The dead king has told Hamlet that Claudius killed him while he was asleep in the garden. Hamlet’s confusion and feeling of honor leads him to swear in behalf of his dead father to revenge on the present king. Shakespeare starts the play by bombarding Hamlet’s thinking process and leaving him with tons of weights on his shoulders. The whole aspect of the play revolves around character’s vows to fulfill their honor. The idea of honor in this play is portrayed far more advanced than any other Shakespearean play. Reta. A Terry is an author of “Vows to the Blackest Devil”: Hamlet and the Evolving code of honor in early modern England. She agrees that honor is substantial and goes another level with this idea. She diagrams in which Shakespeare used characters of Hamlet, Laertes, and Horatio to demonstrate the England’s notion of honor switching to the chivalric code of the medieval period’s idea of honor. She concludes that the shift of honor or the evolution of honor was visible in Hamlet.
The early England’s notion of honor described by Terry is promise. Men were considered honorable simply by right of birth and involved forever loyalty to one’s lord. Honor simply gave its holder dignity and status of a true honorable man, and this was categorized as the most important feature in a man. However during the Renaissance period, there was a major shift in the beliefs of honor. Terry said, “One of the most complex changes in the code of honor was a move from an external code to an internalized concept of what it is to be an honorable man.” (Terry 1071) The involvement of blood and lineage stopped coming in to play and in every situation, men behaved to please both “their state and their god.” (1071) The modern code of honor is heavily affected by religious affair and needs to satisfy god and one’s loyalty. Hamlet, the protagonist of the play is caught in an ambiguous world, the pressure between the old and the new code of honor leads him to become mad and think of unthinkable ideas.
Horatio is Hamlet’s loyal friend who studied at the University of Wittenberg together. Horatio is a good example of early England’s notion of honor. Horatio was one of the first couple of people to see the ghost of Old Hamlet. As an Elizabethan, he does not believe in ghosts of any kind, but he is well educated to be convinced with facts by others. The guards of Denmark saw the apparition first and Horatio takes action by keeping it a secret and only telling Hamlet, his very close friend. After Hamlet talks to the ghost of Old Hamlet, Horatio makes two significant promises to Hamlet. Hamlet makes him swear to not tell anyone what they saw and tells Horatio to cope with him when Hamlet pretends to be crazy. Horatio willingly swears saying, “Not I my lord, by heaven” (I.i.5) and swears the second time by saying, “Ay by heaven, my lord” (I.i.5). These actions by Horatio are more of a Roman code of honor that requires trust and obedience to the lord. Horatio declares under an oath and keeps his code of honor until the end. Horatio first proves his loyalty in Act III when Hamlet acts up in front of Claudius. Horatio was able to say under control and allowed Hamlet to accomplish what he wanted to do. At the end of the play, his loyalty is clearly proven to Hamlet. In Act 5 scene ii, Horatio offers to commit suicide when his endeared Hamlet falls on the ground dying. This action is the pivotal point behind Terry’s opinion on code of honor. As a true Elizabethan, he lives by his words and dies by his words. It is completely against Christian belief in taking one’s own life, for they will be sent straight to hell. However, his definition of honor has been broken through the death of his friend and he isn’t afraid to take his own life.
Laertes, similar to Hamlet lost his father and seeks to avenge his father’s death. Revenge is an act of an old honor code, but what’s interesting about Laertes is that he never makes a public promise to kill the killer of his...
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