Analysis of the Rhetoric Device of Allusion in Hamlet

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Analysis of the Rhetoric Device of Allusion in Hamlet

Allusion: An allusion is a figure of speech whereby the author refers to a subject matter such as a place, event, or literary work by way of a passing reference. It is up to the reader to make a connection to the subject being mentioned.

Example: “I did enact Julius Caesar; I was killed i' the Capitol; Brutus killed me.” (III.ii.98-99)

Function: Hamlet speaks with Polonius right before the commencement of the play that will portray a mock version of King Hamlet’s death. The quote stems from the question that Hamlet asks to Polonius of his time as an actor in school, to which Polonius responds with the example quote. This allusion makes a connection between the tragic deaths of two distinct characters: Julius Caesar and Polonius. By using this allusion, Shakespeare gives the audience the opportunity to deduce that Polonius (in conjunction with his previous role as Julius Caesar) will die being stabbed by the Brutus of this story, Hamlet. This allusion also shows a contrast in the reversal of the roles of the participants of the two tragedies. Polonius, the king’s advisor is the unlucky individual who dies at the hands of the rightful king, Hamlet. While in the historical setting, Julius Caesar the emperor was slain by his advisor Brutus. Also, the allusion lends a tragic note to the death of Polonius due to the circumstances in which he will be killed; Julius Caesar did not foresee his death and neither will Polonius. While the quote concentrates mostly on the death of Polonius, we can extend to the comparison between Brutus and Hamlet. Shortly before his murder, Julius Caesar had been declared dictador perpetuo, meaning perpetual dictator. Brutus and many other Senators were afraid that this transition of political power to the Emperor was a threat to them. Brutus, believing that his actions were for the greater good of the Empire, assassinated Julius Caesar. Likewise, Hamlet stabs...
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