Hamlet Laertes, Ophelia, 'Modernity' and the "Self"-Evident Term Paper

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Laertes, Ophelia, 'Modernity' and the "Self"-Evident within Shakespeare's Hamlet

I am thy father's spirit;

Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confined to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. (William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Act 1, Scene 5, lines 9-13).

These five lines from the play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark's initial act that serve to both compel and perpetuate the play's main action, i.e., that of Hamlet's avenging (or at least thinking about avenging) his father's murder, are, arguably also applicable, albeit much differently so, to two of the play's other important characters, the siblings Laertes and Ophelia, Polonius's children. In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, the equally even if distinctly ill-fated brother and sister are "reactive" (i.e., by this I mean that they seem mainly to react to others' actions, rather than causing others to react to either of their own, completely independent actions). Laertes and Ophelia are also different from other characters (although arguably similar to their father Polonius, a rather chameleon-like character in terms of easily-shifting opinions and loyalties, especially vis-a-vis whomever is King).

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World outlook' has mainly to do (in my opinion) with ways in which one uniquely sees the world, and therefore thinks; feels; acts; reacts; and manages (or does not) one's life and circumstances, e.g.: predictable or surprising; lucky or unfortunate; happy or sad; both, etc. In those respects Laertes and Ophelia in particular, as opposed (as one counter-example) to Claudius, whose own nefarious actions (plus Gertrude's support of them) compel the initial action of Hamlet and much later action as well) are reactive to circumstances rather than pro-active (or even independently active); that is, in actually bringing about any key conflicts and turning points, or resolutions, on their own.

Term Paper on Hamlet Laertes, Ophelia, 'Modernity' and the "Self"-Evident Assignment

Hamlet's frustrated love interest Ophelia, for example, reacts (only; ever) to Hamlet's own odd moods and/or poor treatment of her, eventually ending her life in despair after what she sees as Hamlet's rejection of her. Similarly, her brother Laertes reacts (only when Hamlet's nemesis Claudius puts the idea into his head) to Hamlet's killing of Polonius, and perceived culpability in Ophelia's death by challenging Hamlet to a duel. But Polonius's famous advice to his son:

Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement [sic].

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

For the apparel oft proclaims the man;

And they in France of the best rank and station

Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man. (Act I, Scene III) is never carried out by Laertes: he is not true to himself (whoever or whatever his "self" may be); and he is nothing but a "borrower," of the ideas and internal motivations of others, and Claudius in particular. In fact one might be challenged even to define the "self," at least within his own son, to whom Polonius refers.

Further, Laertes only reacts, when he does, from within the equally static roles of aggrieved son or brother, never on his own behalf (or on his own). Instead we know him (and Ophelia) only in relation to other: their father; Claudius; Gertrude, Hamlet; each other. Even Laertes' brotherly advice to Ophelia is but a parroting of their father's. For both, the world is a place in which one (and one's family) is acted upon, and one then reacts.

Within the text, Polonius is first seen giving the advice to his son to "be true" to himself before the deepest worsening, in Ophelia's own eyes, at least, of her increasingly worsening relationship with Hamlet based on Hamlet's mood swings and altogether unpredictable moods. After that, Ophelia's "world outlook" only darkens, to the point of, in the end, irrational, then unfathomable despair. That is her character development: from initially being reactively puzzled; then discouraged (and at that same time, verbally discouraged as well, by both her father and brother, from seeing more of Hamlet, whom both insist is acting too peculiarly to be allowed anymore to be in her presence.

Ophelia's character, though, even if her depression and despair increasingly worsens until she drowns herself, never manages to develop beyond "roles" (or "manners," vis-a-vis Polonius; Laertes, and Hamlet, respectively) of dutiful and obedient daughter; sister, and ambiguously-regarded female friend of the confused title character. While Hamlet's indecision further confuses and paralyzes him even as he struggles mightily against it (even that signals growth, or at least attempts at it) Ophelia neither seeks nor achieves independence or authentic selfhood. Without Hamlet's love, then (which she is certain she has lost) she is, she feels, nothing at all: therefore, she kills herself.

As for Hamlet himself by comparison, not just Ophelia, but now seemingly almost everything and everyone in his life (even outside life, if one counts the ghost) is somehow impeding his path toward independent thought and action that might allow him to finally avenge his father's death. But in his case this is not for lack of trying, and even that represents growth of Hamlet as a character, even if slow growth.

In terms of my own world outlook, I feel the play better points out to me what it is not (what it "not...be" than what it is ("be"). If I were to "unravel" my world outlook while or from absorbing the play Hamlet (and I do not believe, with all due respect, that every person indeed can), I believe the best line to perhaps describe it is Hamlet's own statement to his friend Horatio: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than can be dreamt of in our philosophy (Shakespeare, Act I, Scene V).

Polonius as a character (especially as opposed to Hamlet himself) tends toward simplification and reduction of complex issues and/or understandings. Like his children, he is not an independent character, nor is he a careful thinker or observer. His loyalty goes toward power; he is a faithful and obsequious to Claudius, as he no doubt was to King Hamlet before that. More than any other character, including either of his children (since they are younger, and could still change, but Polonius is fully mature in his own personality type and world outlook) Polonius lacks real individuality he constantly changes along with his environment. That is his own "philosophy," even if he never articulates it as such. This is also perhaps why his words to Laertes, "To thine own self be true," ring especially hollow.

My own world outlook is much different from Polonius's; more than anything else, I avoid taking on any sort of limiting or self-limiting "philosophy" through which to view the complexities of life, even though I have encountered various "philosophies"; e.g., psychological and economic theories (e.g., those of Freud; Marx, and others); religious or pseudo-religious groups or cults, etc. The world outlook truly available from within them, though, comforting though it might be to hide within for a while, is but a myopic, distorted one. Maybe I am much like Hamlet, hard as that is to fathom, much less admit. I hesitate a lot when making major decisions; and if someone murdered my father and I needed to exact revenge, I have no idea how I would feel or what I would do. I would probably do nothing for a long time, and then when I finally did something, it would be toward the end of first studying others' actions and/or reactions, just as Hamlet did at the dumb show.

As Margreta de Grazia also suggests in her article "When did Hamlet Become modern?," about the changes through the centuries of audiences;' and readers' perspectives on Shakespeare's play Hamlet, and the character Hamlet himself: "Once perceived as psychological, Hamlet begins to look contemporary... (p. 485). Perhaps this is so, but not so in any very positive manner. Modern Kings [I realize this is an oxymoron] and Kings-to-be (or at least those few left in the world with any real power or future power) manage to maintain that power (I am thinking now of the late King Hussein of Jordan, and to an extent his son and successor Abdullah) by appearing calm and confident; thinking quickly and acting decisively. Machiavelli's idealized "prince" is the one to emulate rather than Prince Hamlet, who (under Machiavelli's theory) simply received in advance what would have eventually been coming to him anyway. That is because by today's standards Hamlet is intolerably weak and wishy-washy. Oprah would criticize him publicly; then world would, once she pointed this out, opine him unfit to rule.

Ophelia is (again, unflatteringly) actually more "modern," at least in de Grazia's own sense of that word (i.e./,k that people could identify… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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