Shakespeare’s early 17th century revenge tragedy “Hamlet” is shaped by our understanding that knowledge of its contextual milieu develops an appreciation for the play’s timeless resonance. We also recognize the play’s textual integrity allows Shakespeare to explore the validity of the values that defined the Elizabethan world view and enables us to understand that while the context of the composer and responder may differ markedly in terms of social, cultural and religious values, there are certain human truths that transcend contextual limitations.
As individuals whose own values have been shaped by our own contemporary context we respond to the anxieties and question embedded in the text as we contemplate our ability to find meaning and moral order in an uncertain world. By utalising his dramatic skills, Shakespeare constructs a play which examines the validity of Medieval values at a time when the renaissance was raising humanist concerns about whether man might impose his will upon the world in which he existed.
Through Hamlet’s soliloquies Shakespeare provides an insight into the moral dilemma of an individual whose recognition that he has “the motive and cue for passion” is subverted by his agonized conviction that “Heaven hath pleased it so/ To punish me with it”. The repeated vacillations between a commitment to his agonized role “The son of a dear father murthered/ Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell” and a “conscience (that) doth make cowards of us all” reflect hamlet’s awareness and contradictions of his position.
So by creating a character as a radically transitional product of a world of flux, Shakespeare creates in us an intellectual embodied in the exclamation, “O cursed spite/ that ever I was born to set it right”! So we can see that by using the soliloquies, Shakespeare furthers our understanding of Hamlet’s inability to resolve upon a course of action and of the emotional consequences that ensue. As adolescents in the 21st century, we too live in a time of doubt and anxiety similar to Hamlet.
In the play, Hamlet’s sense of hopelessness is further heightened by the play’s dramatic structure. As we can see, Shakespeare places his tragic hero in an environment characterized by pervasive corruption. This corruption underlies the tension which is established in the opening scene as Barnardo’s question “who’s there”? which is immediately followed by Fransisco’s imperative, “stand and unfold yourself” reflects the fear and unease that dominates a “state… disjoint and out of frame” .
Further exacerbating this tension is the dramatic function of “this thing…. That upsurpt this time of night”, representing the Elizabethan belief that the appearance of a ghost is the metaphorical prologue to the “omen coming on”. Thus by using the first scene as a dramatic precursor to Claudius’ appearance, Shakespeare ensures that we are engaged by the conflicting perceptions of the state and king embodied in the paradox “the body is with the king, but the king is not with the body”.
Yet the further dramatic development Reflecting the values its milieu, Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy “hamlet” examines the humanist contemplation of death and destiny through Hamlet’s introspective deliberations. So in our more secular and materialistic society we understand Hamlet’s death wish conveyed in the image of dissolution “O that this too too sallied flesh would melt” becomes an ultimate expression of free will.
Yet counterpointed to this is the Biblical allusion to the “everlasting” that has “fixt/its canon against self-slaughter, forcing us to confront the notion that traditional Judeo-Christian values were us to recognize Hamlet as a Renaissance man. In fact Hamlet’s rhetorical question “questioning the Medieval tenets of Christianity. Thus we can agree that Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” successfully examines the role of context whether it be shaped by cultural, social and religious doctrines that continue to resonate through time due to the universal nature of its humanistic concerns.