Essay, Research Paper: College Paper On Shakespeare


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Shakespeare has many overlapping themes that seem to correlate throughout his
different works of literature. However, there are many themes that conflict as
well. King Lear and Hamlet are two works of literature that can be both compared
and contrasted. Hamlet and Lear seem to be complete opposites on the surface.
Hamlet is a young prince who is lost in a world of confusion and deception. His
father is brutally murdered by his uncle and he then must face him as his new
father-in-law when he marries his mother. Lear is an elderly man who is past his
prime and is trying to raise his daughters in a world of vanity and live with
the Renaissance’s preoccupation with appearances. As conflicting as these two
characters seem they also have to deal with many of the same pressures and they
surprisingly handle certain situations similarly. One such circumstance is that
they are both forced the verge of madness. But this isn’t the only thing that
is coincidental between the two character’s situation. They both have
‘methods to their madness.’ Hamlet goes through many trials and tribulations
throughout this play. He must live though his father’s untimely death, his
uncles hasty marry to his mother, Ophelia’s refusal to see him or except his
love letters, and the conspiracies that he sees planned against him. This alone
is enough for any reader to understand why he has gone mad and to sympathize
with. But Hamlet is stronger than he lets on to anybody. He is only pretending
to be as mad as he is so that people will not become suspicious when he snoops
around the house and acts irrationally toward his mother and step-father. His
madness becomes the obsession of the house and King Claudius actually brings his
old friends, Rosencranz and Guildenstern, to the house to find out what is
causing him to loose his sanity. He asks them, ”Something have you heard/of
Hamlet’s transformation?” Everybody ends up with his or her own personal
explanation to why Hamlet has gone mad. Queen Gertrude feels that it is simply
his father’s death and her marriage that has caused him to cross the line
between sanity and insanity. Polonius believes that it was his refusal to let
Hamlet see his daughter, Ophelia, that has made him mad. Ophelia can not find a
reason for his madness, and feels it is the pressure of society and his new
family that has changed him so dramatically. Whatever the reason, most of
Hamlets friends and family were set on the fact that Hamlet was no longer in his
right mind. However, Hamlet used this tactic of pretending to be out of his wits
to fool his enemies into underestimating his plans of revenge until the moment
of attack, and then, of course, it would be too late. King Lear also was accused
of going mad. He divided his kingdom into three parts so that each one of his
daughters could share in his wealth. He had each daughter battle against each
other to see who could flatter him the most. Goneril and Reagan both fought
ruthlessly to attain the better division of land. When his youngest daughter
(who was also his favorite) told him that she loved him like a daughter should
love a father and that one day she would have a husband that she would also
love, he became frenetic. He disowned her from the family, leaving the property
to his other two daughters. Lear is shunned by his two daughters later on in the
play, and is kicked out onto the streets where he becomes delirious. Although
this display of daft behavior is more genuine than Hamlet’s, I believe that
Lear ranted and raved because he was used to getting attention. Social status
was very crucial in the renaissance era. Many people would judge a person by how
many followers and possessions they held. Now that Lear was on his own and not
surrounded by his followers he felt that he was worth nothing if he had nothing.
For the first time in his life, he had to face his true self worth. I think this
frightened him more so than anything else did. So instead of facing this
awakening thought he began to act mad, so that he would not have to face the
inevitable truth. I do not believe that this alone was the cause of his
deliriousness, or that he was faking his madness. But I believe that this pushed
him to the edge, and that he easily accepted this behavior instead of dealing
with his fate. Hamlet and Lear handle this situation similarly because they both
use a method of madness to escape the disaster unfolding around them. Another
similarity between the two plays is the loyalty that is felt toward a parent
from a child. Hamlet decides he will do whatever it takes to revenge his
father’s death, even if means putting his own life on the line. Hamlet states
his dedication to his father and his revenge by stating “Suit the action to
the word/and the word to the action.” It became his obsession. To find a
punishment that would fit the crime. In King Lear, Cordelia tries to be a
truthful daughter and answers her father’s question with brevity and
frankness. Instead of enjoying the refreshing truth for once, the king banishes
her from his property. Later on, Cordelia reenters the play and attempts to save
her father and win him back his throne. When the French army is defeated her and
her father are captured and brought to prison. In the chamber she tells her
father that she does not hold a grudge against him and is happy that he has come
back into her life. Although they are both killed shortly after, it is presented
to the audience that Cordelia was the only daughter to remain loyal to her
father. It is important to realize that both plots revolve around the idea that
these two characters remain loyal under all circumstances throughout the plays.
The last similar theme that I will discuss is the part of the fool. In Hamlet,
it seems that whenever he speaks it is out of madness and that there is no
validation to what he has to say. But he is usually trying to get across the
evil plots of King Claudius without coming out and saying it. He says, “
though this is madness/yet there be method in’t.” He uses these outbursts of
delusions to spread the truth. In King Lear the fool plays an important but
small role. He is the one that takes Lear under his wing when he is forced to
live on the streets. It is the fool that continues to give him the advice and
remind him of his folly and to plead with him to alter his course. This is no
court jester but a voice of inner sanity and outward conscience. Perhaps
Shakespeare wished to remind us of the Psalmist: “ Out of the mouth babes and
sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou
mightiest still the enemy and the avenger.” Therefore, whenever the ‘fool’
speaks in either Hamlet or King Lear, it is to state some truth or fact so that
perhaps the readers can detect it but the characters are still clueless. The
contrast that I can determine from these two plays is the fact that Hamlet seems
to be based on the thought that when an evil has been done; it is almost
impossible to fix. No matter how hard you try to turn things around, you must
realize that revenge is not the answer. Hamlet succeeded in his plan of attack
against the king. But in the process he managed to kill every main character in
the play, including himself. I think that Hamlet was a perfect example of how
Shakespeare loves to send contradicting messages. He presents the idea that not
everything is black and white. In life, there are always gray areas. He says
that revenge does not solve the problem yet he revolves his plot around it and
shows how Hamlet could not rest until he sought out revenge, no matter what the
cost. In King Lear, I do not believe that the message was mixed at all. I
believe that it was very clear that the theme of the play was to love the
one’s that are true to you, even if they don’t love uxoriously, their love
is real and it will withstand any obstacles in it’s path. The ending also
distinctively shows that if you live your life holding grudges, you will end up
alone or surrounded by fools. Regardless of the similarities and differences of
these two plays, the reader will learn a lesson in love either way. And the
lesson that Shakespeare teaches time and time again is simple. Love is a
paradox; it will never be understood.
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