Shakespeare has been credited for being a renaissance writer and has continuously been referred to as an Elizabethan playwright. In most of his work, Shakespeare has included the act of Renaissance with ‘Hamlet’ being no exception. In ‘Hamlet’, Shakespeare has introduced renaissance to the readers mainly through the way Hamlet contemplates about death.
Hamlet’s character is seen to be strongly associated with Renaissance’s ideals. Normally, renaissance is considered as being the time during which learning and culture are reborn. This period is mostly associated with the European historical period in the Middle Ages between the 14th century and the 17th centaury (Shakespeare 167).
This has been passed on to the modern literature work with the renaissance period going through a resurgence of philosophies that were characteristic of the ancient Greek. This led to new interests being renewed in classical work of arts.
Most artists were compelled to go back in history and explore the work that had been done during the classical age, putting more emphasis on the form of human beings and the ancient mythologies portrayal. The philosophical movement that relates to ‘Hamlet’ is the Humanism Renaissance. This renaissance focused on the man’s position in nature putting him at the center nature (Shakespeare 134).
In ‘Hamlet’, Shakespeare makes use of renaissance in away that it moves away from the beliefs accepted by the Christian’s afterlife. The Christians believe that it is one’s decision as to whether to end up in hell or heaven after death. During renaissance, death remained one of the main fears because of its widely uncertain and uncharted destination and not because of its godly vengeance.
The death of Hamlet as the play ends indicates that though he was the definite answer to all the questions before him as he faced death, he was not in any position to give any assurance about his fate to the audience. In the play, Hamlet has reflected renaissance ideals in several other ways but still the concept of death remained predominant.
This was seen in several scenes when he was always prowling below the surface. His actions while still in the world were the beginning of his fate after his death. In relation to nature, Hamlet considered himself privileged with reference to other animals.
This is seen when after murdering Polonius and doing away with his body, Hamlet cryptically tells Claudius of the nature of the matter making the living and the dead. Hamlet can be considered as being deracinated from his own life that put him in a comfortable position to address serous mental issues on his own. This reflects the historical belief that a tragedy was the greatest way of punishing sins committed by an individual. The graveyard scene is also a clear reflection of renaissance in the play (Shakespeare 123).
During Hamlet’s monologue at Ophelia’s funeral, the remains of clown led Hamlet to engage in a discussion with Horatio on the nature of death. He held his skull in his hands as he reflected about how well he knew him. In the same position, he goes further to reflect on the contrast between the living and the dead.
He contrasts the way he knew Yorick and the bones that remained of him. The scene of Yorick’s skull in Hamlet’s hands was so dramatic that has since then remained a cultural icon (Shakespeare102). The words Helmet used in this scene were emblematic, reflecting the themes of mortality and death guiding the tragedy that took place. The way Hamlet reacted to scenes of death is an indication of a rebirth in his character.
The audience was left surprised with the way Hamlet reacted to the remains left by Yorick’s after his death. Most had regarded Hamlet as being a rational character, however, this was not the case when he looked at the remains of his friend and appeared to be feeling a physical sensation. The prince is nauseated when he thinks about the jester who had passed on.
This is seen when he talks to Horatio telling him that “my gorge rims at it” (Shakespeare 78). This was a real reflection of the way the character of Hamlet had significantly changed. In the beginning of the play, hamlet had the chance to kill Claudius but he dint because of his belief on the afterlife blissfulness for his rival.
His ideas about death completely changed after this scene. By looking at the skull of Yorick, he accepts the fact that everyone will at one time decompose just the way jester did. Helmet admits, “Despite all human efforts to evade death, it is inevitable” (Shakespeare 123).
Earlier in the play, Hamlet had considered death to be a distant experience. This is evident in his soliloquy where he used the famous statement, “to be or not to be” (Shakespeare 213). After his interaction with death, Helmet changes his perspective. This revelation contributed to the plot development of the play as it gave way to the play to develop into more scenes. Helmet had developed a new and complete understanding of what death entails, Helmet is more than ready to face death and commit murder out of his belief.
Speeches have been included in most of the scenes in ‘Hamlet’ and have echoed some of the common themes during the historical times. Events described by Hamlet are mostly a representation of the current times mostly embraced by the youth. This is seen in the way Hamlet described the life lived by Yorick as being colorful filled with songs and games.
The contrast comes in after his death; Yorick death is considered to be colorless by Helmet and this remains a spectacle in his mind living him unsettled. These elements are conflicting and that has been used by Shakespeare in Hamlet to bring out Renaissance as a popular motif of artists. Most of the artists in the Renaissance period regarded life’s glory as being ultimately temporary.
The status of people including their wealth became meaningless once they die. The way Hamlet reflects the life of Yorick is a clear evidence of this belief. He states that “the cheerful jester has been reduced to an unsmiling set of bones” (Shakespeare 90).
Yorick’s life aspects were a reflection of hamlet’s own character which sum up to be common philosophical questions that were characteristic of the historical times of Shakespeare. Some of the scenes in the play show several facets of total renaissance. Hamlet‘s own attitude and belief towards death reflected the society’s renaissance ideology.
The play begins is such away that life is presented to the audience as being disillusioned following the reality that death cannot be avoided and Hamlet ends up regarding death as being vulgar. Through the soliloquy, Hamlet can be seen complaining that the fear of death comes between a person and his life accomplishments. He later settles for a different renaissance perspective about death when he encouraged people through preaching to them to go to the cemeteries and do exactly what he did, ‘hold a skull in their hands’ (Shakespeare 178).
Shakespeare explicitly gives this line to Hamlet to show that he had finally accepted the mortality reality (Shakespeare 209). This helped him to go over the mortality fears of life’s renaissance and not its preparation. It is during the same period that valuable things can be accomplished and passed on to the time in future thus giving people the chance continue living through fame.
Thus eventually Hamlet comes to terms with the idea of death and after Ophelia’s death; he manages to move on with life and comes up with ways of achieving his purpose in the world. By the time Claudius dies, Hamlet is used to death and he even makes fun out of it even though he is fully aware that he was risking his own life. He also goes a head to accept the reality that the way and time one dies is God to decide. He however remains concern with two main things; the state’s welfare and his own name in future (Shakespeare 363).
The play in general assists in demonstrating the society’s ideology of the Renaissance, with Italy taken as the country of reference. Through the play, Renaissance assumes a three dimensional human face. Set up in Denmark, the ideology of the play tended more to Europe than Italy but still maintained the Italian Renaissance. There is also the issue of conflict of culture in the play; the modern renaissance way of reasoning and the revenge tradition.
The two affected the way Hamlet acted as well as his thinking throughout the play. Hamlet tries the best he could to justify what he did in an effort to keep his conscience clear. This is a representation of the ideals of new renaissance. Though the renaissance ideals used by Hamlet were a justification of what he deed, it led to unnecessary deaths of the people around Hamlet.
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Shakespeare, William. Hamlet (Norton Critical Editions), New Delhi: Foreverbooks, 2005. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Wallingford: Christopher Edwards, 2010. Print.