William Shakespeare uses various elements, themes and connections between them to present ideas of enduring value in ‘Hamlet. His character development in Hamlet &Claudius and use of dramatic techniques present values in ‘Hamlet’ those of which are timeless. These enduring values include guilt, corruption and life & death.
Shakespeare has used various dramatic techniques to express his idea and enduring value of guilt. In Act 1, as Polonius talks about ‘the devil hiding’, Shakespeare uses a dramatic technique as Claudius acknowledges his conscience in an aside, “how smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience”. Claudius is the villain of the play, however Shakespeare has a created a complex character with a working conscience and serious feelings of guilt.
Claudius sense of guilt emerges through the use of the dramatic technique, soliloquy. Furthermore, it also makes him a more ‘rounded’ character in his development, not merely evil or lacking in human qualities. His guilt is emphasized when he attempts to ‘pray’, and he finds that as a sinner, he cannot, while he still desires the fruits of his crime, these being Gertrude and the crown, “Forgive me my foul murder? That cannot be since I am still possess’d of those effects for which I did the murder.
”Shakespeare has used metaphor and alliteration in, Oh bosom black as death” as Claudius, concedes that he is not really capable of praying. From this point, as a development of his character, his villiany increases as he becomes desperate to eliminate Hamlet and ultimately plotting his death. Gertrude can also be played as experiencing guilt throughout until she concedes her guilt and claims it will not go away, “I see such black and grained spots/ As will not leave their tinct”. Claudius and Gertrude share the guilt for what goes wrong in the play, as theirs is the corruption that infects Denmark.
Corruption is another prominent value in ‘Hamlet’. In Act 1, the dramatic technique, monologue is used as Claudius addresses his court and celebrates his coronation and marriage to Gertrude to reconcile the grieving for Old Hamlet. His speech, “mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage” is commonly known as ‘spin’ today. There is a notion that Claudius’ motive for killing Old Hamlet is envy, strictly a lust for power and to be king however this cannot be interpreted as Claudius consistently shows true love for Gertrude and displays qualities of a good king.
Consequently, it is plausible that the function of the marriage is genuine however also essential for Claudius’ agenda which makes his reign corrupt. Shakespeare demonstrates the idea of corruption, that if the king reigns on false or evil grounds, hence the whole kingdom suffers, as Marcellus says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Furthermore, through Hamlet’s main source of distress of the thought of his mother remarried too soon, and to his uncle, he introduces the theme of corruption with the technique, imagery, “unweeded gardens”. Hamlet interprets news of Old Hamlet’s ghost as a reflection of the corruption in Denmark, “My father’s spirit in arms! All is not well”. He believes that foul deeds will rise and that evil will inevitably unravel.
The use of Hamlet’s development of a complex multi-faceted persona demonstrates Shakespeare’s idea on life and death, conveyed through the use of the dramatic technique, soliloquy. Hamlet’s situation in the play is relevant today because circumstances force him from being a critical observer of the world to being a participant, an experience that is universal. The flaw in Hamlet’s character lies in the involutions of his character. He is guilty of “thinking too precisely on th’event”, a man who “continuously resolves to do, yet does nothing but resolve”. It is assumed Hamlet is honest and open in his soliloquys. At other times he is puts on a ‘façade’, the main purpose is to hide his true state of mind and intentions often portraying himself as ‘mad’. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy he is already contemplating about the desire to disappear or commit suicide, “O that this too too solid flesh would melt”.
Hamlet rejects the idea of trying to predict the future and reaches a point of acceptance of life, death, and everything more, “Not a wit, we defy augury… the readiness is all”. This expresses the idea that what is destined is inevitable and what is significant is ‘readiness’. Hamlet acknowledges this when he holds up Yorick’s skull. The dramatic technique of visual imagery of Hamlet looking at Yorick’s skull is one of the most enduring images in all of literary history. It is a human confronting the truth, contemplating death and decomposition that even the greatest of humans are subject to. His speech on ‘readiness’ is all about his own death. It is this, which he must become ready for, something, which is presented as central sad truth of human life.
‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’ is definitive on life and death. It provides a stark contrast to the intense confrontation with Ophelia as it is contemplative, intellectual and uncharacteristic for someone who is supposedly ‘mad’. Shakespeare implies through Hamlet’s character development that the reason people do not commit suicide is because of the fear of the after life which is unknown and could potentially be worse. Hamlet ponders the question as a matter of philosophical debate.
Yet though the play is thus rooted in its own time, ‘Hamlet’ seems to have a rapport with all ages and centuries. It speaks eloquently to the twentieth century as it did to the 17th 18th and 19th. Reasons for the play’s enduring appeal is attributed to the values Shakespeare has expressed.
How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience
Forgive me for my foul murder? This cannot be for I am still possess’d of the effects for which I did the murder I see such black and grained spots/ as they will not leave their tinct Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
Mirth in funeral, dirge in marriage
O that this too too solid flesh would melt
Not a wit we defy augury
My father’s spirit is in arms! All is not well
To be or not be, that is the question