Medieval Archetypes Utilized in Hamlet Essay
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Hamlet by William Shakespeare is a complex play because of its multiple dimensions. Upon dissection, the influence of other works can be observed in it. One of the most prominent of these works is the York “Fall of Man”.
This particular play is a very poor remake of the book of Genesis in the bible. However, William Shakespeare utilizes the medieval traditions exemplified in the “Fall of Man” to create the characters in Hamlet.
For example, Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, shows an uncanny parallel to Eve from the “Fall of Man”. Gertrude’s behavior and characteristics fall under the archetype presented in the rendition of Genesis. Eve can be described as: gullible, naï¿½ve, accidentally rebellious, trusting, curious, manipulated, and egocentric. These same traits can be used to identify Gertrude’s personality as well.
In part three of the “Fall of Man”, Satan, in the form of the worme, is trying to convince Eve to rebel against God by eating the forbidden fruit. The worme claims that it will make her omnipotent. When Eve questions Satan, he replies, “Why trowes thou nog[h]t me?/ I wolde by no- kynnes ways/ Telle nog[h]t but trouthe to the[e]” (pg 270, line 75). In perhaps one of her most naï¿½ve and gullible moments, Eve responds, “Than wille I to thy teching traste,/ and fange this frute unto oure foode” (78).
Likewise, in Hamlet there is a moment that closely mirrors this. When King Claudius and Polonius decide to spy on the interaction between Hamlet and Ophelia, Claudius tells Gertrude to leave even though it is her son. She only answers,” I shall obey you” (III,I, 42). These two quotes show the extent to which both Eve and Gertrude have been manipulated by their curiosity and weakness. Eve only wanted to know if the fruit contained a certain power and Gertrude was interested in her son’s apparent “madness” yet both women put aside independent thinking and oblige the villain.
Later in the “Fall of Man”, Eve brings the forbidden fruit to Adam saying “A worme has done me for to witte/ We shalle be as goddis, thou and I,/ If that we ete/ Here of this tree” (91). Then in Hamlet, Gertrude asks her son,” Have you forgot me?’ ( III, IV, 16). She is essentially asking if Hamlet has forgotten whom he is speaking to. In the “Fall of Man”, Eve portrays egocentric qualities.
When she discovers the power of the fruit, she suddenly desires to share it with Adam so that they might be god- like together. She wants to be all knowing and powerful, so when she sees the chance she takes it. Gertrude is self-centered as well. She doesn’t want to lose her standing as queen when her husband dies so she marries his brother not even two months following his passing. When Hamlet confronts her on her actions she retorts with anger that he would dare speak to her in that manner. Both Gertrude and Eve have a mental self image of themselves that is better than what others perceive them as and both women strive to maintain/ improve that image.
Gertrude’s character directly parallels that of Eve in respect to characteristics and traits. They are both archetypal characters but the resemblances are eerie. The women both end in similar manners as well. Eve eats the forbidden fruit and guarantees her banishment from the Garden of Eden. Gertrude drinks the poison and ensures her own death. The characters have too many similarities to be dismissed as coincidence. Ergo it can be stated with a level of confidence that William Shakespeare utilizes the medieval traditions outlined in the “Fall of Man” to write Hamlet.
Medieval Drama. Ed. David Bevington. Boston; Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975
Hamlet. William Shakespeare. Ed. Louis Wright. Virginia Lamar. New York; Simon & Schuster Inc, 1958