The Libation Bearers and Hamlet

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The Libation Bearers and Hamlet
Many of Shakespeare’s plays draw from classical Greek themes, plot and metaphors. The tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Homer have themes like royal murders, assassinations by near relatives, the supernatural, ghostly visits, and vengeful spirits of the dead- themes which reappear in Shakespeare’s tragedies with a difference. Shakespeare’s tragic hero Hamlet and Aeschylus’s Orestes have a great deal in common. Both the plays are set in a time when the society is going through transition. In Orestia gods are changing. Furies turn into Eumenides or the Pacified Ones. Social and political norms are changing. The old laws of revenge and retribution have to be re-established. Similarly Hamlet’s philosophical ideals no longer hold. Earl Showerman observes: “Hamlet and Orestes are perhaps even greater as tragic heroes because their dramas move through times of cultural liminality.” In case of Hamlet Medieval ideas of honor and morality are going down through renaissance while Orestia is set in a time which is changing into the Iron Age. It is the age when Greek dramatists hailed human heroes more than Olympian gods. Gilbert Murray compares the tragedies as:

“There are first the broad similarities of situation between what we may call the original sagas on both sides; that is the general story of Orestes and Hamlet respectively. But secondly, there is something much more remarkable; when these sagas were worked up into tragedies, quite independently and on very different lines, by great dramatists of Greece and England, not only do most of the old similarities remain, but a number of new similarities are developed. That is Aeschylus, Euripides, and Shakespeare are strikingly similar in certain points which do not occur at all in Saxo or Ambales or the Greek epic.” (14)

Both Orestes and Hamlet are revenge heroes who have to avenge the blood of their murdered fathers. In both cases the murderer is a near kin. Both the...
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