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“The world is a looking glass. ” This synecdochic statement of 19th century English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray, encapsulates the idea of reflections of ourselves being evident all around us in different aspects of the world. Whether in the words, actions or attitudes of others, we tend to see something of ourselves.
Shakespeare employs this theme of reflection in his works such as in Antony and Cleopatra where Caesar recognises that Antony is, as stated by Maecenas, “a spacious mirror set before him” and this reflects to Caesar both the dimensions of he and his fellow triumvir, leading Caesar to the realisation that the world is not big enough for the two of them as can be interpreted from “… we could not stall together/ In the whole world.
” Reflection is thus a recurrent motif in Shakespeare’s works, and is a key issue which arises in the course of the play Hamlet. Hamlet is a play which involves a lot of reflection and mirroring in various ways.
One of the most notable is the ‘play within a play’ or ‘The Mousetrap’ which mirrors the relationship King Hamlet had with Gertrude as well as the manner in which King Hamlet was murdered. Hamlet himself sees performance as a way of reflecting inner corruption; holding “the mirror up to nature. ” The idea of mirroring or doubling can further be seen in Shakespeare’s use of literary techniques like hendiadys such as in Hamlet’s reflective ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy where he says, ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ and ‘whips and scorns of time’ or later in the play where Hamlet says to Horatio, “Fortune’s buffets and rewards.
” Shakespeare’s use of hendiadys helps to place emphasis on the message he is trying to get across as the words mirror each other and act as a sort of parallelism, creating a balance in the phrases. But even more notable in the play with regards reflection, is the manner in which the characters of Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras reflect on each other. These three characters are all young men who, at some point, have lost or will lose a father.
Hamlet has returned to Denmark from school in Wittenberg to mourn his father’s death and is so much in grief that he says, “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable/ Seem to me all the uses of this world! ” The use of lists and exclamation marks emphasises the extent of his grief and make us sympathise with him. Young Fortinbras has also lost his father, Fortinbras, as we come to know from Horatio’s speech that King Hamlet “Did slay this Fortinbras. ” Laertes, in the course of the play, also returns from France to Denmark to find that his father, Polonius has been killed.
They thus reflect on themselves in that they have all lost their fathers, but furthermore in that they all seek to avenge the deaths of their fathers. Hamlet is charged by the ghost of King Hamlet to “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder! ” The exclamation mark and use of striking adjectives highlight that this is an order, a duty which Hamlet has to carry out, and he expresses his feelings about this in the heroic couplet, “The time is out of joint: O cursi?? d spite,/ That ever I was born to set it right.
” Fortinbras, likewise, is seeking to avenge the death of his father, King Fortinbras of Norway by regaining the land lost by his father in war, and waging war on Denmark. When Hamlet sees Fortinbras leading his army through Denmark to Poland, he draws parallels between his cause and that of Fortinbras. Similarly, Laertes, on finding out about his father’s death, declares, “I’ll be revenged/ Most throughly for my father. ” Hamlet recognises the similarity between his cause and that of Laertes and states later on in the play, “For by the image of my cause, I see the portraiture of his.
” However, it is open to interpretation whether or not Hamlet was referring to revenge as his ’cause’, for as Philip Edward argues, Harold Jenkins points out that Hamlet simply does not recognise himself as a proposed victim of Laertes’ revenge, and thus Hamlet simply meant, when he made that statement, that as a son grieving his father, he should have realised that grief makes one act strangely. Nevertheless, Hamlet does recognise an aspect of himself reflected in that of Laertes. Thus, Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras all seek to avenge the death of their fathers, but they each work towards this end with varying methods.
Whilst Hamlet is the vacillating, hesitant one searching for proof and taking his time, and Fortinbras is the calculating but quick-acting, resolute one, Laertes is the more aggressive typical revenge hero. Hamlet spends so much time dithering and searching for proof that the ghost has to reappear to “whet thy almost blunted purpose. ” The use of words associated with knives or daggers, that is ‘whet’ and ‘blunted’, remind us that Hamlet’s purpose is to kill to avenge his father, rather than his inactivity.
Hamlet says of Fortinbras, on the other hand, that his “spirit is with divine ambition puffed” and thus he is able to lead the Norwegian army to fight over a ‘little patch of ground’. Laertes’ brutal, aggressive approach can be seen not only in the way he breaks into the Danish palace to confront Claudius over his father’s death but also how he says of Hamlet that he would “cut his throat I’th’church” The aggressiveness in this statement is emphasised by the use of alliteration in ‘throat’ and ‘th’church’.
Thus, their varying methods are comparable, so that we can identify from one to the other the preferred path or more successful path to have taken. Whilst Laertes and Fortinbras are thus more typical Aristotelian tragic heroes, in that they have ‘consistency’ as once their personality and motivations are established, they continue throughout the play. Hamlet, on the other hand, falls short of this as he dithers and almost loses sight of his goal. This sheds light on a reason for which Shakespeare appears to have made use of reflections in his work- that of revealing shortcomings.
Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras reflect on each other in such a manner that they highlight the shortcomings of each other. As Shakespeare states in his Sonnet 77, “Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear. ” The whole idea is that our reflections make us more aware of our flaws, and this can be seen where Hamlet, having seen Fortinbras march his army through Denmark, says, “How all occasions do inform against me,/ And spur my dull revenge! ” He is reminded, by the reflection of his cause in that of Fortinbras, that whilst Fortinbras is active and resolute, his revenge is ‘dull’.
This idea of reflections showing our flaws or shortcomings is also employed by Shakespeare in Richard 11 where the deposed king hopes to see his sorrows etched in his reflection and states, “Give me that glass, and therein will I read. /No deeper wrinkles yet? ” The alliteration in ‘give’ and ‘glass’ as well as the use of rhetorical question help to highlight the king’s desperation to see his sorrows in his reflection. Reflections also act, in Shakespeare, as a trigger or a call to action.
When Hamlet sees Fortinbras and his army, it ‘spurs’ his revenge so that he is led to say in a rhyming couplet, “Oh from this time forth,/ My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth. ” His use of the graphic adjective ‘bloody’ emphasises his resolution and is rather reminiscent of the sort of decisiveness that we would expect from a typical revenge hero. Furthermore, when Hamlet sees ‘the portraiture’ of Laertes’ cause in the image of his, he is led to regret his outburst to Laertes at their battle at Ophelia’s grave and to ‘court’ Laertes’ ‘favours’.
Ophelia, in the course of the play, refers to Hamlet metaphorically as “The glass of fashion. ” He appears to have been the reflection of what noblemen should be; the one to be emulated. All noblemen in Hamlet’s Denmark, like the society of Shakespeare’s England, were expected to remark and imitate the manners of the prince. Thus, we can understand why Hamlet is, in the words of Claudius, ‘loved of the distracted multitude’ and why Fortinbras speaks of him so highly.
Nevertheless, following his act of madness and outburst at Ophelia, Ophelia mourns that this noble mind, this ‘glass of fashion,’ is ‘quite, quite down! ” The repetition of ‘quite’ relays to us how greatly Hamlet has changed from the reflection of nobility that he used to be. It is also interesting to note that Hamlet sees a reflection of his cause in that of Fortinbras and Laertes towards the end of the play in a form of anagnorisis. However, at the start of the play, he seems deeply sceptical about the ability of anything to reflect him truly.
According to Philippa Kelly, he mocks verbal and physical display as having the incapacity to ‘denote me truly’. In his mocking summation of Laertes even in the final act of the play, he appears sure that nothing and no one could reflect Laertes “he his semblable is his mirror, and who else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more. ” His argument is that words fall short of describing Laertes’ greatness, but earlier on we know that he has declared that he sees a reflection of his cause in that of Laertes.
Thus, although Hamlet, ab initio, comes across as one who feels that nothing can reflect him, nothing can denote him truly or body him forth as would the dissection of his organs, he comes to realise that reflections are indeed everywhere as can be interpreted from William Thackeray’s statement, “The world is a looking glass. ” In the actions, words, causes and attitudes of others, particularly Laertes and Fortinbras, he sees a reflection of his own self and is, from these reflections, made aware of his shortcomings and spurred to action in eventually avenging the death of his father.
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