Which Detail in Hamlet Reflects Elizabethan Society: Critical Essay

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Arguably the greatest literary work written in English, William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, centers around the protagonist’s angst and indecision on avenging his father’s murder. A vital component of what makes this outstanding literary piece so famous is that it focuses on Hamlet’s personal struggles, rather than the conflicts of other individuals. Due to this close connection, Shakespeare was able to target his audience using different literary devices that influenced an emotional connection with Hamlet and exemplified various aspects of Elizabethan culture in 17th-century England. An example of a literary device used to connect with the audience in Hamlet was his soliloquy near the end of Act IV, scene iv. In this part of the play, young Prince Fortinbras meets and converses with Hamlet while traveling through Denmark on his way to attack Poland for a meaningless plot of land. It is after this encounter Hamlet realizes that Fortinbras’ army fights not for wealth, but honor. This causes him to reflect on his own condition and the purpose of his awaited revenge. Thus, it can be seen how this soliloquy clearly displays the given aspects that aim to target an Elizabethan audience.

Firstly, Hamlet’s soliloquy at the end of Act IV, scene iv, establishes a strong emotional connection with the protagonist and the audience. Opening the soliloquy, Hamlet describes the importance of a human’s purpose to seek higher ambitions by stating, “What is a man, if the chief good and market of his time Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.” (4.4.32-34). The meaning of this quote exemplifies that humans have been provided with all the means necessary to do something more in life than just eating and sleeping like animals. This links to the mindset of Hamlet because he feels that all of life’s circumstances influence him to avenge his father’s murder, and yet he does not act. Hamlet later states, “ Examples gross as earth exhort me: witness this army of such mass and charge Led by a delicate and tender prince, whose spirit with divine ambition puffed makes mouths at the invisible event, exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death and danger dare, even for an egg-shell.” (4.4.45-52). Here, the protagonist witnesses the inexperienced Prince Fortinbras’ army before him as brave and driven due to participating in an upcoming battle resulting in an improbable outcome. The audience can connect with Hamlet’s statement relating to the theme of courage because a large portion of the audience has likely experienced a situation requiring some form of bravery to face obstacles similar to the main character. The audience also comes to witness Hamlet’s turning point by stating “O, from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” (4.4.64-65). Analyzing this quote, it is seen that the protagonist decides to take action in killing Claudius. Throughout the play, Hamlet was seen as reluctant to avenge his father’s death because he did not have the desire to take action. Although, it is towards the end of this scene that Hamlet decides to devote himself to this path of truth and pursue the act of divine redemption. Through this change of character, the protagonist delivers a sense of anxiety into the hearts of the audience with the pursuit of wanting to see how the protagonist’s moral develops throughout the final act of the play. Due to the given excerpts from Hamlet in Act IV, scene iv, Shakespeare’s use of this soliloquy provides an effective role in establishing a strong emotional connection with the Elizabethan audience.

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Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act IV, scene iv also provides a connection to the audience by emphasizing various aspects of culture during the Elizabethan era. Referencing back to Hamlet’s opening statement, “What is a man, if the chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.” (4.4.32-34), he vaguely explains how God created humans to be unique and that we waste our “Godgiven” talents. This quote is viewed to describe the religious culture of 17th-century England. By incorporating God into this quote’s deeper meaning, Shakespeare was successful in establishing a connection with an Elizabethan audience. This was the case because the two major religions occupying Elizabethan England were Catholic and Protestant; all of which revolved around one God. Another quote that links the play to Elizabethan culture is when Hamlet says, “Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not that capability and god-like reason to fust in us unused.” (4.4.35-38). This statement emphasizes that man did not receive talents just to leave them to waste but rather to use their potential for the growth of society. Elizabethan people also viewed developing talents through proper education as important. This connection can be made during Elizabeth’s reign when an extensive educational system was put into place and the rate of England’s literacy rose considerably.

Throughout Hamlet’s soliloquy, the theme of strong parental ties can be observed as Hamlet feels the need to avenge his father because he views love as a binding obligation. This message targets Elizabethan culture because family life during the 17th century also valued strong familial bonds, especially those between father and son. Children were raised to be subservient to their parents, have good manners, and be punished if the adults of the family disobeyed. By observing the various allusions targeted at the audience within this soliloquy, it can be seen how effective Shakespeare was in writing a play that strongly references Elizabethan culture.

In conclusion, the use of various literary devices within Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act IV, scene iv, does an excellent job of effectively targeting Elizabethan audiences. It is truly able to connect them with the play and its main protagonist through emotional connections and references to 17th-century English culture. Due to Shakespeare’s writing method of utilizing these devices, it can clearly be seen why he is credited to have become a founding father of modern literacy through his outstanding work in Hamlet.

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Which Detail in Hamlet Reflects Elizabethan Society: Critical Essay. (2023, September 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/which-detail-in-hamlet-reflects-elizabethan-society-critical-essay/
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