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“successful Texts Are Engaging and Always Demand a Response Through Their Exploration of Timeless Ideas”

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“Successful texts are engaging and always demand a response through their exploration of timeless ideas”. Evaluate the truth of this statement through a critical analysis of the language, content and construction of your prescribed text.

The enduring success of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600) can be attributed to how the dramatically compelling protagonist engages with key human issues of moral corruption and the dichotomy between appearances and reality. In adopting traditional conventions of an Aristotelian tragedy, the dramatic form of Hamlet shows his overwhelming desire for filial revenge and justice instigating a deeper exploration of timeless ideas of the tension between passion and reason and the inevitability of death. Even though many of Shakespeare’s authorial decisions are guided by contemporary Elizabethan values, his treatment of universal issues enhances the texts value, creating differing responses which allows the ideas to evolve over time.

The inherent corruption that lies at the core of humanity often distorts moral judgement, whereby the dichotomy of appearances and reality instigates an individual’s confrontation of elements of the human condition. Shakespeare reveals how Claudius holds responsibility for the usurping of natural order through his employment of Machiavellian tactics to fortify his status in the court of Elsinore. The discrepancies between Claudius’ public and private personas evident in his inaugural speech, “mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage” draws upon paradoxical phrases to demonstrate the difficulty of maintaining rational thought amidst a world of uncertainty and deceit. Audiences may respond to this differently now as this paradox with public and private personas provokes them to consider how identity is inherently complex. He is further depicted as a duplicitous character “that [he] may smile… and be a villain!” where the juxtaposition of “smile” and “villain” demonstrates the detrimental repercussions of omnipotent power. By labelling Hamlet as a villain, it captivates audiences with this intriguing moral dilemma confronting the tragic hero indicating how familial values are corrupted by politics. This stems from the widespread uncertainty in Shakespeare’s time of writing, caused by the ambiguity of inheritance following Queen Elizabeth’s rule, leading to theological and philosophical unrest. In accordance to Mary Salter’s critique of Hamlet’s nature as “philosophical, reflective, prone to questioning and therefore aware of the larger moral implications of any act”, we are able to conclude that corruption ultimately leads to the downfall of our moral judgement whereby Hamlet’s excessive questioning provokes us to consider the validity of his inactions. The dichotomy of appearances and reality permeates through contextual barriers to reveal the imperious grandiloquence of political corruption and mastery, ultimately reflecting the moral discourse of humanity.

The perpetual tension between passion and rationality is embodied through the notion of delay, whereby Hamlet is subject to the shifting societal expectations of human behaviour. Isolated by his “unmanly grief”, Hamlet is thrust into a world of uncertainty which spurs his intellectual vacillation and consequent inability to act upon passion or reason alone. It is evident that Hamlet’s hamartia is his constant deliberation and incapability to reconcile his lust for revenge with rationality in “thus conscience does make cowards of us all”. In accordance with S.T. Coleridge, we as a critical audience are able to see that “the great object of his life is defeated by continually resolving to do so, yet doing nothing but resolve” engaging us to obtain a sense of uncertainty of his inability to act.  While Hamlet’s encounters with the Ghost act as a dramatic device providing a deus ex machina, it is the execution of the play within the play, “The Mousetrap”, that allows both Hamlet and the audience to get a sense of certainty through the use of metatheatrical elements. The pinnacle of Hamlet’s struggle in reconciling passion and reason occurs in the “prayer” scene, where Claudius is vulnerable and attempting to seek absolution for his “offence so rank it smells to heaven”, drawing upon the imagery of decay and degeneration, which is sustained throughout the play. This encourages audiences to respond to this pivotal moment determining whether or not they agree with Hamlet’s delay on the basis of his religious motives to avoid killing Claudius during such a pure moment. Therefore, Hamlet is a deeply meditative and self-reflexive play in which the political undertones establish the tension between passion and reason whereby both the protagonist and the world around him are continuously delayed.

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