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Hamlet as a Philosophical Text

It throws up a complex mix of religious, philosophical, political, and psychological perspectives that critics have endlessly analyzed and argued about during the last four centuries.Returning briefly to the dramatic structure of the play, it is evident that Shakespeare had not heeded Aristotle’s injunctions on the Unities and the need to focus on action rather than character. The language is formal, courtly, witty, and uses rhetorical devices such as the anaphora (words, words, words), asyndeton (to die: to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream), and hendiadys (the expectancy and rose of the fair state). Shakespeare utilizes Hamlet’s occasional soliloquies to inform the audience of his thoughts, motives, and his world-view, sometimes contradictory, all of which make him what he is. The soliloquies are mainly what prompt critics to see Hamlet as a ‘philosophical text’ although Hamlet’s occasional ‘throwaway’ lines, even when pretending to be mad, can also be regarded as philosophical musings. Unlike most other plays by Shakespeare, there is no sub-plot and no light-hearted counterpoint to the serious and tragic issues dealt with in the play.The atmosphere throughout is dark and foreboding. Hamlet’s garb throughout the play is described as ‘inky black’. Death makes its presence known from the very beginning. The king had been murdered and his ghost appears urging his son to revenge. Polonius, the old courtier is unintentionally killed by Hamlet. Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter drowns. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s contemporaries used by Claudius, as tools, are deliberately sent to their deaths by Hamlet, as a result of foiling Claudius’ plot to kill him. In the final horrific scene, in full view of the spectators Laertes, Polonius’ son, Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude all die due to the machinations of Claudius not going according to plan.