Explore the Construction of Identiy in Hamlet and Beowulf

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Thesis: Identity is constructed through the character’s change/realisation of social ideals and personal experiences throughout the text.
“’Identity has been increasingly used to refer to the social and historical make-up of a person, personality as a construct. Sometimes such identities are conceived narrowly psychological, individualist terms, as the cumulative result of personal experience and family history” This is seen particularly in Beowulf where all men are referred to as their fathers’ sons’. Family history was massively important in those times and men well often well respected because of the heroic things their ancestors had done. Warriors also felt the need to reach the same level of notoriety. This is shown when we are first introduced to Beowulf. We are told about his father before even knowing his name: “In his day, my father was a famous man a noble warrior-lord named Ecgtheow” Similarly in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, purely through learning of Hamlet’s lineage we discover he is the son of the king and this plays an important part of his identity and the events throughout the play. In most novels, plays and poems, the identity of the protagonist changes the more we get to know the character; the more that happens the more we think we know what they are like. This is the same for real life, when we first meet people we are often uncertain about their identity and personality, we usually learn more about them through their actions and associations. This is true for Beowulf; because it is set in the third person we learn about him through what he does and what he says. A text being in third person can also be useful; the narrator can offer definite and universal truths about the character which can be especially useful as it is almost impossible for a writer to create a character that will be interpreted the same way by every person that reads it. Characters are read in different ways throughout the generations and from culture to culture. It could therefore be argued that identity is not created through the author but by the readers. Hamlet, being a play, has many long soliloquies where he reveals his inner thoughts to the audience in first person. In soliloquies the character usually asks a rhetorical question and then answers it; this allows the audience to understand the character’s emotions and motives, something especially important in Hamlet where some of his actions would be considered very unconventional or deranged. This helps us to empathise with Hamlet and engage ourselves in the plot. “O that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable”
This is the beginning of Hamlet’s first soliloquy when he learns of his father’s death and his mother’s betrayal by marrying Claudius less than two months after his father’s death. He contemplates suicide to escape what he describes as a ‘weary stale, flat and unprofitable’ world and wishes it was not a sin against God. Not only does this soliloquy reveal his true feelings about his mother and Claudius, it shows us that he is religious which accounts for his delay in murdering the new King even under his dead father’s orders. The thoughts of other characters, not only the protagonist are important as they help to keep the play timeless. In Hamlet, murder is nothing abnormal, almost expected whereas now it is a very serious offence for anyone, including the monarchy. Not only that, but seeing a ghost is not normal behaviour for a 21st century reader, without the other characters seeing the ghost we would be unable to distinguish between reality and Hamlet’s madness. Horatio talks to the ghost like it is a real thing: “Horatio: Stay, speak, speak, I charge thee speak.”

It can be concluded that identity is how the characters act within the times in which they live in. Identity is therefore impossible to...
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