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Shakespeare’s Presentation of Family Relationships in Hamlet
There are three key families in Hamlet that are the main focus of the play. The families are Hamlet’s family, Polonius’ family, and Fartinbras’ family. There are many similarities and differences between all three separate families. One similarity that all three families have is that at least one member of their family seems to have a hidden agenda. Hamlet wants revenge on Claudius and the reason Claudius did it is to become the new king of Denmark. Laertes wants to avenge his father Polonius, who was killed by Hamlet. Finally, Fortinbras has an ulterior motive when he initially says he wants to go through Denmark to invade Poland, but it is suspected that he has a secret goal of overthrowing Denmark and regaining the land that was lost when the old Danish king defeated him father and became king.
Hamlet also has espionage between families and this shows a lack of trust. An example would be when Polonius sends the spy Reynald to spy on Laertes because he suspects that his son is up to no good. He says that “your bait of lies is the carp of truth”, this is a metaphor and simply means to use subtle lies and catch the truth. Polonius says to use the lure of lies to learn more information and more specifically the truth. The idea of telling lies and finding out the truth can also be confirmed when Polonius says “by windlass and by analysis of bias”, which again can be interpreted as indirect attempts, so by telling lies the truth is revealed. “Steel” metaphorically means to deceive, for example, to trick an animal by making an indirect approach, and so Reynaldo means to tell a small lie as a bait and an indirect attempt to learn the truth.
This lack of trust can also be seen in the family relationship between Hamlet and Claudius as Hamlet knows that his uncle killed his brother to become king and Claudius sees Hamlet as a threat to his throne and at one point even tries to send him to England and have him there killed The reason why Claudius sent Hamlet to England is explained when Claudius says, “as your groin looks raw and red… you may not be cold.” A scar is a scar or wound, and it is suggested that England has recently been wounded by a Danish sword and is therefore more likely to follow the king’s order to kill Hamlet. Also the cold disposition may mean that they are unlikely to leave aside and ignore the fact that Hamlet, who is from Denmark, comes to England and with orders to kill him they are not willing to just leave it aside and let him live.
Shakespeare also presents Hamlet’s family as incestuous, especially his mother and uncle, who are now married after the death of the old family. Hamlet seems disgusted that his mother can move on so quickly and warm the old kings bed with his brother. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, he says that “two months” have passed since his father died and his mother married. On the other hand, Ophelia said that “twice two months” had passed since the old king’s death, so Hamlet could be said to be showing his disgust at what his mother and uncle had done by marrying by over-exaggerating how quickly his father was forgotten.
In the first soliloquy, he also says that “such a fine king, who was a satyr to this Hyperion.” This first part shows Hamlet disapproving of his uncle, the new king, and his father, the old king, saying look what the king once was, and look at him now. He compares them both as a family and as a king. In both cases, Hamlet seems to dislike and distrust his uncle. “Hyperion to the Satyr” – this again shows how he compares his uncle, the new king, and his father, the old king, saying that his father is “hyperion” who is the Greek sun god who also uses elemental imagery for what he sees. his father is like the sun, which is necessary for the existence of all life. He then says that his uncle is a “satyr”, which is a grotesque creature, half man and half goat. They were also associated with drunkenness and debauchery. This again can be linked to the fact that Hamlet hates and disgusts what his uncle and mother have done by marrying and sharing the bed that his mother and the old king once shared.
Arguably, this dysfunctional Hamlet family is one of the reasons, if not the reason, for Hamlet’s downward spiral and ultimately leads to him becoming obsessed with revenge and becoming an unstable state. This can also be supported by the fact that the whole reason Hamlet even considers revenge is because his uncle killed him, which is also a biblical reference to the story of Cain and Abel. In this story, one brother killed the other out of jealousy, greed, so that he could later marry his dead brother’s wife. This biblical reference seems to fit well with what Hamlet’s uncle did because he killed his brother because of his own greed for power and the throne of Denmark and then married his brother’s wife. Hamlet calls it “the greatest sin.”
Hamlet’s obsession with getting revenge on his uncle can also be seen as an Oedipus complex developed by a man named Freud after watching Hamlet. If his theory were used to describe Hamlet’s actions and his interactions with his mother and uncle, then Hamlet would want to get rid of his uncle because of his sexual desire for his mother.
In conclusion, the Shakespearean presentation of complex family relationships in Hamlets is very well done and weaves very well into the overall plot.
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