Analysis of Social Commentary in William Shakespeare's
William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet, is a play that offers various and very contrasting views on such subjects as religion, reason, passion, and human life and death. Throughout the entire play, the protagonist, Hamlet, can be seen as someone who talks and thinks way beyond necessity, so much so that he is unable to focus on his main point in the play. Hamlet's contradicting behavior throughout the play have grave and powerful effects on those he interacted with. From feigning madness to becoming the voice of reason, Shakespeare is able to make powerful social commentary through the complexities and personality of the main protagonist, Hamlet. In making Hamlet's character so complex, Shakespeare has taken great measures to put both complex and simple social commentary throughout the play. There are many examples where Hamlet's character can be compared to something that either was going on in the society that Shakespeare lived in, and there are also many instances where the social commentary that is being made by Shakespeare still applies today.
In the beginning of the play, the story of the play is set. King Hamlet has just been found dead, and is survived by his wife, Gertrude, and son Hamlet. The cause of the King's death is said to be a poisonous snake bite. Instead of a young Hamlet taking over the throne in his father's death, Hamlet's uncle is chosen, the King's brother, Claudius. Also, a short time after King Hamlet's death, (it is never made clear of an exact time period, although there is evidence for one to speculate), Hamlet's mother Gertrude marries Claudius, and remains the Queen of Denmark. All of these events in a row cause Hamlet to become very dark and seemingly depressed, on the edge of killing himself. When we first meet Hamlet in the play in Act One, Scene Two, he is dressed in all black and is in a very inhospitable and depressing mood. The first thing he says to Claudius after Claudius tries to call Hamlet his "cousin"(1,2,64), is "A little more than kin, and less than kind."(1,2,65). This signifies Hamlet's attitude towards Claudius, he views his step-father with much contempt and as the play goes on, this contempt grows to hatred. Hamlet is also in this mood because he feels that his own mother betrayed his father, in marrying Claudius within a short period of time after the King's death. Hamlet views this relationship between his mother and his uncle as being incestuous, as Hamlet explains in his first soliloquy:
"Like Niobe, all tears- why, she-
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourn'd longer- married with my uncle,
My father's brother- but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her gallad eyes,
She married- O most wicked speed!"
In this passage, Hamlet is talking to himself in his first soliloquy, and he is expressing his disdain and disbelief that his mother would marry his late father's brother so soon after his father died. He is disgusted in this action, and does call it "incestuous", although it is not.
One of the first and most powerful instances of social commentary comes in the form of Hamlet's first soliloquy. This soliloquy comes just after Claudius has addressed the nation that he has just become king of, Denmark. Hamlet does not believe that Claudius should be King, and more importantly, he does not like the fact that his mother has married his uncle only a month after his father died. Hamlet takes great pains throughout the play to bring this up whenever he is talking either with or about his mother, and this first soliloquy is no different. The first four lines of the first soliloquy offer great social commentary made by Shakespeare:
"O that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a...
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