Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Y12: Classics advice

New, finalized, questions:


‘To what extent in Euthyphro does Plato seek to question traditional Athenian views on piety?’


‘What are the philosophical strengths and weaknesses of Plato’s documentation in The Apology of Socrates’ trial?’


'How satisfactory for the exploration of philosophical issues is Plato's use of the dialogue form in 'Euthyphro'?

Some materials on piety to help Kayleigh:

Socrates: Philosophical Life

The most interesting and influential thinker in the fifth century was Socrates, whose dedication to careful reasoning transformed the entire enterprise. Since he sought genuine knowledge rather than mere victory over an opponent, Socrates employed the same logical tricks developed by the Sophists to a new purpose, the pursuit of truth. Thus, his willingness to call everything into question and his determination to accept nothing less than an adequate account of the nature of things make him the first clear exponent of critical philosophy.
Although he was well known during his own time for his conversational skills and public teaching, Socrates wrote nothing, so we are dependent upon his students (especially Xenophon and Plato) for any detailed knowledge of his methods and results. The trouble is that Plato was himself a philosopher who often injected his own theories into the dialogues he presented to the world as discussions between Socrates and other famous figures of the day. Nevertheless, it is usually assumed that at least the early dialogues of Plato provide a (fairly) accurate representation of Socrates himself.
Euthyphro: What is Piety?
In the Euqufrwn (Euthyphro), for example, Socrates engaged in a sharply critical conversation with an over-confident young man. Finding Euthyphro perfectly certain of his own ethical rectitude even in the morally ambiguous situation of prosecuting his own father in court, Socrates asks him to define what "piety" (moral duty) really is. The demand here is for something more than merely a list of which actions are, in fact, pious; instead, Euthyphro is supposed to provide a general definition that captures the very essence of what piety is. But every answer he offers is subjected to the full force of Socrates's critical thinking, until nothing certain remains.
Specifically, Socrates systematically refutes Euthyphro's suggestion that what makes right actions right is that the gods love (or approve of) them. First, there is the obvious problem that, since questions of right and wrong often generate interminable disputes, the gods are likely to disagree among themselves about moral matters no less often than we do, making some actions both right and wrong. Socrates lets Euthypro off the hook on this one by aggreeing—only for purposes of continuing the discussion—that the gods may be supposed to agree perfectly with each other. (Notice that this problem arises only in a polytheistic culture.)
More significantly, Socrates generates a formal dilemma from a (deceptively) simple question: "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" (Euthyphro 10 a) Neither alternative can do the work for which Euthyphro intends his definition of piety. If right actions are pious only because the gods love them, then moral rightness is entirely arbitrary, depending only on the whims of the gods. If, on the other hand, the gods love right actions only because they are already right, then there must be some non-divine source of values, which we might come to know independently of their love.
In fact, this dilemma proposes a significant difficulty at the heart of any effort to define morality by reference to an external authority. (Consider, for example, parallel questions with a similar structure: "Do my parents approve of this action because it is right, or is it right because my parents approve of it?" or "Does the College forbid this activity because it is wrong, or is it wrong because the College forbids it?") On the second alternative in each case, actions become right (or wrong) solely because of the authority's approval (or disapproval); its choice, then, has no rational foundation, and it is impossible to attribute laudable moral wisdom to the authority itself. So this horn is clearly unacceptable. But on the first alternative, the authority approves (or disapproves) of certain actions because they are already right (or wrong) independently of it, and whatever rational standard it employs as a criterion for making this decision must be accessible to us as well as to it. Hence, we are in principle capable of distinguishing right from wrong on our own.
Thus, an application of careful techniques of reasoning results in genuine (if negative) progress in the resolution of a philosophical issue. Socrates's method of insistent questioning at least helps us to eliminate one bad answer to a serious question. At most, it points us toward a significant degree of intellectual independence. The character of Euthyphro, however, seems unaffected by the entire process, leaving the scene at the end of the dialogue no less self-confident than he had been at its outset. The use of Socratic methods, even when they clearly result in a rational victory, may not produce genuine conviction in those to whom they are applied.
Apology: The Examined Life
Because of his political associations with an earlier regime, the Athenian democracy put Socrates on trial, charging him with undermining state religion and corrupting young people. The speech he offered in his own defense, as reported in Plato's Apologhma (Apology), provides us with many reminders of the central features of Socrates's approach to philosophy and its relation to practical life.
Ironic Modesty:
Explaining his mission as a philosopher, Socrates reports an oracular message telling him that "No one is wiser than you." (Apology 21a) He then proceeds through a series of ironic descriptions of his efforts to disprove the oracle by conversing with notable Athenians who must surely be wiser. In each case, however, Socrates concludes that he has a kind of wisdom that each of them lacks: namely, an open awareness of his own ignorance.
Questioning Habit:
The goal of Socratic interrogation, then, is to help individuals to achieve genuine self-knowledge, even if it often turns out to be negative in character. As his cross-examination of Meletus shows, Socrates means to turn the methods of the Sophists inside-out, using logical nit-picking to expose (rather than to create) illusions about reality. If the method rarely succeeds with interlocutors, it can nevertheless be effectively internalized as a dialectical mode of reasoning in an effort to understand everything.
Devotion to Truth:
Even after he has been convicted by the jury, Socrates declines to abandon his pursuit of the truth in all matters. Refusing to accept exile from Athens or a commitment to silence as his penalty, he maintains that public discussion of the great issues of life and virtue is a necessary part of any valuable human life. "The unexamined life is not worth living." (Apology 38a) Socrates would rather die than give up philosophy, and the jury seems happy to grant him that wish.
Dispassionate Reason:
Even when the jury has sentenced him to death, Socrates calmly delivers his final public words, a speculation about what the future holds. Disclaiming any certainty about the fate of a human being after death, he nevertheless expresses a continued confidence in the power of reason, which he has exhibited (while the jury has not). Who really wins will remain unclear.
Plato's dramatic picture of a man willing to face death rather than abandoning his commitment to philosophical inquiry offers up Socrates as a model for all future philosophers. Perhaps few of us are presented with the same stark choice between philosophy and death, but all of us are daily faced with opportunities to decide between convenient conventionality and our devotion to truth and reason. How we choose determines whether we, like Socrates, deserve to call our lives philosophical.
Crito: The Individual and the State
Plato's description of Socrates's final days continued in the Kritwn (Crito). Now in prison awaiting execution, Socrates displays the same spirit of calm reflection about serious matters that had characterized his life in freedom. Even the patent injustice of his fate at the hands of the Athenian jury produces in Socrates no bitterness or anger. Friends arrive at the jail with a foolproof plan for his escape from Athens to a life of voluntary exile, but Socrates calmly engages them in a rational debate about the moral value of such an action.
Of course Crito and the others know their teacher well, and they come prepared to argue the merits of their plan. Escaping now would permit Socrates to fulfil his personal obligations in life. Moreover, if he does not follow the plan, many people will suppose that his friends did not care enough for him to arrange his escape. Therefore, in order to honor his commitments and preserve the reputation of his friends, Socrates ought to escape from jail.
But Socrates dismisses these considerations as irrelevant to a decision about what action is truly right. What other people will say clearly doesn't matter. As he had argued in the Apology, the only opinion that counts is not that of the majority of people generally, but rather that of the one individual who truly knows. The truth alone deserves to be the basis for decisions about human action, so the only proper apporoach is to engage in the sort of careful moral reasoning by means of which one may hope to reveal it.
Socrates's argument proceeds from the statement of a perfectly general moral principle to its application in his particular case:
One ought never to do wrong (even in response to the evil committed by another).
But it is always wrong to disobey the state.
Hence, one ought never to disobey the state.
And since avoiding the sentence of death handed down by the Athenian jury would be an action in disobedience the state, it follows Socrates ought not to escape.
The argument is a valid one, so we are committed to accepting its conclusion if we believe that its premises are true. The general commitment to act rightly is fundamental to a moral life, and it does seem clear that Socrates's escape would be a case of disobedience. But what about the second premise, the claim that it is always wrong for an individual to disobey the state? Surely that deserves further examination. In fact, Socrates pictures the laws of Athens proposing two independent lines of argument in favor of this claim:
First, the state is to us as a parent is to a child, and since it is always wrong for a child to disobey a parent, it follows that it is always wrong to disobey the state. (Crito 50e) Here we might raise serious doubts about the legitimacy of the analogy between our parents and the state. Obedience to our parents, after all, is a temporary obligation that we eventually outgrow by learning to make decisions for ourselves, while Socrates means to argue that obeying the state is a requirement right up until we die. Here it might be useful to apply the same healthy disrespect for moral authority that Socrates himself expressed in the Euthyphro.
The second argument is that it is always wrong to break an agreement, and since continuing to live voluntarily in a state constitutes an agreement to obey it, it is wrong to disobey that state. (Crito 52e) This may be a better argument; only the second premise seems open to question. Explicit agreements to obey some authority are common enough—in a matriculation pledge or a contract of employment, for example—but most of us have not entered into any such agreement with our government. Even if we suppose, as the laws suggest, that the agreement is an implicit one to which we are committed by our decision to remain within their borders, it is not always obvious that our choice of where to live is entirely subject to our individual voluntary control.
Nevertheless, these considerations are serious ones. Socrates himself was entirely convinced that the arguments hold, so he concluded that it would be wrong for him to escape from prison. As always, of course, his actions conformed to the outcome of his reasoning. Socrates chose to honor his commitment to truth and morality even though it cost him his life.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Y12 Classics

Please post the first hundred words of your essay below. I'm due this work as a hard an an electronic copy by Wednesday 24th.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Y10 Romeo and Juliet homework resource, due Friday 19th. Well done for finding this! You the third bullet point on the essay plan (in red at the bottom of this post) and your notes to help you write this bit of your essay.

Act 3, Scene 5

SCENE V. Capulet's orchard. Enter ROMEO and JULIET above, at the window
JULIET Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.
ROMEO It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
JULIET Yon light is not day-light, I know it, I:
It is some meteor that the sun exhales,
To be to thee this night a torch-bearer,
And light thee on thy way to Mantua:
Therefore stay yet; thou need'st not to be gone.
ROMEO Let me be ta'en, let me be put to death;
I am content, so thou wilt have it so.
I'll say yon grey is not the morning's eye,
'Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia's brow;
Nor that is not the lark, whose notes do beat
The vaulty heaven so high above our heads:
I have more care to stay than will to go:
Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.
How is't, my soul? let's talk; it is not day.
JULIET It is, it is: hie hence, be gone, away!
It is the lark that sings so out of tune,
Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.
Some say the lark makes sweet division;
This doth not so, for she divideth us:
Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes,
O, now I would they had changed voices too!
Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray,
Hunting thee hence with hunt's-up to the day,
O, now be gone; more light and light it grows.
ROMEO More light and light; more dark and dark our woes!

Enter Nurse, to the chamber
NURSE Madam!
NURSE Your lady mother is coming to your chamber:
The day is broke; be wary, look about.
JULIET Then, window, let day in, and let life out.
ROMEO Farewell, farewell! one kiss, and I'll descend.
He goeth down
JULIET Art thou gone so? love, lord, ay, husband, friend!
I must hear from thee every day in the hour,
For in a minute there are many days:
O, by this count I shall be much in years
Ere I again behold my Romeo!
ROMEO Farewell! I will omit no opportunity
That may convey my greetings, love, to thee.
JULIET O think'st thou we shall ever meet again?
ROMEO I doubt it not; and all these woes shall serve
For sweet discourses in our time to come.
JULIET O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee, now thou art below,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb:
Either my eyesight fails, or thou look'st pale.
ROMEO And trust me, love, in my eye so do you:
Dry sorrow drinks our blood. Adieu, adieu!
JULIET O fortune, fortune! all men call thee fickle:
If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him.
That is renown'd for faith? Be fickle, fortune;
For then, I hope, thou wilt not keep him long,
But send him back.
LADY CAPULET [Within] Ho, daughter! are you up?
JULIET Who is't that calls? is it my lady mother?
Is she not down so late, or up so early?
What unaccustom'd cause procures her hither?
LADY CAPULET Why, how now, Juliet!
JULIET Madam, I am not well.
LADY CAPULET Evermore weeping for your cousin's death?
What, wilt thou wash him from his grave with tears?
An if thou couldst, thou couldst not make him live;
Therefore, have done: some grief shows much of love;
But much of grief shows still some want of wit.
JULIET Yet let me weep for such a feeling loss.
LADY CAPULET So shall you feel the loss, but not the friend
Which you weep for.
JULIET Feeling so the loss,
Cannot choose but ever weep the friend.
LADY CAPULET Well, girl, thou weep'st not so much for his death,
As that the villain lives which slaughter'd him.
JULIET What villain madam?
LADY CAPULET That same villain, Romeo.
JULIET [Aside] Villain and he be many miles asunder.--
God Pardon him! I do, with all my heart;
And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart.
LADY CAPULET That is because the traitor murderer lives.
JULIET Ay, madam, from the reach of these my hands:
Would none but I might venge my cousin's death!
LADY CAPULET We will have vengeance for it, fear thou not:
Then weep no more. I'll send to one in Mantua,
Where that same banish'd runagate doth live,
Shall give him such an unaccustom'd dram,
That he shall soon keep Tybalt company:
And then, I hope, thou wilt be satisfied.
JULIET Indeed, I never shall be satisfied
With Romeo, till I behold him--dead--
Is my poor heart for a kinsman vex'd.
Madam, if you could find out but a man
To bear a poison, I would temper it;
That Romeo should, upon receipt thereof,
Soon sleep in quiet. O, how my heart abhors
To hear him named, and cannot come to him.
To wreak the love I bore my cousin
Upon his body that slaughter'd him!
LADY CAPULET Find thou the means, and I'll find such a man.
But now I'll tell thee joyful tidings, girl.
JULIET And joy comes well in such a needy time:
What are they, I beseech your ladyship?
LADY CAPULET Well, well, thou hast a careful father, child;
One who, to put thee from thy heaviness,
Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy,
That thou expect'st not nor I look'd not for.
JULIET Madam, in happy time, what day is that?
LADY CAPULET Marry, my child, early next Thursday morn,
The gallant, young and noble gentleman,
The County Paris, at Saint Peter's Church,
Shall happily make thee there a joyful bride.
JULIET Now, by Saint Peter's Church and Peter too,
He shall not make me there a joyful bride.
I wonder at this haste; that I must wed
Ere he, that should be husband, comes to woo.
I pray you, tell my lord and father, madam,
I will not marry yet; and, when I do, I swear,
It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate,
Rather than Paris. These are news indeed!
LADY CAPULET Here comes your father; tell him so yourself,
And see how he will take it at your hands.
CAPULET When the sun sets, the air doth drizzle dew;
But for the sunset of my brother's son
It rains downright.
How now! a conduit, girl? what, still in tears?
Evermore showering? In one little body
Thou counterfeit'st a bark, a sea, a wind;
For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea,
Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is,
Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, thy sighs;
Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them,
Without a sudden calm, will overset
Thy tempest-tossed body. How now, wife!
Have you deliver'd to her our decree?
LADY CAPULET Ay, sir; but she will none, she gives you thanks.
I would the fool were married to her grave!
CAPULET Soft! take me with you, take me with you, wife.
How! will she none? doth she not give us thanks?
Is she not proud? doth she not count her blest,
Unworthy as she is, that we have wrought
So worthy a gentleman to be her bridegroom?
JULIET Not proud, you have; but thankful, that you have:
Proud can I never be of what I hate;
But thankful even for hate, that is meant love.
CAPULET How now, how now, chop-logic! What is this?
'Proud,' and 'I thank you,' and 'I thank you not;'
And yet 'not proud,' mistress minion, you,
Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds,
But fettle your fine joints 'gainst Thursday next,
To go with Paris to Saint Peter's Church,
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green-sickness carrion! out, you baggage!
You tallow-face!
LADY CAPULET Fie, fie! what, are you mad?
JULIET Good father, I beseech you on my knees,
Hear me with patience but to speak a word.
CAPULET Hang thee, young baggage! disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church o' Thursday,
Or never after look me in the face:
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me;
My fingers itch. Wife, we scarce thought us blest
That God had lent us but this only child;
But now I see this one is one too much,
And that we have a curse in having her:
Out on her, hilding!
NURSE God in heaven bless her!
You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so.
CAPULET And why, my lady wisdom? hold your tongue,
Good prudence; smatter with your gossips, go.
NURSE I speak no treason.
CAPULET O, God ye god-den.
NURSE May not one speak?
CAPULET Peace, you mumbling fool!
Utter your gravity o'er a gossip's bowl;
For here we need it not.
LADY CAPULET You are too hot.
CAPULET God's bread! it makes me mad:
Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play,
Alone, in company, still my care hath been
To have her match'd: and having now provided
A gentleman of noble parentage,
Of fair demesnes, youthful, and nobly train'd,
Stuff'd, as they say, with honourable parts,
Proportion'd as one's thought would wish a man;
And then to have a wretched puling fool,
A whining mammet, in her fortune's tender,
To answer 'I'll not wed; I cannot love,
I am too young; I pray you, pardon me.'
But, as you will not wed, I'll pardon you:
Graze where you will you shall not house with me:
Look to't, think on't, I do not use to jest.
Thursday is near; lay hand on heart, advise:
An you be mine, I'll give you to my friend;
And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,
For, by my soul, I'll ne'er acknowledge thee,
Nor what is mine shall never do thee good:
Trust to't, bethink you; I'll not be forsworn.
JULIET Is there no pity sitting in the clouds,
That sees into the bottom of my grief?
O, sweet my mother, cast me not away!
Delay this marriage for a month, a week;
Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed
In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.
LADY CAPULET Talk not to me, for I'll not speak a word:
Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.
JULIET O God!--O nurse, how shall this be prevented?
My husband is on earth, my faith in heaven;
How shall that faith return again to earth,
Unless that husband send it me from heaven
By leaving earth? comfort me, counsel me.
Alack, alack, that heaven should practise stratagems
Upon so soft a subject as myself!
What say'st thou? hast thou not a word of joy?
Some comfort, nurse.
NURSE Faith, here it is.
Romeo is banish'd; and all the world to nothing,
That he dares ne'er come back to challenge you;
Or, if he do, it needs must be by stealth.
Then, since the case so stands as now it doth,
I think it best you married with the county.
O, he's a lovely gentleman!
Romeo's a dishclout to him: an eagle, madam,
Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye
As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart,
I think you are happy in this second match,
For it excels your first: or if it did not,
Your first is dead; or 'twere as good he were,
As living here and you no use of him.
JULIET Speakest thou from thy heart?
NURSE And from my soul too;
Or else beshrew them both.
JULIET Well, thou hast comforted me marvellous much.
Go in: and tell my lady I am gone,
Having displeased my father, to Laurence' cell,
To make confession and to be absolved.
NURSE Marry, I will; and this is wisely done.
JULIET Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!
Is it more sin to wish me thus forsworn,
Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue
Which she hath praised him with above compare
So many thousand times? Go, counsellor;
Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain.
I'll to the friar, to know his remedy:
If all else fail, myself have power to die.

Look again at Act IV scene 3 of Romeo & Juliet.
What does the scene tell us about Juliet’s predicament and personality?

- Remember, the social and cultural context, the literary tradition, the overall structure of the play and analysis of language should come naturally into this as you write, rather than being ‘bolted on’ as separate paragraphs-

· The status quo in Verona: patriarchy, male bravado, sexism, the treatment of women, the feud intensifying this. Romeo’s participation in this culture- oxymorons, military language when talking about Rosaline. This establishes the predicament of women generally.

· Juliet’s love for Romeo- this contradicts the ‘rules’ of the feud and makes her predicament more vulnerable. The purity and intensity of their love, the sonnet, her strength of character and rational, reasoned personality allows her to manage this predicament better than Romeo.

· Romeo and Juliet’s only night together- the secret marriage reverses the value of light and dark imagery in the play. The death of Mercutio and Tybalt and its political consequences: Lord Capulet puts Juliet in the impossible predicament of having to marry Paris so he can elevate the position of his family after the death of Mercutio at the hands of a Capulet (Tybalt). Lord Capulet’s patriarchal domination of Juliet, her abandonment by Lady Capulet, the Nurse, Romeo- her predicament of complete isolation. Juliet’s personality becomes rebellious and almost irrational under these pressures- argument with her father. Goes to her last friend- the friar. His rather precarious plan to allow Juliet to escape her predicament.

· Juliet’s predicament in IV.3 and how it is affects her personality- begins to break down, lose her strength of character under the enormous political and psychological pressures. How this breakdown is enacted in the soliloquy- discuss the way Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to reveal personality and predicament, rather than simply move the plot forward- literary tradition. Use the handout with the circle on it!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Y9: Summary of Richard III.
Richard III Summary

Richard III does have a pretty complicated plot. This is because:
a) It’s the last one in a series of four plays: Henry VIth Part One, Henry VIth Part Two, Henry VIth Part Three and Richard III. Reading it is a bit like coming in to a film halfway through.
b) It’s based on real history, and real history is always more complicated than stories someone made up.
c) Because it’s history, Shakespeare had to use real names and a lot of them are the same: it’s easy to get the four Edwards (three in the play and another one mentioned), two Richards (both in the play), two Elizabeths (one in the play and another mentioned), two Margarets (both in the play) and two Henrys (one in the play and another one mentioned) mixed up!

· Richard, Duke of Gloucester, hates the new peace made possible by the triumph of his brother Edward IV and the House of York. Secretly he plots the downfall of those who stand between him and the throne.
· Richard convinces Edward IV to send their own brother Clarence to jail because his name starts with a G (George, Duke of Clarence) and a wizard has predicted someone whose initial is G will prevent Edward’s sons being kings.
· On his way to see his brother Edward IV who is sick, Richard meets Anne Neville, widow of Edward Prince of Wales, King Henry VI's son. She is taking Henry VI's body to be buried and is angry with Richard for killing both her husband and her father-in-law.
· Richard tells Anne that he killed her husband Prince Edward and her father in law King Henry VI because he loves her and wanted her for himself. She seems convinced!
· Queen Elizabeth, King Edward IV's wife, says that Richard would look after the kingdom if Edward IV dies.
· Queen Margaret (Henry VI's widow) shows up and deals out curses to her enemies, the House of York. She hopes: King Edward IV will die of his illness; Prince Edward, Edward IV’s son, will die young; Queen Elizabeth will live long as neither, wife, mother nor Queen; Earl Rivers (Queen Elizabeth’s brother), Marquess of Dorset (Queen Elizabeth’s son by a previous marriage), and Hastings all die unnatural deaths; Richard will be friends with traitors and betrayed by friends; Queen Elizabeth will one day wish for Queen Margaret's help to curse Richard. Margaret spares Buckingham telling him he hasn't wronged her, but he insults her so she curses him too.
· In the Tower of London, two murderers, paid by Richard kill, Clarence by drowning him in a wine barrel.
· Clarence's children, Edward and Margaret Plantagenet, are told that their father is dead.
· Edward IV dies of his illness and Queen Elizabeth laments.
· Dorset and Grey, the Queen’s sons by a previous marriage are imprisoned in Pomfret Castle.
· Hearing of this, Queen Elizabeth, her son Richard Duke of York and the Duchess of York, her mother-in-law, run to safety.
· Prince Edward, son of the dead King Edward IV, arrives in London and gets his brother Richard Duke of York out of hiding to meet him.
· Richard sends his nephews Richard Duke of York and Prince Edward to the Tower of London. He plans to kill the boys and become king.
· Rivers (brother of Queen Elizabeth), and Grey (her son by previous marriage) are executed at Pomfret Castle In a meeting at the Tower, Richard blames Hastings for the treason and has him beheaded.
· Richard starts rumours that Edward IV's children (Richard Duke of York and Prince Edward) are bastards, and furthermore, that Edward IV himself was a bastard, which makes him next in line to the throne as the dead king’s brother. Also, Richard devises a plan to get rid of Clarence's children (Edward and Margaret Plantagenet), just to be on the safe side (they are, after all, the dead King Edward IVth’s niece and nephew).
· The Mayor of London comes to Richard and offers him the throne, which he accepts, becoming King Richard III.
· Queen Elizabeth tells her surviving son Dorset to leave England to see Richmond (later, Henry VII).
· Richard III plans to crown Anne Neville queen, fulfilling Anne's own curse that Richard III's future wife be cursed and miserable.
· Richard III plans to have Clarence's daughter, his own niece Margaret, married off to a poor man to get rid of her.
· Richard also plans to kill his own wife Anne Neville, then marry Edward IV's daughter, his own niece, Elizabeth.
· Richard III pays Tyrrel to kill his nephews Prince Edward and Richard Duke of York since Buckingham is unwilling to do it.
· Richard III remembers a prophesy that Richmond (Henry VI's nephew) would be king one day.
· Richard’s wife Anne and his nephews Prince Edward and Richard Duke of York are killed, Clarence’s daughter Margaret is married off, Clarence's son Edward Plantagenet is killed, and Richard III goes to woo his niece Elizabeth away from Richmond. Richard’s position as King is looking pretty strong!
· However, Ely joins Richmond and Buckingham who raise an army against Richard III.
· Old Queen Margaret (Henry VI's wife) meets the Duchess of York (Richard III’s mother) and Queen Elizabeth (Edward IV’s widow) and tells them to curse Richard III, and they do.
· All of Richard III's victims come to him in a dream to haunt and torment him. All say, "Despair and die" to Richard III, causing him to go insane. The same ghosts also visit Richmond and wish him luck.
· The two armies meet in battle on Bosworth Field, both generals giving orations to their armies before battle. Richard III fights valiantly. Richmond kills Richard III and Stanley crowns Richmond Henry VII. Henry VII, a Lancaster, marries Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth, a York, ending the War of the Roses by uniting the houses of York and Lancaster.
Y12: Just in case anyone missed it, here are the Hamlet essays I remarked and returned electronically over Christmas. Next up, the poetry of John Donne. Make sure when you return your essays promptly on the 5th January (or before) and they are presented correctly: word count; bibliography; clear font in 12-point; double spaced (on the toolbar in Word, looks like four lines with arrows pointing up and down to the left side of the lines). See you in the New Year.

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]


ADVICE: THE QUALITY OF THE ESSAY CARRIES THE EXTRA LENGTH SO YOU’LL BE OKAY THERE. HOWEVER, IT COULD DO WITH A BIT OF RESTRUCTURING- SOME OF THE TOPICS DON’T REALLY FLOW OR LEAD ONE FROM THE OTHER- MAYBE YOU COULD RE-ORDER IT A BIT OR ADD SOME ‘SIGNPOST’ SENTENCES’ LIKE ‘MUCH OF THE EVIDENCE FOR HAMLET’S FEELINGS FOR HIS MOTHER ARE IN HIS SOLILOQUIES’ ETC.T.S Eliot suggests that the cause of Hamlet's madness, the explanation for his melancholy and motivation for his actions is his mother's ‘sins’ of infidelity (at least to his father’s memory, if not actually to his father) and betrayal. This leads Eliot to suggest that the play is a failure because Gertrude’s sins 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 trauma of seeing his dead father's ghost, which rocks his (presumably) Protestant beliefs. Dover Wilson would then assume that Hamlet's actions were, if not justified, then at least understandable to the audience and therefore the play is not a failure. T.S Eliot hints at the fact that Hamlet is suffering from an Oedipus complex, although he would "not perhaps go to the length of the psychoanalyst Dr Ernest Jones" [John Dover Wilson]. This means that Hamlet is sexually attracted and obsessed with his mother and therefore he is envious of Claudius' relationship with her. 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. The use of the word "sullied" suggests he is dirty and feels disgusted with himself in comparison to the purity of new snow, "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt, / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew" [ 1.2.129]. This can be interpreted as Hamlet feeling even more disgust for himself because he has romantic or sexual feelings for his mother. As this is deemed utterly wrong by modern day and Shakespearean society, Hamlet's incoherence and hysterical anguish in this soliloquy is understandable. By repeating himself in "…too too sullied…" and again in "O God! O God!" Hamlet is again being incoherent – an indication of his mental turmoil. Further on in the soliloquy, Hamlet makes brief reference of his father as a great king who was "so loving to my mother" [1.2.140]. He wants to believe that his parents had the perfect relationship. Here, Hamlet also could be trying to convince himself of his own father's greatness so as to have a reason to hate Claudius and justify his own anguish. Lying to himself and being convincing enough to not realize it is an obvious sign that Hamlet could be heading towards a mental breakdown. On the other hand, Dover Wilson can argue that what Hamlet was feeling at the time was fully understandable to a Shakespearean audience as marrying an in-law was regarded as incest at the time: Henry VIII had used a biblical law against marriage between in-laws as the basis for his divorce from his first wife just 40 years before Hamlet was written. This historical fact weakens Eliot's whole argument considerably, as it becomes apparent that the Shakespearean audience would have agreed with Hamlet on the level of disgust inherent in his mother’s second marriage. In any case, it is true that 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 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. 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 immediately after the encounter with the ghost, Hamlet reveals his emotions, which mainly concentrate 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 here indicates that he is now more distressed after seeing the ghost than he was with his mother's 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 affected by a loss of faith after the appearance of the ghost as well. Dover Wilson would cite this as a major trigger for Hamlet’s emotional turmoil as it occurs just before Hamlet's second emotionally charged speech. 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. 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 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 mother’s 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.This is reinforced by the second soliloquy, which again mainly focuses on his father's death rather than his mother's sins. Hamlet is clearly struggling with whether or not to kill Claudius, as although he has all the reason in the world to, he has a twisted respect for him. He sees himself as a coward because he hasn't done anything yet, even though Pyrrhus killed Priam for less. Whereas he talked about his father with respect in the first soliloquy, it now appears that he can see flaws in his father's warrior like character and sees himself in some way in Claudius. Dover Wilson would point out that when Hamlet asks, "who does me this?" ( 2.2.570) in reference to Claudius, he answers his own question with "ha!" (2.2.571) because he can't say his name. This is the way he treated saying his mother’s name and sins in the first soliloquy so this suggests that this is just the way he deals with things that are uncomfortable to him and that he doesn't have any sexual feelings for his mother. This would rebuke the argument for Eliot given previously when I suggested that Hamlet's incoherence in the first soliloquy was a direct reaction to his mother’s sins alone. On the other hand, Eliot could say that Hamlet can't talk about his mother at all and his reaction is more intense so he has more of an issue with his mother than Claudius. His twisted respect for Claudius is also shown in the scene leading up to Hamlet's 4th soliloquy. When Fortinbras marches through Denmark to invade a small, useless part of Poland, Hamlet reacts in a similar way to how Claudius would. He realises that the war is so pointless that the "Polack never will defend it" ( 4.4.23) and can't see that Fortinbras is doing it for honour and glory, much like his own father would have done. Hamlet realizes this in his subsequent soliloquy in which he says, "What is a man / If his chief good and market of this time / Be but to sleep and feed? A beast no more." ( 4.4.33). The beast is Claudius as he is not a true man with honour like Old Hamlet in Hamlet's eyes. This shows that he is trying to talk himself into being like Old Hamlet because he isn't really a violent character and is trying to show his hatred for Claudius. This indicates that he is more concerned with Claudius' sins than his mother’s because he is deliberately trying to be unlike him. The theory of double entry during Act II Scene 2 can be interpreted to support either Dover Wilson or Eliot. The argument is whether Hamlet overhears the conversation between Ophelia, Claudius and Polonius or if he is offensive to Ophelia in Act III Scene 1 for other reasons. During the conversation, the trio plot to find the cause of Hamlet's madness, with Claudius and Polonius both having separate motives. If Hamlet does overhear, this is evidence for Dover Wilson as his treatment for Ophelia is not motivated by a hate or disgust for women. On the other hand, if he didn't overhear, T.S Eliot could argue that he treats Ophelia disgracefully because he hates women and this relates back to his relationship with his mother. In my opinion, the evidence suggests that Hamlet did overhear the conversation, as he is witty and rude to Polonius after he fully enters the scene. He says, "You are a fishmonger." ( 2.2.174) which suggests that Polonius is a "pimp" to his daughter who he is using to fuel his own motivation to gain more power. He also acts like he is losing his mind, switching from subject to subject like he does when he is genuinely crazy but in this instance cleverly and coherently, "…being a / good kissing carrion- Have you a daughter?" ( 2.2.181). This means that he is putting on a show for Polonius, he doesn't want him to be aware that he knows about the murder or that he isn't genuinely mad.When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, Hamlet admits that he has been miserable recently, but the reason for his misery is not the fact that he isn't King, "I could be bound in a nutshell and count / myself a king of infinite space". Eliot would suggest here that his motivation for his melancholy is his mother's actions as he isn't even sure if what the ghost has told him is true at this point. Hamlet asks his friends "what makes you at Elsinore?" because he wants them to admit their reasons for being there – to spy on him. This would indicate that Dover Wilson is again more correct in his assumption that it is a range of factors rather than just his mother that causes his depression. At this point, Hamlet is also showing that he has become a misanthrope because he has become tired of life and although he can see the beauty of man, he has realized that it all become nothing once you die. This is a classic convention of a tragic hero and again supports Dover Wilson because he has lost all love of life; it is not specifically because of his mother. After the third soliloquy, Ophelia enters to return Hamlet's belongings after their relationship has ended. The subsequent scene can be interpreted in two ways depending on whether the double entry theory is true. If it is true, as Dover Wilson argues, Hamlet’s coarse and hostile language is a reaction to the fact that Ophelia is being used as a spy against him. On the other hand, if the analyst doesn't believe the double entry theory, like TS Eliot, it could be interpreted that Hamlet's cruel treatment of her is because of his hatred of women, which began because of his sexual obsession with his mother and her sins. Hamlet also treats his mother badly during the closet scene because he hates her for her treatment of his father. Hamlet also believes that Gertrude was involved in the murder but Shakespeare writes Gertrude ambiguously so that the audience never really knows if she was. Each of her responses to Hamlet's accusations can be construed differently- either as innocent bewilderment or as a guilty person trying to throw the scent of them. For instance, Hamlet says, "Almost as bad, good mother / As kill a King and marry with his brother." ( 3.4.28) and Gertrude replies "As kill a King?" (3.4.30) which could either mean she is shocked and worried that he knows or that she is genuinely bewildered. Dover Wilson would like to believe that Gertrude is guilty because then her sins are enough to warrant Hamlet's mental breakdown. TS Eliot stated that the play was a failure because Gertrude's sins were not enough and therefore he must believe she was innocent in the murder. During this scene he also accidentally murders Polonius, believing it is Claudius hiding behind the curtains. When Ophelia learns of her father's death, this and the end of her relationship with Hamlet drives her crazy. This is a reflection of Hamlet's own situation, where he slowly goes mad after the death of his father. Throughout the play there are many parallels similar to this: both Hamlet and Fortinbras have had their fathers murdered and their thrones stolen and both are named after their fathers, whilst Laertes also has a murdered father and a ‘whored’ mother, much like Hamlet. Perhaps this shows that the play is about fathers and sons and less about mothers and sons as TS Eliot suggests. Another example of a parallel sub-plot is the Mousetrap play within a play. In this scene Hamlet sets up a play to repeat the murder of his father in order to see if Claudius experiences any recognition or guilt of the events. It would seem that Hamlet would need to be in a position to look at Claudius, but instead he tells Horatio to look at him and he himself looks at Gertrude to see her reaction. Hamlet also lays across Ophelia's lap in a very inappropriate way in this scene and bombards her with sexual innuendos and gross images. In my opinion, this section of the play is Eliot's strongest piece of evidence to suggest that Hamlet's issue is with his mother mainly and other women as a result of his mother's sins because he seems relatively unconcerned with Claudius' reaction. In my opinion, there is a lot more evidence to support Dover Wilson's claim than Eliot's. If the discovery about the incest between a widow and brother in law had not been made, I believe Eliot would have had a much stronger case but as most his arguments seem to be supported on Hamlet having sexual feelings for his mother his argument is weakened considerably. Although some of Eliot's views do make more sense than Dover Wilson's, Dover Wilson presents a much more varied argument, including a wider range of factors and is therefore less easy to dismiss with counter evidence. In this case I believe that Eliot was wrong in stating that the play is a failure due to a lack of Gertrude's sins as it was a culmination of many factors that lead to Hamlet's downfall.
How far do you agree that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”?


T.S Eliot argues that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son” and this is what motivated Hamlet to act in the way he does. However, he argues that this reason does not adequately support Hamlet’s actions and therefore the play fails; he states “Hamlet is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear”. On the other hand, the critic John Dover Wilson argues that this is untrue and the play therefore does not fail: Hamlet has many adequate reasons leading him to do the things he does, which trouble him more than “the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son.” These reasons include the appearance of the ghost of his murdered father, whom was murdered by his uncle, not to mention the fact that the murderer has also taken a kingdom that was rightly his. The appearance of the ghost would ultimately lead to break down of his of his faith that would be assumed to be Protestantism. Also so many of his friends have turned against him; Ophelia is used to spy on him, (even though there is controversy whether Hamlet knows this or not,) also his school friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to spy on him, perhaps leading to misanthropy.

There is plentiful evidence to support both arguments; the first soliloquy particularly supports T.S Eliot’s theory, with Hamlet’s ranting about his mother. However, Dover Wilson would argue that this is because he has not yet found out the truth behind Claudius’ crowning.

Hamlet’s first soliloquy reveals him as an emotional wreck: He talks about “self slaughter,” and compares his flesh to “sullied” snow- something has made him impure. T.S Eliot would suggest that this overwhelming grief is to do with Hamlet’s feelings for his mother. When he speaks about his mother in this soliloquy we see words of genuine anger, Hamlet’s speech- which is normally extremely eloquent deteriorates into lists- “Fie on’t, ah, fie”. Also there is excessive use of punctuation, breaking his sentences and making them choppy. T.S Eliot says this is because his mother has driven him insane, in her actions. He is unable to think of Claudius and his mother whenever he gets close to it, he stops, he cannot say it; “Let me not think on’t.”

Later in the play we see Hamlet feign an “antic disposition,” it is directly after the meeting of the ghost, we see the same sorts of characteristics of madness as we do in the first soliloquy, Horatio comments “these are wild and whirling words my lord” after this comment we see Hamlet reveal his plan of displaying an “antic disposition” this could be perhaps to cover up his true insanity, as fresh from an encounter with his father’s murdered ghost, he is undoubtedly going to be suffering some emotional turmoil, but it could also be protection for him from Claudius, as if Claudius does happen to find out what is going on, he will have to do something about it. When we see him feigning this antic disposition he is still very articulate in his speech: however when we see him in moments of genuine emotional havoc, he is so overcome his speech is impeded.

Eliot also points out that continuous references are made to his mother’s hasty marriage yet he does not appear so obsessed with Claudius: he seems obsessed only with the part his mother played in it, he compares her to an “unweeded garden,” and when he talks about it he says “But two months dead-“ and his speech breaks off, perhaps showing his total disgust for this. He complains about her grieving with “most unrighteous tears” Hamlet feels his father has been betrayed, he feels great anger that she remarried so quickly “She married. O most wicked speed!” T.S Eliot states that he cannot speak about his mother and his speech is broken because he is “dominated by an emotion which in inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear.” However Dover Wilson claims that Hamlet’s emotions are perfectly justified at this point because of other facts such as he has not been made king, as well as his mother’s “o’er hasty marriage.” Dover Wilson goes on to claim that Hamlet is “jealous” of his mother in the sense that he wants no one else to have her, he is not sexually envious of Claudius as T.S Eliot suggests. Wilson says that Eliot “would perhaps not go to the lengths of the psycho-analyst Dr Ernest Jones who declares that Hamlet suffers from and Oedipus complex because Shakespeare did also, but he seems to hint at such a solution.”
Hamlet refers to his mother’s bed sheets as incestuous: other references are made throughout the play, for example in Scene 3 Act 4 some directors portray Hamlet forcing Gertrude down on to a bed, however by some it is played as being forced down onto a chair; there is dispute how Shakespeare himself would have played it. However, Dover Wilson claims this to be untrue he states that at the time the play the written it would have indeed been incest for someone to marry their brother’s wife due to complications in Henry VIII marriage and the creation of the Church of the England. So the contemporary audience would have indeed seen this relationship as incestuous, this appears to be a point that is over looked by Mr. T.S Eliot. Yet more evidence that Hamlet does not have sexual feelings for his mother is that the ghost also terms the relationship as incestuous, he refers to Claudius as “that incestuous, that adulterate beast”

Another claim made by T.S Eliot is that Hamlet is perhaps also a misogynist, his terrible treatment of the only two women in the play, Gertrude and Ophelia gives him plentiful evidence to make this claim. His verbal abuse of Gertrude referring to her as “cold mother” and makes a mention to that fact she is not wearing “customary suit of solemn black”. He also treats Ophelia particularly badly in the closet scene, which we see the result of a trap set by Claudius and Polonius to find out the reason for Hamlet’s insanity. Hamlet tells her to “Get thee to a Nunnery” a Nunnery again having a sordid link and meaning brothel, although you can instantly see this is derogatory it may not be entirely to degrade her, as Eliot thinks. Dover Wilson claims that Hamlet knew that Claudius and Polonius were actually listening in due to the fact that he is actually already on stage and can eavesdrop on the conspirators, this may or may not have been expressed in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Therefore this may influence his behavior on his reactions to Ophelia as he knows it’s a trap. THIS IS UNCLEAR- YOU NEED TO EXPLAIN THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE DOUBLE ENTRY SCENE AND THE LOBBY SCENE WITH OPHELIA.

The reason for this claim being down to the way the play is actually played, in Act two Scene two Wilson argues the double entry theory, this being that Hamlet actually comes on stage, and over hears the plan. As in Shakespeare’s Globe theatre Hamlet could have appeared on the covered part of the stage, and over heard the main dialogue on the outer stage. There are several hints that this could be true as immediately when the characters see Hamlet on stage he address Polonius as a “Fishmonger” or pimp, he also tells Polonius on the matter of his daughter “Let her not walk i’th’ sun” arguably this means that Hamlet has overheard and warns him do not let her walk in to the son of old Hamlet, it could also reference the fact that people tanned by the “sun” were those of the lower classes who worked in the fields, and if Ophelia was soiled by him but not married she would be worthless.

In the closet scene there is two possible meanings for what is unfolding, if the Dover Wilson’s double entry is true we would see Hamlet acting insanely and hatefully towards her to protect his plan to catch Claudius with a play, and if it is not and Eliot is right we will see Hamlet insane and hateful towards Ophelia because he has a problem with women. Before Hamlet asks the question”where is your father?” He does seem genuinely mad at Ophelia, and calls her a “bawd”, perhaps suggesting that it is Ophelia he does have a problem with, however even if the double entry theory is true he may also be mad at her due to her agreement to spy on her after all he says “I did love you once” this betrayal may have caused hatred. After the question about her father is asked we see him starting to be even more malicious to her perhaps as a show to Claudius and Polonius or perhaps in support of Eliot’s misogyny argument.

However Hamlet shows genuine anger when he continually refers her to a “Nunnery,” suggesting that she should either keep her self pure, or not allow herself to be used like a prostitute. Conversely, in support of the double entry theory Hamlet says “your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty” basically meaning she knows he is being spied upon. Both interpretations are plausible, and maybe there is a little bit of both happening in this scene; Hamlet knows he is being spied upon, making him want to appear angry, but is also genuinely angry with Ophelia for going along with this plan.

In Act 3 Scene 4 we see the encounter between Hamlet and Gertrude in her chamber; it is also in this scene we see the murder of Polonius. In this scene Hamlet comments about the way he will treat Gertrude he says “I will speak daggers to her, but use none” This he does, calling his own mother a whore, sayng her lies to his father and promises to Claudius take the blush- “From the fair forehead of innocent love /And sets a blister there”
If Gertrude is portrayed as innocent, showing Eliot’s point of the view, she is therefore unaware of what has happened with the murder, and when Hamlet mentions the “bloody deed,” she responds with shock “As kill a king?” as to keep Eliot’s view point she has to be blissfully innocent so Hamlet’s reactions can be considered “in excess of the facts as they appear”. However although she does seemed shocked and wonder what she has done to warrant “thy tongue in noise so rude against” However is Gertrude is played as evil and aware of or part of Claudius’ plans, then this shock is just Gertrude attempting to deny that she had had any involvement. It is hard to determine what Gertrude’s thoughts are throughout the play, as we never see her alone and she has no soliloquies, unlike Hamlet who has five.
Hamlet uses sexually explicit phrases, such as “the rank sweat of an enseamed bed” infact Hamlet does seem to mention the sexual aspect of their relationship a lot, perhaps being a point for T.S Eliot every time he mentions Claudius he channels his thoughts in a sexual way (“incestuous sheets/ go not to my uncles bed”). However we know this is Hamlet’s plan, to “speak daggers to her,” in an attempt to induce her guilt. Also another argument for T.S Eliot is the fact that Hamlet is so worked up over his mother, perhaps so mad that he has hallucinated the ghost of his father, as his mother cannot see it “Alas, he’s mad!” is her reaction when he starts talking to the ghost. Yet when we have seen this ghost previously it has appeared to everyone, not just Hamlet.

Both critics make valid points about the play, and certainly T.S Eliot does have some ground on which to base his argument, Hamlet even says “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I Have bad dreams,” so it is apparently not on his main agenda that he has lost his crown. Dover Wilson argue that when Hamlet lists his troubles it tends to be father first “That have a father killed, a mother stained,” Mother is mention second perhaps suggesting that this is secondary to the killing of his father. Also another major point for Dover Wilson to explain his extreme reaction to his mother is the fact he does react extremely too a lot of things, for example the scene of Ophelia’s funeral we see Hamlet violent reaction, he proclaims “whose wicked deed they most ingenious sense deprived thee of” before he leaps into grapple with Laertes. This is not the only thing to suggest that Hamlet has extremely poor way of handling bad news, when he finds out about Claudius plot for his murder he does not consider his to old school friends are innocent, he just condemns them straight to hell- “He should those bearers put to sudden death, Not shriving time allowed.” Despite this at the end of the play while Claudius is dying he proclaims “thou incestuous murderous damned Dane” T.S Eliot would note that he does mention ‘incestuous’ before he mention the murder, even though it is possibly not incest in the way T.S Eliot perceives, yet still his last words to Claudius are “follow my mother” not ‘follow Laertes’, who was after all in the same situation as Hamlet.

Despite all of this the end of the play is still mainly about sons and fathers, Laertes wanting revenge for the death of his, as does Hamlet, and also Fortinbras who Hamlet declares King in the last moments of his life, this parallelism in Hamlet does tend to suggest that the main theme of the play is not mothers and their sons: even though that is part of it, and Eliot does make some valid points, the true motivation of Hamlet is a combination of many ‘sins’ rather than an obsession with one.

Word count: 2,352

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)

According to TS Eliot, Hamlet’s chief motivation and the principle cause of his melancholy is his disgust at his mother, Gertrude, caused by her quick remarriage to his uncle. Furthermore, Eliot argues that Gertrude’s sins are not extreme enough to excuse Hamlet’s madness and that “his disgust envelops and exceeds her.” He goes on to argue that Hamlet’s inability to express his disgust is in fact Shakespeare’s own failure as a playwright and that he “tackled a problem which proved too much for him.” Eliot also seems to imply that Hamlet’s disgust is not at his mother directly but at his own incestuous feelings towards her: as the critic John Dover Wilson says “[Eliot] would not perhaps go to the length of the psycho-analyst Dr Earnest Jones, who declares that Hamlet suffers from an Oedipus complex, because Shakespeare did also, but he seems to hint at such a solution.”
Furthermore, Dover Wilson argues that it is a number of different causes which motivates Hamlet in his madness, including: his father’s death; Claudius’ usurpation of his crown; Ophelia’s ‘rejection’ of his love; his friends being used as informants against him; the disruption of his Protestant faith due to the ghost’s appearance as well as Gertrude’s hasty remarriage to his uncle. In Dover Wilson’s opinion it is the combination of factors, not one solely, which cause his depression and which lies behind his ‘antic disposition’ (1.5.180). He also understands, due to one historical fact that Eliot seems to have overlooked, that Hamlet has full rights to being disgusted at his mother due to her “incestuous” (1.2.157) marriage to his uncle and it is this point which can explain a lot of Hamlet’s concerns of his mother’s relationship in his first soliloquy.
From the first soliloquy it is obvious that Hamlet’s mind is tormented, he is melancholic, angry and suicidal, wishing “…that the Everlasting had not fix’d/ His canon 'gainst self-slaughter.” (1.2.131/2). His state of mind is confused and irrational, and this is enacted through the way he speaks: Shakespeare breaks the speech up with punctuation, creating pauses and stops, showing that Hamlet, an articulate individual, is made incapable of expressing his thoughts fluently,.especially in comparison to the speech Claudius gives at the beginning of the scene, which is calm, complex, well communicated and fluent.
Furthermore, we can see in the content of the speech that the focus of Hamlet’s anger is his mother. His irrationality communicates his particular anger at his mother not mourning long enough, as a widow should, and marrying just two months after his father’s death. Hamlet sees this as disrespectful to his father’s memory, but the main issue is arguably Hamlet’s apparent incapability in accepting his mother’s sexuality. His thoughts linger on his mother’s relationship with his uncle but every time he comes close to actually drawing on the fact that they are together, his thoughts change course “and yet within a month-/Let me not think on’t” (1.2.145/6).
Although there is disgust there also seems to be an element of fascination which makes Hamlet fixate on their relationship.
This is arguably evidence to conclude that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex, he is jealous of his mother and when he says “With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (1.2.156) Eliot argues that Hamlet is describing his disgust at his own incestuous feelings towards his mother, as Gertrude’s and Claudius’ relationship would not be deemed incestuous as they are not blood related.
However Dover Wilson argues that Eliot is oblivious to one important historical fact: Gertrude’s and Claudius’ relationship would have been deemed incestuous by a Shakespearean audience, meaning that it would have not only been incestuous to Hamlet, but also to Shakespeare, the players at The Globe and the audience. This is because whilst Henry VIII was looking for a loophole to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, he went to the Pope claiming to have found a law in the biblical prescription against marrying your brother’s wife, and Catherine had been married to Henry’s older brother Arthur. Therefore, a contemporary audience would have understood Hamlet’s disgust at Gertrude’s relationship.
Moreover, Dover Wilson argues that Hamlet’s “obsession” with Gertrude disappears when he is pressed by more important issues, such as the revelation of his father’s murder. After the ghost’s appearance we can see that Hamlet is again on the edge of emotional turmoil this time at the revelation of Claudius murdering Old Hamlet. This is important to Dover Wilson because it suggests that Hamlet’s speech in general becomes confused and inarticulate when he is discussing anything that troubles him not just Gertrude.
Essentially Hamlet’s mind being on the brink of madness is caused by a mixture of matters, particularly here the discovery of his father’s murder by his uncle and the loss of his religion due to the ghost’s appearance. It is also possible that the subject of Gertrude arises because of the possibility of her being involved in Old Hamlet’s murder. This can be inferred because the ghost of Old Hamlet calls Claudius “that incestuous, that adulterate beast” (1.5.42).
This could suggest that in death Old Hamlet has found out about an affair between Gertrude and Claudius whilst he was alive. In any case, the main concern on Hamlet’s mind and the cause of Hamlet’s emotional turmoil is the revelation of Claudius murdering his father.
Another factor in favour of Eliot’s view is Hamlet’s apparent misogynistic feeling towards the play’s women: his mother and his lover Ophelia. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy he says “Frailty, thy name is woman-” (1.2.146) in anger at Gertrude. He obviously models his idea of women on his mother and as he sees her as something of disgust and instead of exclaiming “Frailty, thy name is Gertrude” he imagines all women as something that have earned his disgust, anger and disrespect.
Of course when considering his treatment of Ophelia, one has to consider the so called ‘double entry argument’ and whether it is true or not, although this is open to interpretation by the director. At the Globe Theatre the stage would have been seen as two rooms, the inner stage is one room and the outer stage is another. So when Polonius says “Here in the lobby” Hamlet may appear reading a book, the other characters unaware of his presence, as if in another room through an archway. As Dover Wilson explains “In short, “Here in the lobby” is equivalent to a stage direction and marks with practical certainty the moment at which Hamlet comes in and the place of his entry.” (GIVE A PAGE REFERENCE FOR THIS OR AT LEAST CREDIT IT TO ‘WHAT HAPPENS IN HAMLET) So it is possible that before his entry on the outer stage, Hamlet would have been seen listening to Polonius’ plan therefore giving reason to his treatment of Ophelia. If the double entry is true then Hamlet has overheard Polonius’ and Claudius’ plan to use Ophelia against him and to spy on him to find out the cause of his malady. This means when he is speaking to Ophelia he is acting to quell Claudius’ suspicions of him. This would also explain Hamlet’s manner when speaking to Polonius after his entry, because as Polonius notices “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” (2.2.205)
Hamlet’s speech hints that he has heard the plan and is disgusted by the fact that Polonius is going to “loose” (2.2.163) his daughter to him. He calls Polonius a “fishmonger” (2.2.174) which can be interpreted as Hamlet calling Polonius a pimp, again reinforcing the truth in double-entry. This justifies Dover Wilson’s point that he is just treating Ophelia badly to throw Claudius off the scent.
However Eliot would regard the double entry as untrue and his treatment of Ophelia is just his misogynistic nature “Get thee to a nunnery” (3.1.121) implying that he hates women as a whole. Also the fact that he proudly announces that he is “proud, revengeful, ambitious” (3.1.125) suggests that he has no knowledge of them being watched, after all he would not want Claudius to know that he was a likely threat to him.
Arguably, the explanation could be somewhere between these two critics point of view: Hamlet has heard the plan and therefore decides to put on an act to please Polonius and Claudius, but psyches himself up so much that he starts believing his act and it ceases to be so, and he therefore shows his anger at Ophelia, for being used against him, by sexually bullying her and throws in threats towards to Claudius- “Those/ that are married already- all but one- shall live” (3.1.150)- because he has worked himself up so much that he cannot control his feelings any longer.
However, in the second soliloquy Hamlet asks why he “Must like a whore unpack my heart with words” (2.2.581), likening himself to a prostitute having to talk herself into feeling desire, as he must talk himself into revenge. However, at even the metaphorical mention of women he loses his hold on sanity and his thoughts become irrational, fortifying Eliot’s view on Hamlet’s misogyny.
When it comes to the Mousetrap Hamlet tells Horatio to watch Claudius “Give him heedful note/ For I mine eyes will rivet to his face, /And after we will both our judgements join.”(3.2.84/5/6) However, when it comes to the play actually starting it appears that Hamlet has other things on his mind- namely, his mother. As well as adding the lines of the play illustrating his father’s supposed murder he has added a part of the Queen exclaiming her undying love for her first husband, and her loyalty in never wanting to remarry if he should die. Hamlet tries to prick Gertrude’s conscience and purposely sits away from her so he can observe her reaction- specifically, he answers ‘No, good mother’ when Gertrude invites him to “Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.” (3.2.107/8) Perhaps he does this to watch her and when she does not appear to react he asks her “Madam, how like you this play?” (3.2.224) this shows that at the moment when he is supposed to be concentrating on Claudius to observe his guilt, he is preoccupied with his mother, arguably because of his obsessive disgust with her. This reinforces Eliot’s opinion, that at such a crucial part in the play, Hamlet is more concerned about his mother than avenging his father.

However it does seem that when it comes to the part of the Mousetrap that is important to testing the ghost Hamlet’s attention does divert back to Claudius just in time to observe his panicked exit from the play and he is certain of Claudius’ guilt “O good Horatio, I’ll take the ghost’s word for a/ thousand pound. Didst perceive?” (3.2.280/1).
Here Hamlet is finally convinced and certain of what he has to do now, and all thoughts of his mother disappear: in his fourth soliloquy he describes how he “will speak daggers to her, but use none.” (3.3.387) he wants Gertrude to realise that marrying Claudius disrespected his father and hurt Hamlet, he has no intentions of doing any more than prick her conscience.
However when it comes to the actual Closet scene, this theory seems to have been lost and Hamlet works himself up so much in his disgust for her that he kills Polonius, mistaking him for Claudius “How now? A rat! Dead for a ducat, dead.” (3.4.23) and it is after this bloody deed that he begins to forget himself and lose his temper at the thought of his mother being whored “takes off the rose/ from the fair forehead of an innocent love / And sets a blister there” (3.4.42/3/4) Here he starts to become cruel towards her either in a bid to make her realise her wrongdoings as would back up Dover Wilson’s theories, or just because he is angry and disgusted at her which would argue Eliot’s point. Indeed, in Hamlet’s final comments he cannot refrain from advising Gertrude to stop her sexual relationship with Claudius “Refrain tonight/ And that shall lend a kind of easiness/ To the next abstinence, the next more easy” (3.4.167/8/9) This implies that no matter how much he convinces himself that he is just trying to the best for his mother, it always ends up going back to the focus on her sex life, and his obsession with it.
A major point for Dover Wilson’s point of view is the theme of parallelism which runs through the play. Hamlet is a prince with a murdered father and a usurped crown, and this is echoed by Prince Fortinbras of Norway, whose father was murdered by Old Hamlet and who is not King. Another parallel situation to Hamlet would be that of Laertes and Ophelia, whose father Polonius has been murdered by Hamlet. This action causes Ophelia to go mad and commit suicide “Your sister’s drown’d, Laertes.” (4.7.163) and Laertes to accuse Claudius of having an affair with Laertes’ late mother
“Cries cuckold to my father, brands the harlot” (4.5.117/)
Firstly this implies that Claudius has a reputation as a womaniser, for Laertes to jump to the assumption that Claudius killed Polonius after he found out about a former affair between the two. However more importantly it demonstrates that the way that Hamlet has reacted about Gertrude marrying Claudius is arguably a normal reaction of any son who thinks that their mother is being whored, as Laertes shows the same anger. Secondly it shows that losing your sanity after a father’s murder is not deemed so irrational, as the murder of Polonius drives Ophelia mad, echoing the circumstances in which Hamlet was at the edge of sanity about. Furthermore, the fact that there are parallel subplots all about sons with murdered fathers would suggest that Shakespeare meant Hamlet to be a play about the relationship between fathers and sons not sons and mothers as Eliot alleges.
In conclusion TS Eliot has many valid points in supposing that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son” as there are many points in the play when Hamlet seems completely enthralled with disgust at his mother and her sexuality, particularly in the first soliloquy. However there are arguably as many points for Dover Wilson’s counterargument. Within Hamlet’s emotional turmoil, his disgust at his mother is a recurring but not dominating factor: it is not this that primarily motivates Hamlet in his madness, and therefore the play cannot be called ‘an artistic failure’ as Shakespeare articulates for Hamlet sufficient range of motivation to be psychologically convincing.

Word count- 3050


Hamlet William Shakespeare Methuen & Co. Ltd Croatia 2003
What Happens in Hamlet John Dover Wilson Cambridge University Press Cambridge 2005