Cynthia Balcom, JD
30 October 2007
"Hamlet," A Story for the Ages
William Shakespeare's, "Hamlet," was based on the semi-histori
cal figure, Amleth. Amleth was introduced through a poem in the 800's by an Iceland poet named Snaebjorn. The tale of Amleth was made popular by Saxo Grammaticus, who accounted the life of a Danish prince in his history of Denmark, "Gesta Danorum," in 1185 (Burrow-Flak). It can not be denied that Shakespeare was greatly influenced by Grammaticus's work. The two tales share an almost identical plot and the characters are interchangeable. However, while Shakespeare reiterated Grammaticus's saga to the masses, he enriched the story with ideals that would interest his Elizabethan Era audience.
Shakespeare was believed to have wrote, "Hamlet," in 1601. During the late 1500s and 1600s revenge tragedies became very popular in England. The narrative of Amleth was not short on subject matter involving tragedy, revenge, and jealousy; this surely made Shakespeare take notice. However, Amleth was a story with a lot of brutality and blood but little heart, and this would have not appealed to the evolving humanistic attitude of the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare imparted a soul into his characters who felt remorse for murder and questioned the morality of death and revenge. This can be seen in comparing a pivotal scene in the two plays. In Saxo's version, Amleth not only killed the eavesdropper (Polonius) but also cut, "his body into morsels, he seethed it in boiling water, and flung it through the mouth of an open sewer for the swine to eat." (Cook). Heavily in contrast, Shakespeare's Hamlet feels remorse after the murder of Polonius, as can be seen in his dialogue, "I do repent; but heaven hath pleas'd it so, / To punish me with this, and this with me, / That I must be their scourge and minister" (175-177). Hamlet declared his "repent," or regret for the murder of Polonius, showing his human,...