: O the, dear saint, let lips do what hands do:
They pray: grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Juliet: Saints do not move, thou grant for prayer’s sake.
Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
(Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene V, 92-105)
This sonnet shows the exact opposite of Romeo’s first speech about love. The sonnet is shared between the two of them and shows perfectly the feelings they have to each other. Romeo and Juliet are predestined to be together and these lines are the best proof for it. They understand one another. And from now on the tragic destiny of a young couple can start. The hatred between the two Houses leads the couple into doom as they have to act in secret. The young couple quickly recognizes that the hatred between the two families cannot be overcome simply. They have to think of some plan that could make things right and let them be together. Anyway, Romeo’s meeting with his fatal love brings eventually the peace between the two Houses but not the peace they really wanted.
Our lover finally met his real femme fatale and they both try to fight the society and the destiny. As the third quatrain of Sonnet 116 says, the true love cannot be changed by time and lasts until the death.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
(The Sonnets, Sonnet 116, 315)
It could be assumed that love can fight destiny and can eventually win. Unfortunately it is not true for the characters of this play. The fatal love of Romeo and Juliet can bring nothing good. However, Romeo is able to sacrifice everything for Juliet, even surrender his name in the name of love. Juliet tells him that his name is the obstacle in their love. But Juliet promises to refuse to be a Capulet, as well.
Juliet: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
(Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II, 33-36)
Juliet has in mind, that a name is nothing more than a vast word that is not a part of a character. She compares it to the rose that will always be a rose no matter of its name. Hilský writes: “Juliet’s speech is beautiful even though it is obvious that there is a big difference between the rose and Romeo. The rose would smell the same under another name. But the name Montague belongs to Romeo more than the
word “rose” to rose. It is the part of his own self. So if Romeo throws away his name, he would have lost a significant part of himself” (Hilský, 437)8.
The faked and the real death
The significant part of the tragedy creates the misunderstandings in the dialogues. For example, when the nurse tells Juliet that “He is dead.” The sentence “He is dead.” refers to Tybalt but Juliet thinks it is Romeo who is dead.
Juliet: Ay me, what news? Why dost thou wring thy hands?
Nurse: Ah weraday, he’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead!
We are undone, lady, we are undone.
Alack the day, he’s gone, he’s kill’d, he’s dead.
Juliet: Can heaven be so envious?
Nurse: Romeo can,
Thou heaven cannot. O Romeo, Romeo,
Who ever would have thought it? Romeo!
(Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene II, 36-42)
The nurse causes Juliet a real torment and only after a while she finally tells Juliet that it is not Romeo who is dead. The plot of the play slowly comes to its tragic conclusion. Juliet is about to marry a man whom she does not love, Paris. Juliet starts to play a very dangerous game with death. With the help of Friar Laurence she manages to escape the wedding. She fakes her death and Friar Laurence promises to send a messenger to Romeo. Unfortunately, the message is not delivered. This is the example of what can happen if somebody tries to escape from one’s own destiny. Everybody in the neighborhood of Juliet thinks that she is really dead and wants her back. Juliet had a solid plan to persuade her family that they make a real mistake with the wedding with Paris. Everything would go well if it was not for a higher power that leads the paths of the two young lovers. Unfortunately for them, the destiny is the power.
Juliet’s family finally discovers the true love their daughter had for Romeo. They start to feel sorry for not letting her love Romeo. It would not be such a terrible thing, had they known that she only pretends to be dead. The first example of a faked death was the misunderstanding of nurse’s words by Juliet. The nurse could play some game with her and try to discourage her from loving Romeo. The faked death of Juliet in the Scene V is more dangerous for the couple. Eventually, it causes the doom of both of them.
Romeo unfortunately does not get the message of Juliet’s faked death. Instead he gets the message of her real death. That is really bad news for him as he is truly in love with Juliet. He sees only one possibility how to rejoin with his beloved one, a suicide. Like in King Lear, many factors could prevent these terrible things from happening but the destiny always plays its role in people’s life. Romeo, as well as Juliet, are destined to be together but only after their death. Poor Romeo buys a poison in the apothecary and goes to the tomb where Juliet lies. After the battle with Paris he enters the tomb and sees Juliet.
Thou desperate pilot now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark.
Here’s to my love! [He drinks.] O true apothecary,
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.
(Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene III, 117-120)
Romeo does not know that Juliet is faking her death and is about to wake up very soon. He could not escape his own destiny and soon they will be happy together, only after the death.
The predestined union of the two lovers
Of course, after some time, Juliet awakes unpleasantly surprised by the dead body of Romeo. Love is a powerful witch that caused a lot of strange things to happen throughout years. There are many things how people can express their love. Suicide has to be taken among them. There is no other option for Juliet if she still wants to be with her love. Romeo and Juliet, respectively, commit the most serious crime taken from the religious point of view. They took their own lives in order to be together. They died tragically to make the world better. That was their destiny. In no other case the families of Montagues and Capulets would find friendship. The destiny of Romeo and Juliet was to bring the peace among them and their mission in this world was more than successful.
Hamlet - the Tragedy of Revenge
The last play this thesis is going to deal with is Hamlet, the Prince of
Denmark. The tragedy of revenge always attracted a lot of spectators. Scholars have plenty of space to study it. The play itself is very specific and distinguishes from the previous two. Shakespeare uses a supernatural power to introduce the story. The appearance of the ghost makes the things move. And, what is even more significant for the play, nothing happens as it should according to a plan. Every other ritual, says Hilský, being it the wedding of Claudius and Gertrude, the funeral of Ophelia or the last battle, is disrupted (Hilský, 492). Again, Shakespeare was inspired by many sources when writing Hamlet.
The origin of the story
The basic source for Hamlet comes from the Danish chronicle Saxo Grammaticus. It tells the story of the Danish king Rorik who authorized two brothers, Horvendil and Feng, to rule in Jutland. Because Horvendil succeeded in beating the Norwegian king Koller, he got Geruta, the daughter of Koller as a reward. Geruta gave him a child named Amlet. Fend envied his brother and killed him. Then he married Geruta and Amlet pretended insanity. This story gets to Shakespeare via the French version by Francois Belleforest and the story of Amlet was translated into English under the name The Hystorie of Hamblet.
Hamlet and the two kings
The very first scene of the play belongs to the old king who was murdered before the start of the play. He appears as a ghost but does not say any word yet. The only thing that he does in this scene is the fact that he scares the men guarding the castle. On the other hand, the second scene belongs to the new king, the brother of the old one. By his speech he wants to express enthusiasm for the future as well as he wants the terrible past to be forgotten. He needs to persuade people that the future will be better than the past. He needs Hamlet to forget about the death of his father and take Claudius as his new father. He masters the rhetorics in this scene in order to persuade the people to join him as their new king and stand by him. Claudius is able to imply the sad remembrance of his brother’s death and act as if he was remembering him with the tear in his eye. Of course, the people in the court believe him. But he also implies his own needs as the king and as a human. The old King is dead, long live the King!
King: Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves.
(Hamlet, Act I, Scene II, 1-7)
These great rhetorical skills are used to hide the true intentions of the king. Of course, the marriage between Claudius and the widow queen this soon after the death of old Hamlet does not give a good credit to the new king, too. “The marriage between brother-in-law and sister-in-law was in the Renaissance England and all Europe strictly forbidden. Similarly disgraceful was for Shakespeare’s contemporaries the short delay between the funeral of king Hamlet and the wedding of Gertrude and Claudius” (Hilský, 495)9. Hamlet’s destiny is to revenge his father’s death and to die doing so, joining his father. Hamlet is the only one who does not believe Claudius’s story, suspects him, but in this situation Hamlet still does not know why. He is not familiar with all of the circumstances. Yet still he disrupts the speech of Claudius, at first by silence and then by irony.
The crucial event for the whole play is Hamlet’s meeting with the ghost of his own father. From the first scene it could be assumed that the ghost cannot speak but the opposite is truth. The ghost speaks to Hamlet. He informs Hamlet about his destiny and because Hamlet loves his father, it is now on him to act in the name of the revenge. Hamlet becomes obsessed with the true and the revenge he has to make in order to clean his father’s name and join him on the other side. He meets his own destiny and knows that there is no other way than killing Claudius no matter what.
Hamlet: O God!
Ghost: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Ghost: Murder most foul, as in the best it is,
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
(Hamlet, Act I, Scene V, 37-41)
Hamlet has many difficulties in fulfilling his promise. As it was already said, almost nothing in the play happens easily.
Hamlet and his relationship to Ophelia
Hamlet’s behaviour to Ophelia has a great impact on the situation in the tragedy. At first they seem to be deeply in love but everything is changed with Hamlet’s knowledge of the truth about his father’s death. Nobody in the castle believes him that Claudius is the murderer and so he falls into his own world. His insanity, it does not matter now whether the insanity is faked or real, indirectly causes Ophelia’s death. Ophelia does not say much throughout the play but from the very little her personality can be described. She was always taught to obey orders from her father and consequently of her brother. When they tell her to stop seeing Hamlet, she is willing to obey that order, at least in front of them. The dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia can be read in two levels, says Hilský. The first one serves for Polonius and Claudius who listen to them. The other level is only for Hamlet (Hilský, 506).
Ophelia: Good my lord,
How does your honour for this many a day?
Hamlet: I humbly thank you, well.
(Hamlet, Scene III, Act I, 90-92)
Ophelia in this dialogue obediently tells the words that Polonius and Claudius want to hear. At the same time she implicitly tells Hamlet that she still thinks about him. Although, Ophelia does not master ambiguity of speech, the sentences comes from her inner self as she still feels something to Hamlet. But she really does not like Hamlet’s reaction. “The remarks he addresses to her in the scene overheard by the King and Polonius (III. i) are incomprehensible if they are simply taken as reflecting his emotional relationship towards her. Nor can his character be held as cynical as would appear from the words he throws in her face during the play scene, which, taken literally, would give the worst impression of his humanity and decency” (Schücking, 30).
Hamlet: Ha, ha! Are you honest?
Ophelia: My lord?
Hamlet: Are you fair?
(Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, 102-104)
Maybe Hamlet knows that he is being overheard but definitely these words cause Ophelia’s madness. Hamlet is indirectly responsible for her death so it means that he kills intentionally as well as unintentionally in the play.
To be or not to be – the preparation for death
Probably the most known passage of Hamlet, cited many times, is Hamlet’s monologue about death. Hilský says that this monologue is the only one in the whole play where Hamlet does not speak about his own problems. In his speech the pronoun “I” cannot be seen anywhere and the whole monologue is a universal metaphysical debate about being here on this world (Hilský, 503). Hamlet always in the play solves problems as an egoist, a man who thinks on himself in the first place. People tend to act differently when they face fatal situations. In this monologue Hamlet tries to think about the death and what comes after it, but he is not thinking about himself, he thinks in general.
Hamlet: To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea troubles
And by opposing end them. To die – to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause – there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
(Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, 56-69)
Hamlet himself is not afraid of dying, he is afraid of what comes after the death. Hamlet somehow wants to try the fight the destiny, even though he must know that he cannot possibly win. The fear originates from Hamlet’s meeting with the ghost because the ghost shows him that there is something after the death and it is not pleasant at all. Hamlet meets the world beyond and is afraid of it. He does not want to suffer. But still he is not able to answer the question.
The theatre and the last battle
Hamlet becomes really desperate because he is not able to prove Claudius’s guilt. The play that appears in the play is crucial for the story. Hamlet plays a very interesting role in it, Hilský writes, as he is simultaneously a director, an actor, an author, a spectator and a critic (Hilský, 509). Thanks to the play Hamlet is finally able to kill Claudius. Nothing is as easy as it seems, again. He finds Claudius kneeling and praying, at least Hamlet thinks that he is praying. The spectators know that Claudius speaks about the inability to pray. He regrets his terrible deed and his mind is full of these thoughts. Hamlet is not able to kill him because, in his words, he would send him to heaven and that is not what Claudius deserves.
Hamlet: Now might I do it pat, now is a-praying.
And now I’ll do it. [Draws his sword]
And so a goes to heaven;
And so am I reveng’d. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father, and for that
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
(Hamlet, Act III, Scene III, 73-78)
Hamlet cannot possibly kill the villain here as he has to meet with his destiny, with his tragic death. Hamlet dies in the battle with Laertes by a poisoned sword. He still manages to kill Laertes as well as Claudius. By this deed he fulfils his destiny and can die and join his father on the eternal journey.
Hamlet: O I die Horatio.
The potent poison quite o’ercrows my spirit.
I cannot live to hear the news from England,
But I do prophesy th’election lights
On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice.
So tell him, with th’occurrents more and less
Which have solicited – the rest is silence.
(Hamlet, Act V, Scene II, 357-363)
The last sentence of Hamlet stays unfinished, that is the last disrupted thing in the play. What Hamlet wanted to say will be always a mystery. He finally came to the point where he was heading the whole play, to the final meeting with his father. He had to take quite a long journey full of obstacles. More or less successful, he succeeded in it.
The main aim of my thesis is to analyze five characters in three plays written by William Shakespeare, to connect their destinies and analyze how much the life is predestined. The five characters are King Lear and Cordelia, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. All these characters eventually die because of their destinies and they are not able to do anything about it even if they wanted to. The tragic comes from an undeserved death. Lear’s death is in some way deserved because of his behaviour to his daughter. Cordelia, on the other hand did not deserve death, but it is the part of her destiny to die with Lear. The same thing could be applied to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. They die only because of the love to each other.
William Shakespeare works very often with the tragic characters in his tragedies. These characters are in some way always doomed. No one in the world can choose their destiny and the destiny is a crucial part of the life. Even though, there are some flashes in which the characters might do something but these flashes disappear as quickly as they appear. An example of a flash could be a letter sent to Romeo about the faked death of Juliet. It never gets to him, even though it could prevent terrible things from happening. Or Hamlet’s first attempt to kill Claudius, had he succeeded here, maybe he could have lived and rule the land. It is the destiny that prevents the messenger from delivering the message and that prevents Hamlet’s sword from stabbing Claudius.
The analyzed characters have a lot in common. They all come from the highly regarded families. King Lear is the king of the land, Cordelia his daughter, Romeo and Juliet are the members of noble Houses, Hamlet is king’s son. Also their destinies are fulfilled by the same power, love. Yes, it is love that brings all these characters into destruction. Either it is the love between parents and their children, as we can see in King Lear or in Hamlet, or it is the love between two lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Love makes them dependent on their other parts and makes their lives useless without the beloved ones. The world becomes so distant and meaningless for them that the only way how to escape from unhappiness is to die and leave this world. The way these characters die is similar in some way, as well. The important part in the process represents poison, either a real one or a thing that can poison your soul or a body. Romeo dies after he drinks a flask with a real poison, Juliet wants to lick the rest of it from his lips. When she realizes that it cannot kill her, she stabs herself. Hamlet’s death is caused by a poisoned sword. Even though Cordelia does not die this way, Lear is poisoned by the fact that his beloved daughter is dead.
The analyzed characters find out about their destinies already in their lives. The interesting thing is that they get to know about it from their other parts. Cordelia finds out her destiny from Lear when he banishes her but she still knows that she cannot be without her father. On the other hand, Lear has to meet the character of a Fool to see it. However, this character is deeply tight to the character of Cordelia, so, in fact, it is Cordelia who brings Lear to the truth. It is very simple with Romeo and Juliet as they know about their destinies from the moment they meet at the party at Capulets. As well as Lear and Cordelia, Romeo and Juliet are predestined to be together no matter what. Yet still, there is Hamlet. Hamlet is the only character who finds out about his life and an inevitable death from the character which is already dead. He knows that he has to revenge his father’s death and die to join him. Every other character at some point had to answer the question about the meaning of life. Maybe the meaning is to be the pawns in somebody’s game, the same pawns as our characters.
We came to the conclusion that people, or at least our characters, cannot make many decisions about their lives. People are able to influence a concrete situation in some way but, on the whole, the consequences stay the same as the destiny wants them. They have their lives lined from the very beginning to the very end. So what is the purpose of life if we have to be someone’s pawns? Many scientists tried to answer the question throughout centuries and many are still trying to come with the general truth. It is a very difficult question to answer indeed, even Hamlet, in his famous monologue, is not able to give a precise answer to it. He wants to live because he is afraid of the afterlife but he is not able to give the advantages of living. Life is a real mystery for all of us. Maybe it is not a victory to be alive, maybe it is but, anyway, we have to struggle through our lives and see, whether we will be rewarded. But how can we be rewarded? Maybe the death is the answer. There are many things that we can hope for after we die. Nobody knows what comes after the death. There can be some afterlife, probably better than our actual life on earth. Still there can be nothing at all. This is the reason why Hamlet is afraid of death. And this is the reason why a lot of people are afraid of death. They are afraid either of their end and the impossibility of living or of the actual afterlife, as well as Hamlet. This question has to stay without answer because nobody is able to send a message from the world beyond.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins. New York: Methuen,
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. Kenneth Muir. London: Routledge, 1972. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Brian Gibbon. New York:
Methuen, 1980. Print.
Adams, Joseph Quincy. A life of William Shakespeare. London: Constable, 1923. Print.
Bamber, Linda. Comic Women, Tragic Men: a Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982. Print.
Barrol, J. Leeds. (ed.) Shakespeare Studies. Cincinnati: The J.W. Ford Company, 1965. Print.
Byrd, David G. and Nolan, Edward, F. A Simplified Approach to Shakespeare: King Lear. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 1968. Print.
Calderwood, James L. Shakespeare and the Denial of Death. Massachusetts: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. Online
Chambers, E. K. Shakespeare: A Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925. Print.
Charlton, Ebenezeer. (ed.) The Tragedy of King Lear. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1911. Print.
Ford, Boris (ed.) The Age of Shakespeare. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books,
Fripp, Edgar Innes. Shakespeare Studies Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930. Print.
Hilský, Martin. Shakespeare a jeviště svět. Praha: Academia, 2010. Print.
Hudson, Henry Norman. Shakespeare's his Life, Art, and Characters : with an Historical Sketch of the Origin and Growth of the Drama in England. 4th ed. Boston: Gin and Company, 1872. Print.
Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy, translated by Henry F. Cary. Vol. XX. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14. Online.
Schoenbaum, Samuel. William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. Online.
Schücking, Levin L. The Meaning of Hamlet. Trans. Graham Rawson. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966. Print.
Spencer, Hazelton. The Art and Life of William Shakespeare. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940. Print.
Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets. Trans. M. Hilský. Brno: Atlantis, 2007.