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Shakespeare play Hamlet (play) I INTRODUCTION

Hamlet (play), tragedy of revenge

by English playwright William Shakespeare. Probably written in 1601, Hamlet is generally considered the foremost tragedy in English drama. Numerous commentaries have been written analyzing every aspect of the play, and interpretation of Hamlets character and motivation continue to be subjects of considerable interest. II SOURCES The story of Hamlet originated in Norse legend. The earliest written version is Books III and IV of

Historia Danica (History of the

Danes), written in Latin around 1200 by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. Shakespeare's source for Hamlet was either an adaptation of Saxo's tale, which appeared in Histoires Tragiques (1576) by Franois Belleforest, or a play, now lost, which was probably written by English dramatist Thomas Kyd. The lost play is referred to by scholars as UrHamlet, meaning original Hamlet. III PLOT

Sir John Gielgud

English actor Sir John Gielgud has appeared in a wide variety of stage, motion-picture, and television productions throughout his career. He is most renowned for his performances as the title character in Hamlet by 16thcentury English playwright William Shakespeare. The Everett Collection, Inc.

Hamlet opens at Elsinore castle in

Denmark with the return of Prince Hamlet from the University of Wittenberg, in Germany. He finds that his father, the former king, has recently died and that his mother, Queen Gertrude, has subsequently married Claudius, his father's brother. Claudius has assumed the title of king of

Denmark. Hamlets sense that something is rotten in the state of Denmark is intensified when his friend and fellow student Horatio informs him that a ghost resembling his dead father has been seen on the battlements of the castle. Hamlet confronts the ghost, who tells him that Claudius murdered him and makes Hamlet swear to avenge his death. In order to disguise his feelings, Hamlet declares that from now on he will demonstrate an antic disposition. His behavior appears to everyone but Claudius to be a form of madness. To satisfy his growing questions about whether Hamlet is feigning madness, Claudius makes three

attempts to verify Hamlets sanity. In his endeavor he makes use of Ophelia, the daughter of the lord chamberlain, Polonius; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, university friends of Hamlet; and finally Polonius himself. Polonius, sure that Hamlet's madness is the result of disappointed love for Ophelia for Polonius has instructed her to keep aloof from the prince arranges a chance encounter between the lovers that he and the king can overhear. Hamlet is not deceived. He bitterly rejects Ophelia and uses the occasion to utter what Claudius alone will recognize as a warning.

Derek Jacobi as Hamlet Actor Derek Jacobi made his London stage debut in 1963 in the role of Laertes in William Shakespeares tragedy Hamlet. In 1977 he took the lead role in Hamlet at Londons Royal National Theatre. The Everett Collection, Inc. In the meantime, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have arrived at court.

They talk about the company of players that has followed them to Elsinore. This suggests to Hamlet a means for eliminating all doubts about the king's guilt. He has the players perform a piece, The Murder of Gonzago, that reproduces the circumstances of his father's murder. Claudius interrupts the performance, and Hamlet and Horatio interpret this as a betrayal of his guilt. Queen Gertrude, angered at what she considers Hamlet's rudeness at the play, summons him to her chamber. On his way Hamlet comes upon Claudius kneeling in prayer. Hamlet overhears the kings plea to heaven for forgiveness for the act that

procured him his crown and his queen. No longer doubting the king's guilt, Hamlet still refrains from killing him. He reasons that the present circumstances seem too much like absolution and that he should reserve his revenge for some occasion when Claudius's death would be certain to be followed by damnation.

Ralph Fiennes as Hamlet British stage and screen actor Ralph Fiennes starred in a 1994 production of William Shakespeares Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre in London. In addition to Hamlet, Fiennes has also appeared in Anton Chekhovs Ivanov (1997), and in

Shakespeares Richard II and Coriolanus (2000) at the Almeida. Robbie Jack/Corbis By the time Hamlet arrives at his mother's chamber, Polonius, with the complicity of both the king and the queen, has concealed himself behind a tapestry in the hope that Hamlet will reveal the cause of his odd behavior. The queen begins the interview in a challenging tone that infuriates Hamlet, who has long brooded over his mothers marriage to Claudius so soon after his father's death. Hamlets response is so violent that Gertrude screams, causing Polonius to cry out for help. Thinking it is the king, Hamlet

thrusts his sword through the tapestry and kills Polonius. Claudius then sends Hamlet to England, escorted by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, ostensibly for the prince's safety but in fact to have him executed on his arrival. During Hamlet's absence Laertes, the son of Polonius, returns from Paris, France, to avenge his father's death. Laertes finds that his sister Ophelia, grief stricken by her father's death at the hands of the man she loves, has gone mad. Her suicide by drowning increases Laertes's desire for revenge. Meanwhile, Hamlet is attacked by sea pirates and persuades them to return him to Denmark.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, however, continue on their way to England; Hamlet has replaced their written order for his execution with another naming them as the victims. When Hamlet returns unexpectedly to witness the funeral of Ophelia, the king suggests to the vengeful Laertes that he challenge Hamlet to a fencing match in which Laertes will use an unprotected foil tipped with poison. As a backup, should Laertes's skill or nerve fail, the king prepares a poisoned cup of wine to offer Hamlet. In the excitement of the ensuing duel, the queen insists on drinking from the cup. Hamlet and Laertes are both mortally wounded, for in the violence of the

bout the rapiers have changed hands. The dying queen warns Hamlet of the poison. Laertes points to the king as the chief instigator, and Hamlet at once stabs his uncle with the poisoned foil. With his last breath Hamlet exchanges forgiveness with Laertes and asks Horatio to make clear to the world the true story of his tragedy. Fortinbras, a prince of Norway, appears on the scene. He had earlier been granted permission to lead the Norwegian army across Denmark to attack Poland and has now returned from his military campaign. With all of the claimants to the Danish throne dead, Fortinbras claims the crown.

IV INTERPRETATION

Redons Ophelia Among the Flowers Ophelia Among the Flowers (19051908, National Gallery, London) is one of a series of pastel drawings that French artist Odilon Redon based on a scene from William Shakespeares play Hamlet. In the play Ophelia lapses into madness after the death of her father and,

surrounded by flowers, drowns in a brook. The National Gallery, London/Corbis Hamlets volatile character and ambivalent behavior have been the subject of much analysis. One major issue is the question of the hero's sanity. Most critics maintain that Hamlet only pretends madness and then only at certain times. They are supported by Hamlet's explicit avowal to Horatio after he has seen the ghost of his father that he plans to put an antic disposition on. Many critics believe that Hamlet feigns insanity to conceal his real feelings and to divert attention from his task of revenge. Other critics assert that

Hamlet hopes that Claudius, thinking him mad, will lower his guard and reveal his guilt in Hamlet's presence. Another discussion issue is Hamlets delay in seeking revenge. The conventions of the age during which the play was written provide one possible explanation for Hamlets procrastination. In Elizabethan times, a ghost was generally believed to be a devil that had assumed the guise of a dead person. These ghosts sought to endanger the souls of those nearest the deceased through lies and other damnable behavior. In Hamlet, when the ghost first appears on the palace battlements, no one affirms that it is the spirit of

Hamlet's father, only that it looks like him. Hamlet waits to be convinced that the ghost is indeed the spirit of his late father. When Hamlet decides to present The Murder of Gonzago before the king, he states as his motive: The spirit that I have seen May be the devil; and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape; yea and perhaps Abuses me to damn me. However, once he is convinced that the ghost is truly his father, Hamlet still appears to hesitate. Some critics have explained this by analyzing his situation. Because

the murder of the late king took place secretly, the Danish court neither suspects nor disapproves of Claudius. His reaction to The Murder of Gonzago is significant only to Hamlet and Horatio, and Hamlet cannot kill the king before publicly proving him a murderer (as he is dying, Hamlet's main concern is that Denmark know his reasons for killing Claudius). Also, if Hamlet kills the king without supporters present to uphold the act, he himself might be immediately killed as a regicide. When Hamlet rushes at the king in the last scene, the whole court with one voice shouts, Treason! Treason! although Laertes has already exposed Claudius's villainy.

Like the Oedipus of Sophocles and Shakespeares own King Lear, Hamlet is a tragic hero and thus largely determines his own fate. Shakespeare portrays him as an extraordinarily complex young manbrilliant, sensitive, intuitive, noble, philosophic, and reckless. He is larger than life, a great repository of emotion and intellect. This unfocused excess of personality is the source of his tragedy. The emotional side of Hamlets nature is almost immediately evident: At the play's opening he is shown consumed by anguish and shock even before he sees the ghost. He has abandoned himself to melancholy; in his first

soliloquy, he expresses the wish that suicide were permissible. Hamlet's emotions occasionally impel him to act precipitously, often with disastrous consequences. During his encounter with Gertrude, for example, he becomes so angry that he does not wait to determine the eavesdroppers identity but immediately runs him through with his saber. Only after doing so does Hamlet ask, hopefully, Is it the king? Hamlet's impetuosity is not the only factor that complicates an already intricate situation. Hamlet has a superb mind and is able to articulate his thoughts with great

precision and wit. His soliloquies reveal that he is of a highly contemplative, generalizing nature, often given to periods of agonizing introspection. The great generalizing power of Hamlet's mind is dramatically revealed in the scene at Ophelia's grave. Instead of planning how best to kill Claudius, he broods over the justdiscovered skull of his father's jester, Yorick: Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy ... Where are your gibes now, your gambols, your songs?

His thoughts then wander to mortality in general and the futility of even the greatest human achievement: To what base uses we may return Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bung hole? ... This kind of imaginative but impractical mental activity helps ensure Hamlet's tragic destiny. A man who soon must pit his life against the fury of Laertes and the guile of Claudius simply does not have the leisure to philosophize about death.

Hamlet's impetuosity and emotionalism is also the source of his major weakness, impatience. In the To be or not to be soliloquy he asks if it is better to suffer and wait, or to put an end to doubts and scruples by acting at once: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? The greatest obstacle to direct action is his own complex personality, and as the soliloquies reveal, he is constantly impatient

with himself: How all occasions do inform against me, And spur my dull revenge ... Now whether it be Bestial oblivion or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on the event ... I do not know ... How stand I then, That have a father kill'd, and mother stained, And let all sleep? Hamlet's impatience often prevents appropriate planning, so that when he does act he does not achieve his desired results. In the final scene, anxious to get on with the

duel, Hamlet fails to inspect the foils and thus to notice that Laertes's foil is not blunted. This final impatience costs him his life. V QUOTATIONS

Hamlet is not only the most

discussed but also the most quoted of Shakespeare's plays. Many of its lines have become well known. The following are among the most famous: This above all: to thine own self be true ...

There are more things in heaven and earth,

Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause.

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, To tell my story.

Microsoft Encarta 2008. 1993-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


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Regards,

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