Hamlet: a Picture of Renaissance Humanism
- Book Review , Hamlet , Humanism , Renaissance
How it works
Revenge is something that many people resort to when something dramatic happens to them. In their eyes, all they see is red, and a need to get back at the person that hurt them takes over. In this play in particular, revenge will be the answer, but what comes of it is something that many would consider a tragedy; most of Shakespeare’s plays are tragedies, where everyone in the main cast dies in one way or another. However, is taking revenge on your foe really worth your own life? In the historical period when this play was supposed to take place, yes. They wanted to keep the throne in the same family, and although Claudius is part of the family, he has brought disgrace upon them and is no longer worthy. Originally this play is supposed to take place in the early 1600s, during the Renaissance, therefore will have many of the same characteristics of the period and leads to the idea of the presence of renaissance humanism in Hamlet.
There would be no modern technology, and candles and lanterns would be the only means of lighting within the production, really setting the mood. Hamlet takes place in the country of Denmark, which has a climate relatively close to that of ours, with mild winters and relatively cool summers, compared to other areas of the world. Now, since King Hamlet is the one being avenged, his son as well as his mother, and Claudius are royalty as well. Characters like Horatio, the watchmen, and the other characters are not from the lowest economic level; there are some, but they are just not introduced too much into the play itself. With the loss of their King, the people are on edge with a new ruler on the throne, but they are getting used to it, just as anyone has to when there is a change in power. Along with many of Shakespeare’s plays, they speak in a language of their own, and within the writings of Hamlet, there is a lot of formal English.
How it works
This is not English that you and I have grown up with, but a much stranger one. Shakespeare uses his own writing style, in my opinion, such as using a lot of iambic pentameter. Now iambic pentameter in writing is very common and adds a small effect to the play itself. Using this system, each line consists of five metrical feet, with each consisting of one short syllable followed by a long syllable. This writing style is something that not a lot of writers used, and it really set Shakespeare apart from the rest. Just as in older times and during the Renaissance, not a lot of slang was used in the writing. Especially in the play, as they are part of the royal family and therefore talk with a little more formality than the lower class. However, there was such a thing as vernacular language that was common, which was solely the native or indigenous tongue. Hidden within the play itself is the reason that Claudius is now the king. First of all, the original King Hamlet was poisoned, but it isn’t until later that they find out that it was the King’s own brother, Claudius, who had killed him and married his wife.
This infuriates Hamlet as he seeks revenge for his father’s murder. However, he doesn’t quite think his actions through, and in Act III, he stabs Polonius, which in anyone’s eyes is a violent action, which puts him on worse terms with the new king and represents the ideals of renaissance humanism in Hamlet. Hamlet himself is a prince, the son of the great King Hamlet. He is the hero, the idol within this play. However, what many people don’t see is that he behaves rashly and impulsively, not like a king. This you may be able to tell by looking more closely at Act III scene IV. He does not know who is hiding behind the curtain and prays that it is Claudius, which would mean avenging his father’s death. Until the deed is done and Polonius is stabbed, he is supposedly the good guy, but after that, you could say he turns into a madman, behaving unpredictably and upsetting the other characters with his implications and wild speech. Yes, Hamlet is a good man at heart, but with the hatred that had boiled up in him, well, it would have made any good man go insane. He seems to be a proud man as he is trying to avenge his father and being very honorable by not letting him die in vain.
He also is very motivated, and you can see that throughout the play where he is doing what is necessary in order to get what he wants; revenge. Hamlet turns from a man that people looked up to into a man they buried 6 feet under. Within this play, there is love, hatred, revenge, regret, and satisfaction. However, what many people take away from the play itself is this: “In a fallen world, reality often fails to match the ideal.” No matter what it is you think is right, no matter how cruel something you think you must do is, there is always another way. Hamlet didn’t have to kill Polonius, he didn’t have to try and reenact the night when Claudius poisoned his father with a group of actors. This play shows that no matter what, when the worst in us finally comes out, there is no stopping it. Yet, what you won’t like when you can’t hold it in any longer is that you have already committed the sin.
No matter what it is you do, you cannot run away from the fact that the past is in the past, and there isn’t much you can do about it anymore. Hamlet tries to avenge his father by killing his uncle, but what does that grant him? Death for everyone he loves? Pleasure for thinking he has now done the right thing? This is something that only he knows, only he gained. This play turns from a great introduction to Shakespeare’s writing style to a complete tragedy, just like most of his other work. Hamlet starts off as a young man that is still mourning the death of his father, and he turns into, with the events that arise throughout the play, a madman that only wants blood. Throughout this play, you become fairly comfortable with the main characters, but it is a strange relationship due to the unfamiliar language and words Shakespeare used within his writing.
Hamlet exemplified humanism through the characters’ emphasis on individualism and their indifference towards conventional religious dogmas. The characters’ motivations were driven by their personal aspirations and apprehensions, rather than any religious or ethical doctrine. Furthermore, the playwright employed humanistic principles as a means to delve into the intricate mental and emotional states of the characters.
Hamlet’s soliloquy embodies the principles of Renaissance humanism, emphasizing the significance of the individual. Renaissance humanism promoted the concept that each person has inherent worth and the potential for excellence. In the soliloquy, Hamlet advocates for authenticity, urging individuals to “be true to thine own self.” This implies that one should remain faithful to their unique identity and not attempt to emulate others.
During the Renaissance, humanism was prominently displayed through the revival of classical antiquity and the promotion of individualism and reason. The movement placed great emphasis on the value of arts and humanities, which contributed to the development of a more humanistic culture.