Saturday, October 21, 2006

Y12: Half-term homework on Hamlet essay

Have a a look at these two examples, which should help you write your opening sections. Obviously, this is not the whole opening sectin- I expect you to write a bit more than this to show you understand the main points made by Dover Wilson and TS Eliot.

How far do you agree that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”? (TS Eliot, The Sacred Wood)

T.S. Eliot argues that Hamlet is, “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”, and Shakespeare failed to make this theme work within the inherited story. John Dover Wilson opposes this, asserting that Hamlet has many good reasons for acting the way he does, beyond “excessive” disgust with his mother, Gertrude.
Hamlet believes Gertrude is guilty of many things. Firstly, she married again within two months of Old Hamlet’s death. Hamlet is angry and upset by this, as he doesn’t feel she has grieved long enough, and doesn’t care for his father’s memory.
In this essay I aim to evaluate TS Eliot’s theory on Hamlet, by comparing it to the counter argument made my Dover Wilson.

TS Eliot stated that “Hamlet is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear”. TS Eliot therefore believes that Hamlet is an artistic failure. Hamlet has many reasons for which he could be upset such as:His father has recently died; his mother has got married to his uncle within a month of his father’s death, he has not inherited his father’s throne after he died and his uncle [Claudius] has inherited it therefore he feels cheated. As TS Eliot believes the plays theme surrounds a mother’s guilt, we need to establish what Gertrude is guilty of before we analyse the reasoning. The most undeniable act Gertrude is guilty of is marrying Hamlets uncle [Claudius] ‘within a month’ of old Hamlet dying.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heres the first 1000 words of my essay.....

How far would you agree that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”? (TS Eliot, The Sacred Wood)

TS Eliot and John Dover Wilson both have their own thoughts about Hamlet’s motivations for his madness. TS Eliot’s main argument is that Hamlet is appalled with his mother’s behaviour, however, he argues that her hasty marriage to his Uncle Claudius is not terrible enough to lead to his emotional turmoil, therefore the play is a failure. On the other hand, Dover Wilson has evidence for believing that Hamlet has adequate reasons for his state of mind and melancholy. Some of these include the murder of his father, the encounter with the ghost, questioning his protestant faith, Claudius on the throne and not him and the possible incestuous relationship between Claudius and his mother. Dover Wilson argues that Hamlet’s problem with his mother and women is just an act of jealousy, which appears in many of Shakespeare’s plays. He also comments on the fact that a Shakespearean audience would have seen Hamlet’s disgust for his mother as perfectly rational because it was considered incest if you married your in-law in the 17th century, according to the story of Henry VIII. He was unable to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn without a valid reason. Soon after, it was discovered that it was an abomination against God to marry someone who has previously been married to your brother. This was the turning point for Henry VIII as Catherine had earlier been married to his elder brother. TS Eliot hints at the idea that Shakespeare was suffering from his own personal troubles to do with his mother, therefore was writing about himself.

Hamlet’s first soliloquy (I.II.129) tends to favour TS Eliot’s arguments due to the fact that Hamlet’s main anger is focused on his mother’s “o’er hasty marriage”. The opening line, “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt”, suggests that Hamlet feels dirty possibly because he has sexual feelings towards his mother. This is also evident when he struggles, on numerous occasions, to finish his sentences, for instance, “and yet within a month – Let me not think on’t –” (I.II.145/6). This implies that he is infatuated with her because he cannot bear to think of her with Claudius. TS Eliot would argue that, due to the lack of concern about not inheriting the throne and his father’s recent death, it shows that this is the main cause for his antagonism.

However, Dover Wilson disagrees with this, “the strain, however, I associate, not with any mysterious complex, but with the more common-place derangement known as jealousy”. He believes that Shakespeare had a particular interest in the subject of jealousy as he repeatedly wrote about it, especially in the Sonnets. Dover Wilson also points out that TS Eliot doesn’t mention the fact about Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius being “incestuous” (I.II.157). At the beginning he just refers to his mother, “so loving to my mother” (I.II.140), yet goes on to generalise women, “Frailty, thy name is woman –” (I.II.146) giving the impression that he has a problem with all women, not just his mother.

Later on, in the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia (III.I), it is made apparent as stated by Dover Wilson, that Hamlet has a problem with women in general rather than just his mother. “You jig, and amble, and you lisp, you nick-name God’s creatures” (III.II.146/7) suggests that Hamlet has strong feelings about the way women trick men by using their femininity.

The scene directly after Hamlet’s interaction with the Ghost of Old Hamlet is similar to his first soliloquy, however the source of anger is different. Hamlet only mentions his mother once, “O most pernicious woman” (I.V.105) which suggests that he is more concerned with the recent information about his father’s murder. This backs up Dover Wilson’s argument that Hamlet’s “antic disposition” is the result of many factors rather than purely disgust for his mother.

In Act 2, Scene 2 the “double entry” argument is brought into the play. T.S Eliot and Dover Wilson both have opposing views on the matter and adequate evidence so support their beliefs. The question is whether Hamlet overhears Polonius, Gertrude and Claudius’ plan to set him up by secretly listening to Hamlet and Ophelia having a conversation. Polonius is trying to prove that it is Hamlet’s love for Ophelia that is the root of his madness, yet Claudius us weary that Hamlet is only pretending to be mentally unstable and there is more behind his unusual behaviour. We are unsure when Shakespeare wanted Hamlet to enter the scene, which is the crucial point in determining the double entry argument true of false.

It is possible that Hamlet comes on when Polonius says, “You know sometimes he walks for hours together here in the lobby” (II.I.160). Dover Wilson believes this to be so and that Hamlet knows to act as if it is Ophelia’s rejection that has led to his emotional turmoil. Other evidence that Hamlet is present when they are discussing the plan is that he calls Polonius a “fishmonger”. The reason for this is that he knows he is using Ophelia for his own profit. It also relates back to Polonius stating that he will, “loose” his daughter to Hamlet. The word “loose” refers to sending a cow to mate with a bull when she is in heat. Polonious is comparing his daughter to a cow and treating her like a piece of meat, giving Hamlet a means to call him a “fishmonger”. Hamlet changes the subject from, “sun breed maggots in a dead dog” (II.I.181) to “Have you a daughter?” (II.I.182). This implies that Hamlet feels that what Polonius is asking his daughter to do is disgusting. Hamlet also tells Polonius “Let her not walk i’th’ sun” (II.I.184) meaning don’t let her go down in the world by carrying out the plan.

On the other hand T.S Eliot’s counterargument is that, due to his state of mind, he is just making it all up and has no meaning behind it. Hamlet could appear on stage just before he starts talking meaning he is unaware of the whole plan.


6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Start of my essay ....

How Far Would You Agree That Hamlet is “a Play Dealing With the Effect of a Mother’s Guilt Upon Her Son”? [T.S Eliot]

There are many different views of Shakespeare’s Hamlet; the opinions of T.S Eliot and John Dover Wilson being of particular interest and dispute. T.S Eliot suggests that the cause of Hamlet’s madness is his mother’s hasty and incestuous marriage to his uncle Claudius. This leads him to suggest that the play is a failure because his mother’s actions are not sufficient to justify his subsequent actions and emotional turmoil. John Dover Wilson, on the other hand, believes that Hamlet’s anguish is the result of a combination of factors such as the death of his father, the fact that his uncle has stolen his crown and the fact that he sees his dead father’s ghost which rocks his protestant beliefs. Dover Wilson would then assume that Hamlet’s actions were, if not justified, understandable to the audience and therefore the play is not a failure.
T.S Eliot’s main reasoning behind suggesting that Hamlet is obsessed with his mother is that he is suffering from an Oedipus complex. This means that Hamlet is sexually attracted and obsessed with his mother and therefore he is envious of Claudius’ relationship with her. He is also feeling sexual jealousy because another man has taken his mother away from him and he can’t handle the idea of her being sexually impure. Eliot justifies this view by looking at the way Hamlet calls his mother’s sheets “incestuous” in his first soliloquy and suggests that the incest is in fact his own feelings over his mother as, in modern eyes, the relationship between his mother and his uncle is not incestuous. However, Dover Wilson can argue this by saying that it was, in fact, incest at the time as Henry VIII had created the Protestant faith just 40 years ago on the basis that marrying your brother in law was a sin, as read in the bible. This discovery weakens Eliot’s whole argument considerably, as it becomes apparent that the Shakespearean audience would have agreed with Hamlet and therefore it seems obvious that he was only talking about his mother and Claudius’ relationship. Dover Wilson also disagrees that this Oedipal theme is a reflection of Shakespeare’s own incestuous feelings for his mother, an idea that is portrayed in many of Shakespeare’s plays and hinted at by Eliot.
Hamlet’s first soliloquy is the readers’ first insight the reader gains of his character. It reveals Hamlet’s emotional turmoil after the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother. Overall, the soliloquy focuses more on Hamlet’s anger towards his mother getting remarried rather than the fact that he isn’t King or his father’s death. His anguish is apparent from the fact that he cannot finish any sentence concerning his mother’s incestuous sexual relationship with his uncle, for example “…and yet within a month-“ [1.2.145] as if the thought of it sickens him to the point that he can’t even think of it. He has become incoherent at the thought of this incest, which is perhaps an indication of his tormented mental state as he is usually an extremely intelligent and eloquent character. This soliloquy shows that Hamlet is slowly being driven crazy by the thought of his mother’s incestuous relationship with Claudius more than any other factor. He has become incoherent and has almost hysterical thoughts about the idea and cant even bring himself to think about it sometimes. This would indicate that Eliot is correct in saying that Hamlet is extremely emotionally disturbed by the fact that his mother has married so quickly and that this is a huge factor of his eventual breakdown. However, at this point Dover Wilson could argue that Hamlet isn’t even aware of his father’s murder by his uncle and therefore of course he hasn’t mentioned it and it is not at the front of his mind. In the scene post ghost, Hamlet delivers his second soliloquy, which mainly concentrates on the issue of his father’s murder. Although Hamlet was relatively incoherent in the first soliloquy, his increasing amount of repetition and emphasis on words in the second indicates that he is now more distressed after seeing the ghost than he was with his mother incestuous and hasty marriage to Claudius. This would mean that Dover Wilson was more accurate when he suggested that Hamlet’s madness was a culmination of factors such as his father’s death, his mother’s remarriage and his throne being stolen by his uncle. His mother is only mentioned in one line, “O most pernicious woman!” (1.5.105), which indicates that he has almost put it out of his mind at this point in the play. This again weakens T.S Eliot’s argument because it shows that it can’t have been that much of an issue for him.
There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that Hamlet was also affected by a loss of faith after the appearance of the ghost. Dover Wilson would cite this as a major trigger for Hamlets emotional turmoil as it occurs just before Hamlet’s second emotionally charged soliloquy. This also has nothing to do with his mother and therefore he is not dealing with the effect of his mother’s sins. As Protestants do not believe in ghosts, they see them as angels or demons playing tricks on them, Hamlet is deeply confused and troubled by his sighting of the ghost. He may be unsure whether the ghost is merely a demon lying to him about being murdered and therefore faces a crisis – should he risk avenging his father’s death or not? However, this theory is contradicted by the fact that Hamlet calls it “thou poor ghost” (1.5.96) which indicates that he believes it really is the ghost of Old Hamlet. We can clearly see that he is a religious man because at the start of the soliloquy Hamlet wants resolve and strength to help him in his time of need. He asks Heaven for help and then Earth, then even considers asking Hell, as he is so desperate for inspiration and help, “O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else?/ And shall I couple hell?” (1.5.92). This shows that he is slowly turning crazy because he is even considering going against his faith to help him in his time of need. He says “grow not instant old” (1.5.94) because he doesn’t want to be paralysed by fear or misery at this crucial stage in his life where he has the responsibility and knowledge to take his life in his own hands. He also wants to be completely focused on avenging his fathers death and therefore must wipe his memory clean of anything that is unimportant, such as his mothers relationship with his uncle, “from the table of my memory/ I'll wipe away all trivial, fond records/ All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past”. By clearing all his past issues with his mother he can properly take care of Claudius. This indicates again that Gertrude is not one of the biggest issues in his life and that T.S Eliot was wrong to suggest that it was his mother’s sins that caused his insanity if he can dismiss it this quickly and if his fathers murder takes prevalence.

ELLIE, word count 1269.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How far would you agree, Hamlet is a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son?

Hamlet according to TS Eliot is a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son. John Dover Wilson has a different opinion about Hamlet. TS Eliot thinks that Hamlet is disgusted by his mother because of her marrying his father’s brother, King Claudius of Denmark. Eliot argues that the reasons behind Hamlet’s depressions and the reason for his mental disorder is because of his mothers sins against old King Hamlet, but he goes on to argue that they aren’t sinful enough to explain his reactions towards his mother and the new king and therefore the play is an artistic failure. John Dover Wilson argues that Hamlet has good or valid reasons for his mental disorder.

Hamlets first soliloquy is vital to understanding TS Eliot’s view of the play, his first line reveals that Hamlet is feeling dirty because of his thoughts and wishes that his thoughts were gone,

“O that this too too sullied flesh would melt,” (1.2.129)

The only way to do that which would be to commit suicide but because god had not condemned suicide so Hamlet cannot get away from his thoughts and emotions of his mother. This is called the ‘Oedipal complex’ it is defined as a male child's unconscious desire for the exclusive love of his mother. This desire includes jealousy towards Claudius and the unconscious wish for that parent's death.

This distress is caused by his mother, and because of this he struggles many times to complete his sentences or even repeats himself

“and yet within a month-Let me not think on`t”.

This tells us that Hamlet is obsessed with Gertrude because he would be stopping himself thinking about Gertrude marring and sleeping with Claudius. This makes the audience clear that Hamlet is obsessed in his mother and not concerned enough about losing the crown.

When Shakespeare wrote this play, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude marrying would have been seen as incestuous to the English audience when this play was first shown in the theatre; this is because King Henry the 8th made a loophole in the law so he could divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn instead. As Catherine of Aragon was Arthur’s (King Henrys brother) wife before he died. Henry showed the Pope (who wouldn’t allow divorce between Henry and Catherine) that in the bible it said that you are not allowed to marry your brother’s wife as it was against god.

After Hamlet meets the Ghost of Old Hamlet in Act 4 scene 2, he is not afraid because it is his father. Old Hamlet tells him that Claudius poisoned him by pouring ear poison down his ear. His companions are scared that the ghost is a demon trying to lure Hamlet into a trap. Hamlet is smart enough to relies the same thing and is unsure to believe the ghost’s words. Hamlet, fearing that the apparition may be a demon pretending to be King Hamlet, decides to put the ghost to the test by staging a play called Hamlet that re-enacts the circumstances that the spirit claims led to his death. Claudius's reaction is one of guilt and horror, and Prince Hamlet is convinced that the ghost is, in fact, his father. However, due to his hesitant and over-analytical manner, much time elapses before the prince can steel himself to actually carry out his father's murderous wishes. After Old Hamlets ghost vanishes Hamlet sensing danger about Claudius knowing, gets Horatio and the other 2 soldiers to swear upon Hamlets sword that they would never reveal on what they’ve just seen.

That could be why Hamlet isn’t as obsessed about his mother then he was before, he wanted to die as his first soliloquy revealed but after meeting the ghost his wishes had vanished. This is because the Ghost gave him a reason to stay alive, a mission.

Later in the play, Hamlet’s awful treatment according to John Dover Wilson towards his mother and Ophelia was done when he was most unstable because it was after Hamlet first met the ghost of his dead father, (Also that his mother committed Adultery and now discovering that his friends from the University in Wittenberg, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are being used to spy on him and pass information to the King which could lead any man into a mental disorder because of all the cheating and backstabbing which is taking place behind his back. John Dover Wilson also says that Hamlet is brooding over women in general and not aimed at his mother during his aggressive state.

Hamlet could have lost all faith in women after the scene with Ophelia along with that he feels that his mother has too quickly forgotten his father which could have contributed. In the scene where he tells Ophelia

"get thee to a nunnery!"

He could have been provoked by the betrayal he feels from his mother and then Ophelia when she lies to him about where her father is. Hamlet is angered by her hasty marriage to Claudius and perhaps even the incest that appears to be involved in the matter. Hamlet loved his father as well remember and he might even suspect that Claudius and Gertrude had affairs before his untimely death. This provokes Hamlet to believe that all women are frail of judgment and weak of mind.

“You jig and amble, and you lisp, you nick-name Gods creatures” (3.2.146/7),

His 2nd Soliloquy shows us that he only mentions his mother once, which tells us that Hamlet is more concerned with other things such as the Ghost and what the Ghost tells Hamlet about Claudius murdering Old Hamlet. This would support John Dover Wilson’s view about Hamlet being mentally disordered about everything.

11:35 AM  

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