Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy Hamlet (1600) explores the complexities of the human condition through the integration of thematic binaries, ultimately exemplifying the sustained tension in the oscillation between conflicting ideologies. Hamlet’s ontological crisis triggered by his conflicting demands of Medieval fatalism and Renaissance individualism stems from the disturbance of the natural order under the Claudian rule. This reflects the state of uncertainty coming from the Elizabethan court in the early 17th century as a result of the monarchic transition. Hamlet is presented as a tragic antihero, ironically playing a reluctant messianic role to restore order on the Elizabethan cosmological scale, paradoxically combining his eventual death and restoration of the disrupted contextual paradigm. Shakespeare’s expert construction of language and characters combine to sustain the tensions of the complexities of the human condition generated by thematic binaries in order to reinforce the textual integrity of the play.
The disturbance to the natural order, indicative of the complexities of the human condition, is portrayed through the corruption of the Claudian court, ultimately delineating the divine right of kings and infecting all of Demark with disease and decay. Published in the early 17th century, Shakespeare expresses the transition away from the stability of the cosmological order to the uncertainty of the Jacobean rule as a result of the monarchic shift ending the Tudor reign. Hamlet’s first soliloquy of the play clearly expresses the illegitimacy of Claudius’s kingship through the anti-Edenic imagery “An unweeded garden that grows to seed, things rank and gross in nature”. The motif of disease and decay emphasised by the strong use of alliteration combined with the dramatically ironic statements of Claudius “our state to be disjoint and out of frame” exposes his destructive Machiavellian characteristics to the audience. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s effective combination of sibilance, zoomorphic and visceral imagery with reference to Gertrude’s incestuous marriage to the king, “Oh most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets” evokes notion of deceit and disloyalty reinforcing Claudius’s portrayal as a catalyst for tension and regression. This is reinforced by Hamlet’s self-reflexive statement “I have a father killed, a mother stained”. The metaphor of “a mother stained” illustrates the disease-ridden Denmark triggered by Claudius’s crimes of fratricide and regicide “a father killed” which inevitably leads to Hamlet’s psychological conflict with emotion and logic. Shakespeare explores the disturbance to the natural order to highlight the political tensions of the time and to expose the deceitful intent of a Machiavellian villain which serves as the catalyst for Hamlet’s inner conflict with emotion and reason.
Transition from Renaissance to Medieval (action/inaction):
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