Hamlet Research Assignment

1002 words | 4 page(s)

Shakespeare”s Hamlet is one of the famous playwright”s most iconic and oft-analyzed plays. In many ways, readers and viewers find Hamlet to be as socially relevant today as perhaps it was in Shakespeare”s Elizabethan Era in which he wrote. The likely reason for Hamlet”s enduring nature stems from the character of the famous Dane himself, whose psychological struggles to maintain his dignity and self-identity while seeking revenge for the murder of his father seem like altogether human interests and make him a complex and relatable character.

Though most of us have no conceptions of what it is like to be the Prince of a nation, we do understand Hamlet”s basic motivations, i.e., feelings of betrayal, alienation, mourning, and a crisis of identity. Hamlet is a man of the people, as one does not need to be an aristocrat to comprehend his struggles. Peter Titlestad”s article “Hamlet the Populist Politician” analyzes Hamlet”s role in Shakespeare”s tragedy as a populist, or a man of the people. In his essay, Titlestad effectively illustrates the reason for Hamlet”s necessary caution, and shows how Hamlet”s status as hero of the common people makes the play function on a high level.

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In his essay, Titlestad shows that much of King Claudius” anxiety throughout the play comes from Hamlet”s status as beloved of the people; therefore, Claudius cannot simply get rid of him without a public outcry that would likely result in his downfall. As a result, Claudius must treat Hamlet carefully and as a worthy adversary. Titlestad makes his case as a Hamlet apologist, defending Hamlet”s inaction against literary critics, writers, and poets, such as Johann von Goethe, Samuel Coleridge, and A.C. Bradley, who have criticized Hamlet for delaying or altogether refusing action. Instead, Titlestad sees Hamlet as a tragic hero, one who only hesitates when he is forced to and who acts when he is able. For example, Titlestad writes, “[Hamlet] rushes without hesitation after the ghost. There is no hesitation about killing the King, but it turns out to be Polonius instead. When he puts up his sword in the prayer scene the justification (if theologically crude) is there” (48). Titlestad also examines Hamlet”s soliloquys as a dramatic aspect that connects the audience to his character. Titlestad imagines the symbiotic relationship Hamlet actors must have had with the audience, as Hamlet”s sly wit, sexual puns, and casual asides to the audience tend to draw the viewers in and make them empathize with Hamlet”s plight. Titlestad sees the play”s essential effectiveness hinging on the audience”s populist connection with the audience, who must identify with Hamlet for the play to work.

Titlestad”s article is quite effective in showing the relationship between Hamlet and the people of Denmark, who adore him. In fact, even one of Hamlet”s enemies in the play, Laertes, remarks that “”The rabble call him “lord”” (qtd. in Titlestad 43). As Titlestad points out, King Claudius” anxiety in the beginning of the play stems from Hamlet”s popular status in the kingdom. This kinship allows the audience and/or the reader to form a bond with Hamlet as well. When he fails to act throughout much of the play, we commiserate with him, as we imagine ourselves acting in a similar fashion when faced with the prospect of coldblooded murder, father”s vengeance or no. Titlestad rightly points out that Hamlet is a character who is necessarily cautious, but acts when the time is right. In addition, Titlestad”s analysis of the audience”s relationship to Hamlet during his soliloquys is quite apt, as the reader can imagine the synergetic relationship Hamlet actors would have enjoyed with the audience during the many asides to the audience that make Hamlet and his viewers seem complicit in the action.

Titlestad”s essay makes one wonder about Hamlet”s delay in acting against Claudius to avenge his father. Much speculation has been levied at the cause for Hamlet”s procrastination. Some have cited Hamlet”s madness as a cause, or his whimsical nature; some critics have even pointed toward cowardice as a cause for delay. However, Titlestad”s argument makes the reader better understand Hamlet”s position, especially in light of his position as populist hero of the people. It is important to understand the strange conditions Hamlet finds himself in at the play”s opening. His father has inexplicably passed away; his uncle has assumed the throne and has married his mother, and the two have carried on as if nothing untoward has happened; in fact, everyone seems to wonder why Hamlet is so depressed over it all”as if his despondency is not a natural reaction under those circumstances. Furthermore, Hamlet”s girlfriend is slowly going mad and sides with her father, Polonius, Hamlet”s enemy, and to top it all off, a ghost looking exactly like King Hamlet appears on the battlements, beseeching Hamlet to take revenge for his murder at the hands of Claudius, who, Hamlet learns, poisoned the former king in his sleep.

By necessity, it must take time from Hamlet to process all of this insane input coming together all at once. Any sane man would take time to evaluate his position in light of all these tragic and traumatic events. It is unrealistic to think that Hamlet, who is not a soldier and has never killed a man in battle, much less in cold blood, can simply take up arms and murder his uncle on the word of a ghost. In addition, Hamlet has his status at court and his reputation amongst the people to consider. Titlestad”s essay makes the reader understand that Hamlet”s position as hero of the common people makes it impossible for him to act immediately without first contemplating his position and deciding the best course of action.

  • Titlestad, Peter. “Hamlet the Populist Politician.” Shakespeare in Southern Africa, vol. 25, no. 43, 2013. http://pdc-connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/91892620/hamlet-populist-politician.

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