Common Critical Interpretations • Religious • Historical/Political • Psychological/Freud • Linguistic/Rhetorical • Feminist • Philosophical
Hamlet Prompt Identify a common motif from the play, and analyze how this motif develops an important universal theme of the play or how it develops a theme particular to its culture and time.
MOTIF and THEMEConnect your MOTIF to an important UNIVERSAL THEME. EARS to CORRUPTION INCEST To CORRUPTION STAGE/ACTING to PURPOSE OF REVENGE STAGE/ACTING to MEANING OF LIFE MADNESS to UNCERTAINTY OF TRUTH GARDEN/WEEDS to FALL OF HUMANKIND LANGUAGE/RHETORIC to UNCERTAINTY OF TRUTH
Universality of Shakespeare’s Hamlet Introduction to the specific motif Brief introduction to the play Purpose of the motif in the play THESIS: Universal message of the motif in the play Literary Analysis: Introductory Paragraph
1 2 3 4 5 INTRO and THESIS STATMENT Through the layering of literary motifs and his profound exploration of themes, William Shakespeare’s plays evoke an understanding of humanity that extends beyond his own time period of Renaissance England. In his play Hamlet, Shakespeare’s subtle use of the motif of ears demonstrates this depth of understanding. Whether being used literally or figuratively, there are over 20 references to ears. These references parallel the eavesdropping, deceit, manipulation, and corruption that develop as Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Hamlet, is haunted by the ghost of his dead father. Distortion of the truth, spread through ears, and manipulation of people, due to spying and eavesdropping, lead Hamlet to a philosophical paralysis in trying to determine what the just response is to an injustice. Set in the kingdom of Elsinore, Denmark, during Medieval times, the play takes shape in a specific historical and political milieu; however, Shakespeare’s message, developed through the multiple references to ears, goes beyond this limited time and place to illustrate how corruption, driven by the greed for power and the temptation of lust, has plagued humanity throughout history.
Topic sentence: point about the motif Quote lead-in / Context Quote to demonstrate the motif with citation Quote explanation Analysis of how the motif functions in the quote Analysis of the universal meaning of the motif Literary Analysis: Body Paragraph
Body Paragraph 1 2 3 4 2 3 4 5 6 The connection between the literal and figurative references to ears suggests how corruption works through the body to reach the spirit and also demonstrates the relationship between a King’s character and the health of his kingdom. In Act I Scene 5 the late King Hamlet comes back as a ghost to warn Hamlet of Claudius’ treachery. "Now, Hamlet, hear: 'Tis given out, that sleeping in mine orchard, A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged process of my death Rankly abus'd;" (I.5.34-38). The Ghost tells Hamlet that it was believed that he (King Hamlet) was bitten by a snake and died; however, he reveals the true course of events: “Sleeping within mine orchard, My custom always of the afternoon, Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole, With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, And in the porches of mine ears did pour The leperous distilment;" (I.5.59-64). Claudius murdered King Hamlet by pouring poison into his ear, and because of this, the whole “ear” of Denmark is poisoned. Claudius, instigated by his greed for power and lust for the Queen, deceives the people of Denmark and assumes the crown, thus ensuring corruption for the future of Elsinore. The physical poisoning through the ear leads to the figurative consequences of a deceived public. The ear emphasizes the path that the corruption takes as it first tempts and takes over the physical body, but eventually spreads to destroy the entire the kingdom. As Lord Acton famously said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Shakespeare’s portrayal of the corruption in Elsinore mirrors the concerns of his own time as the reign of Queen Elizabeth was coming to an end, and the determination of succession tothe throne was uncertain. Although Hamlet may speak of the specific political fears of his time, Shakespeare’s universal message applies to any period of political instability when corrupt leaders destroy the nation that they lead through the very deception of their rise to power.