William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare - Biography

William Shakespeare, with his background, couldn't have written such plays. Many people try to demonstrate that it was the Earl of Southampton the person who wrote the plays. That's because it's known Shakespeare didn't attend to university and to write to plays in such a way more studies are required.

Three main feature must be taken into account when studying his biography:

  • Serious gaps in his biography.

  • Lack of biographical information.

  • No university education.

  • Despite of this, we posses much more information from Shakespeare than from any other Renaissance writer.

    No portrait of Shakespeare is 100% sure of reflecting his way to look at. Probably, the first folio of his complete works (1623) has the closest portrait to reality, as it was chosen by two men who worked with him in his theatre company “The Queen's Men”.

    Shakespeare was born in Stratford. His parents were John and Mary Arden. He was baptized in April 26, 1564. The Christening of a child in those times used to be three days after his birth, what makes us think he was born in 23 April (St. George's Day). Then, it would be a coincidence that he died in April 23, 1616. But it isn't true that Shakespeare died the same day than Cervantes, as England and Spain were ruled by different calendars then (England followed the calendar of the Reform).

    Shakespeare, very probably, was a glover: money lending. He became so prosperous with that, that in a few years he became a bailiff-mayor, probably because of his Catholic tendencies. These tendencies have led the critics to make a Catholic reading of his works, but that point of view is totally wrong.

    He had to attend Stratford's Grammar School. This school was divided into two levels, and he probably attended the first one, which was called “The Petty School”. We don't have a list of the pupils who attended to it, but we know that he had to study Latin very hard. Shakespeare then shows in his plays he knows Latin perfectly well. We shouldn't take into account that Ben Jonson said that Shakespeare had “little Latin and less of Greek”, as Jonson was an erudite of these two dead languages. It's believed that Shakespeare became familiar with the classics coming through the translations in fashion at that time.

    Shakespeare probably attended the grammar school until 1578. After that, we have a gap of 3 - 4 years in his life, until he gets married in 1582 - 3 with Anne Hathaway. Many stories circulate about him from this time of his life. The most veridical may be that then he was poor, besides he had to maintain a child and wife and two twins who would come later on. In order to carry on, he would probably become a poacher.

    In 1587 he's probably made his way to London. It's probable that the previous year “The Queen's Men” (the most important theatre company of England) passed through Stratford and then Shakespeare decided to go with them to London. In the moment of the episode of the Invincible Armada, he certainly was in London, probably acting as a secondary actor and working as a horseboy for the company people. In 1592 he started to be noticed as a good playwright. It was then when Robert Greene said that among all the playwrights there was an “upstart crow”. He meant that Shakespeare was pretending to be a playwright among playwrights, but it wasn't so. His name was becoming quite familiar among audiences, especially after the plays of Venus and Adonis (dedicated to the Earl of Southampton) and Henry VI. Then he decided to establish in London. At that time the city had 160,000 inhabitants and it was suffering a problem of overpopulation. The limits of the town were practically those around St. Paul's Cathedral (burnt in a fire in 1666).

    There were at that time two main districts for the playhouses:

    N- Shoreditch.

    S- Southwark.

    The first playhouses emerged in these two limits, precisely outside the city. The first was Shoreditch, having the main building called (James Burbage) “The Theatre”. This building was dismantled overnight in 1598. Later another playhouse was built in Southwark, were “The Globe” was erected. Shakespeare became very famous in this last playhouse.

    These were not the only playhouses at the time: other four playhouses were in full in Shakespeare's London times. The city authorities of London were Puritan as a rule: they saw playhouses as a work of the devil. That's why playhouses were outside the city, but also near it in order to gain money. At the end of the 16th C. Shoreditch disappeared as a theatrical centre. The rest of them were across the river Thames.

    The playhouses in Shakespeare's times were of two types:

    • Public playhouses.

    • Private playhouses.

    Their division had to do with the admission of the audience. The private playhouses were a indoor theatre with artificial light. They were usually placed inside the cities. Its admission was very expensive. The public playhouses were characterised for being outside the cities and in the open air. There were no divisions into acts in the play. We don't exactly know how they were in Shakespeare's times, probably in a hexagonal shape. The playhouses took after the animal-baiting rings, imitating the traditional shape of these entertainment activities. There used to be a flag on the top of the playhouse. They used to contain the motto of that playhouse. When the flag was raised, it meant that the playhouse was working.

    The first playhouse was built by James Burbage in 1577. Nobody knows for sure the exact aspect of a playhouse, but they probably looked like the following picture:


    Spectators stood up in the arena. The galleries, with spare room to sit down, offered an aerial view of the stage. Generally, there were three stores of galleries. This design of the building supposed four important problems:

  • We are talking about an open house. Plays used to be performed at 2 p.m., what led to some problems with the performances: some of the plays has scenes at night, others had numerous characters, etc. These problems had to be solved with the spectators' imagination.

  • The proximity between spectators and actors is tremendous. And besides they are watched from many different places of the playhouse. Because of that, it was impossible to play tricks in stage. This proximity also had the problem that, for example, in The Globe there were 1,200 “undertakers” approximately, and they disliked the play (which very frequently was so), that could be dangerous.

  • Usually, these playhouses allowed the entrance in the arena for just one penny. But if you wanted a place in the galleries (“To see and be seen”) your admittance increased depending on your place. This distribution of seats showed a social gradation according to your economy. That explains the degree of violence present at the playhouses.

  • The stage was basically a platform standing on some bars. This stage could be easily moved from place to place. Actors in Elizabethan times, possessed for the first time a fixed place to work. In 1572 “An Acte for the Punishement of Vagabondes” was carried out. Since times of Henry VIII, one of the most important problems in the English society was that one of beggars. Those friars who had previously been in monasteries became beggars by night, and after that rates of criminality had increased a great deal. So this law was created to avoid that problem. This act obliged people to have a fixed address. Otherwise, you could be even put to death if you didn't observe the law. So if actors had to have a fixed address, that place for acting was London. And more particularly, out of London, in order to get rid of the Puritan rules of the city. But when the bubonic plague appeared in London, theatres had to shut down. Those years (1592, 1599) were the ones elected by a company to travel around. So companies had to face some unforeseen travels. For this, companies attached to a playhouse would as a rule contain:

  • 8 - 10 sharers - actors

    10 (?) Hired actors

    4 - 5 boys


    20 - 25 people = enough for a play

    But when companies had to travel around, those numbers varied because it was very difficult to maintain a company in move. This number was about 8 - 10 people. In those cases, the same actor had to play two or three different roles at the same time. When writing a play, you must take this into account, so you must write a play so that some of his characters never coincide with others in stage, so as to be all played by the same actor. An example is King Lear's fool, also performed by the same actor of the role for Cordelia. At the and of the play, we see how the king says that the fool has hanged himself, when it is Cordelia who died. We don't know if it was a simple mistake or a joke played by Shakespeare on the world of theatre and the spectators.

    Another important person in the playhouse was the investor. Many investors had actions in playhouses. They were responsible for playing the rest of the building. Shakespeare probably was a horseboy, afterwards an actor. Then he became a coat-of-arms because he became investor of the company he worked for. That's how he became rich.

    Philip Henlowe left a diary which contains numerous entries on how actors should be paid. His diary gave us many clues on how playhouses worked.

    In the 90's, actors performed a play 6 days a week (they didn't work on Sundays). And every three days they offered a new play. This meant that actors had to possess an enormous capacity of memorizing. That was possible because actors used to specialize in the same type of role. For example, this explains that William Kempe always were a clown.

    Plays were written for just one company. That meant that Shakespeare had to bear in mind who was going to interpret the characters he created.

    There was an enormous demand of plays (every 3 days a new one had to be presented for the public!) and Shakespeare was able of producing them at an incredible speed. That's why many plays were written in collaboration by others as in his work Thomas More. The company paid playwrights after having the text in their hands and scripts were kept secretly. Afterwards, some of these texts were published in magazines or reviews so as to avoid other companies to use them. As a rule, texts were a product owned by a company, not by the playwright. The playwright would write a first version of the play and then the book-keeper would keep it under lock.

    The complete body of plays by William Shakespeare is the First Folio Edition of 1623. It's called `folio' in reference to the folio size of the book. This kind of edition was a luxury those days; the traditional edition was the `quarto' (a quarter part of a folio). The first folio (1623) was probably of 1,000 units. It was a compilation of plays carried out by two actors who worked with Shakespeare in the company of “The King's Men”. Their names were John Heminge and Henry Condel. Thanks to these men we know 17 Shakespeare's new plays, apart from 19 plays previously printed in quarto edition. The Folger Library (USA) contained 79 folios. The first folio today is a rare book.

    Heminge and Condel tried to reach “fair copies” by Shakespeare. But some of the plays of the previous editions (quarto) were different. We have different versions for the same play. All these problems have to do very much with publication of the book.

    The main source for analysing these problems is Philip Henslowe's Diary, where all things concerning the theatre company “The Admiral's Men” are registered. By 1642 670 plays were printed. Of those plays, we only possess copies of 623 plays (the others have been lost). This high quantity doesn't reflect the literary taste of those times, as 50% of them dealt with religion and the rest with other topics like grammar, geography, etc. Drama was in the 5th or 6th place of production.

    According to Henslowe's Diary, which starts in 1592 and ends eleven years later, 280 plays were represented in his company during all his recordings. From October 27 of 1596 to July 28 of 1597, 32 different plays were represented. Out of this number, only 15 were brand new. The other 17 plays were revivals. On the other hand, from these 280 works only 37 plays went into print, but only 17 were finally printed. If this percentage is right , this means that the production of plays was very low inside Henslowe's company. Because of this, we calculate that those 280 printed plays came from more than 50,000 different plays, coming from diverse companies.

    Companies were interested in printing the text. When plays found their ways in the press, many “bad copies” of the original text were published. We also have “pirate editions”, which were the result of what actors could remember of a play after having represented it and studied their characters.

    That's why the Shakespeare's versions of the quarto edition differ from those of the First Folio Edition. But the First Folio Edition didn't contain scenes that appeared in the first quarto edition.

    First quarto editions are usually called “a bad quarto”. Afterwards some publishers decided to take the First Folio Edition and add the scenes appearing in the first quarto edition and not in the First Folio Edition. That's why, when reading Shakespeare, choosing an edition or other may be crucial.

    To all this, we must take the censorship into account. At those times, the government possessed an office who controlled the censorship. It was called “The Revels Office”. Here the play was read and approved (or not) its representation. The Revels Office controlled and censored all plays and masques presented at Court. The Master of the Revels became the censor of all plays to be performed or printed elsewhere. In fact, the play was more expurgated when was gone into print than into representation.

    A worker at those days earned 5 - 6 pounds a year. Spending 1 pound in a folio edition meant too much. The quarto editions only cost a few pennies. Shakespeare wasn't interested in publishing his plays, but perhaps poetry, as is the case of his works The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis. All the glory that came to him with the plays was after his death.

    The real answer is if Shakespeare only wrote the 36 plays we have today. His partners (Heminge and Condel) would probably publish those which were reliable. That's because the majority of writers collaborated into the writing of plays, as their production was in a high demand. Probably Shakespeare collaborated in the writing of plays, especially in Thomas More. But the number of plays that Shakespeare wrote during his life is uncertain.

    Even in the First Folio Edition versions there are differences. The best edition to read Shakespeare's plays can be a facsimile of the First Folio, though it isn't genuine.

    Much Ado About Nothing

    This play was probably written in 1598. It's a mature play, catalogued as a romantic comedy. Humour is not the most important part of a comedy. The central topic of this particular play is love with a positive ending. Comedies usually are about love and its success. Comedies deal with a female universe, while tragedies do it with a male one. In comedies we have a positive ending through women.

    Much of the material for Much Ado About Nothing is based in the tale 22 of Matteo Baldello's La Prima Parte Delle Novele (1554). It was translated into French by Belleforest in 1974, but ver probably Shakespeare had read the original.

    Much Ado About Nothing is a play about two parallel stories of love:

    Claudio & Hero

    Beatrice & Benedick

    There's a past not contained in the play in which the characters met before. So we already have a whole background previously between Claudio and Hero.

    Don Pedro de Aragon is a good friend of Claudio. Claudio is an aristocrat, as well as Pedro. Claudio met Hero before the war and after it he's back in Messina with his friend Don Pedro. Messina is the town when Hero and her father Leonato live. However, the place where the play is located looks to be in the countryside. That's because Shakespeare thought the city -full of noise and corruption- is no place for love. The setting looks like a big (manor) house in a peaceful area of the town.

    The war has transformed Claudio. He wants to marry Hero, but he's not brave enough to ask her about the marriage. So he asks Don Pedro to declare for him. Don Pedro accepts and disguised as Claudio wearing a mask, approaches Hero in the party and talks to her.

    Before all this, Claudio and Don Pedro have been talking about Leonato and Hero as his main heiress. When Don Pedro knows Hero is the only heir, he decides to intervene. That's because the marriage must be between equals. Hero can't marry him without his father's approval and in the same way, Claudio's marriage must be validated by Don Pedro. That approval takes place under the form of a dance party. And Hero accepts because she has previously been advised by her father (it's not contained in the play).

    A marriage at those times was an economic business. That's why this marriage is contemplated with good eyes. Apparently, it looks as if the members of the couple were free to choose their partner, but that match is not free (a clear example is Romeo And Juliet). The parents' approval blesses the couple and helps it economically.

    Another character in the play is Don John, Don Pedro's bastard brother. He's the antagonist of the play: he approaches Claudio in the party and tells him that Don Pedro wants Hero for himself. But that trick was unsuccessful: Don Pedro goes at the end of the party and tells Claudio that Hero loves him.

    Then Don John prepares for his second trick: he makes Claudio believe that Hero is not the innocent girl she's supposed to, and that she's in love with another man. Claudio and Don Pedro believe to see Hero with another man that same night in her chamber. In reality it was Margaret (Hero's servant) disguised as Hero. So they both -Don Pedro and Claudio- are fooled by Don John.

    Appearance vs. Reality

    The next day they go to the wedding and Claudio tells her she's a whore and all he's seen the night before. The most shocking is that all people surrounding the couple believe Claudio and nobody does it on Hero, except the friar. And thanks to him, in part, Hero could recover her lover. As we see, all the play is full of masks.

    Dramatically, Hero and Claudio are character that do not have any weight: Hero doesn't speak much in the play a Claudio looks too a basic profile. Beatrice and Benedick have more weight in the play than the young couple. On the other hand, there's no great certainty about what's the main plot and which is the subplot. Actually we'd better say they are parallel plots.

    Love is not the centre of the play either, as Shakespeare is more worried with other things such as the second parallel plot. The Beatrice and Benedick affair was included in the play as a parallel plot. In reality, the subplot is Dogberry and Verges action. Beatrice and Benedick's parallel plot is as important as the main plot based in the 22nd Mandello's tale.

    We can establish a parallelism between these characters:

    Beatrice & Benedick.

    Claudio & Hero These characters are working in couple.

    Leonato & Don Pedro

    Don John is the only main character out of this dualism.

    In the second parallel plot, Benedick is depicted as a soldier, an aristocrat and a lonely bachelor. He refuses marriage from the very beginning. For example, when he knows that Claudio wants to marry he despises him.

    On the other hand, Beatrice is an independent woman. She also refuses marriage because she finds no equal. She has a sharp tongue and always expresses her will. In a way, she coincides with Benedick. That's why they both clash at the beginning, but thanks to a double trick they end up together:

    • Benedick is fooled by Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato. Benedick hides himself from them in a place where he can hear what they're saying. But the other three, who know he's hidden and listening to them, play a play on him: they say Beatrice is in love with him but she doesn't want to show because Benedick would mock at her. They add she loves him madly, and that if Benedick where a proper man, he'd correspond her.

    I love Benedick well; and I could wish he would modestly examine himself, to see how much he is unworthy so good a lady.” (Don Pedro)

    • The same staging is played on Beatrice through Hero, Margaret and Ursula. They say that Benedick is madly in love with Beatrice and depict Benedick as a wonderful man. But anyway it's no point telling her because she's too arrogant and proud. However, the trick works and she falls in love with Benedick.

    No, not to be so odd and from all fashions
    As Beatrice is, cannot be commendable:
    But who dare tell her so? If I should speak,
    She would mock me into air; O, she would laugh me
    Out of myself, press me to death with wit.
    Therefore let Benedick, like cover'd fire,
    Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly:
    It were a better death than die with mocks,
    Which is as bad as die with tickling.

    Don Pedro is the character moving all the actors of the trick, co-ordinating the words, etc. The miracle works because Shakespeare wanted to prove that in comedies love always succeeds. But it's not because nature wants it so: nature needs the Don Pedro's introduction to succeed.

    The real subplot is the action carried out by Dogberry and Verges. Dogberry is a very common person in the play. He tries to use the words of the people in the upper class, but they are so out of place that they even lack of sense.

    Both characters have a good quality: they always tell the truth. In their innocence, they can see what nobody else sees: they discover reality behind appearance. Actually they crucial when they tell the truth about Hero's innocence. It's only thanks to them that happiness can be established. Happiness depends on the inferiors: it also happens the same in the Medieval society. The low are important, utterly necessary in Messina. Its subplot is necessary for the main plot: without it, Much Ado About Nothing wouldn't be a comedy.

    Then we see that the play doesn't go about love. Shakespeare had to know his audience and give them what they wanted. The happy ending was very appealing in those times of crisis, normal life was miserable for most people. And in the theatre the public could forget their troubles for two or three hours: they believed they were in another country, time, etc. and were transported into an imaginary world. The play is about drama, theatre and the uses of theatre. The two parallel stories depends only on one character: Don Pedro. He stages all the different plots. Don John also tries to produce drama inside the play, but he fails. Both are doing the same, but one has to fail, and that's decided by Shakespeare, the God-author who discerns between what's the bad or the good ending for the play.

    Much Ado About Nothing is a play that concentrates on theatricality, on the good and bad uses of theatre. Staging plays was a cultural activity at those times. There was an official control of the world of theatre. The post of Master of the Revels meant censorship. Power allowed theatre a degree of importance. The government saw that theatre was a vehicle of transmitting ideology, so that's why it had to be controlled. It only could be used “in the right way”. On the one hand, it was a good way for propaganda, but on the other hand it could be dangerous because of subversion. And Much Ado About Nothing is a play that contains both things:

    • It was a way of making propaganda about the good social order.

    • It could be taken as a way of subverting the society (had Don John succeeded in the play).

    Don Pedro and Leonato possess the power in Messina. Some of the things said in the play worked because they were said by these authorities. For example, when Benedick hears Don Pedro and Leonato talking about Beatrice's love for him, he believes the lie because it's told by them, and they have authority. Another example happens in the wedding: Don Pedro says Hero is a whore and everybody believes him.

    Those two voices with authority are interested in maintaining the social order. We see it clearly in Don Pedro, who becomes the main instigator of the marriage. He makes sure it's a union of equals and he blesses the union. Without his blessing (and Leonato's) on the couple, the union couldn't be possible.

    According to marriage, there are two social renegades: Beatrice and Benedick. As they go against it, they threaten the social order. But it's precisely the voices of authority who recover those renegades. In order to get it, authority uses theatre. More important is what they say through theatre: they give those renegades the role they have to play.

    Beatrice's conclusion is “I'll tame my heart”. That's the new role given to Beatrice through drama. And she, through theatre, accepts the new role. The same happens with Benedick: he should be the rescuer, take the active role. It's a question not only of making them fall in love, but also to include within the social order. And all that is made through drama.

    But if drama is put into the wrong hand it can be dangerous. And that's what happens with Don John. Don John is an outsider. If he's someone, it's thanks to his brother Don Pedro, who has allowed him to be under his care. So as an outsider he cannot have the power of authority. Thanks to that we have a happy ending.

    Drama's ultimate function is to preserve the social order that was established before. It's thanks to Verges and Dogberry when the social order is re-established. There's a natural order/degree that has to be preserved. And everyone inside the play has a necessary role to represent and that contributes to that social dis/order.

    From 1576 to 1642 there were terrible Puritan attacks on theatre. These attacks were very numerous. The whole corpus of written attacks was the Antitheatrical Tracts. Shakespeare was aware of those tracts.

    For example, John Northbrooke wrote A Treatise Wherein Dicing, Dauncing Vaine Playes And Enterluds... Are Reproved. He defended that theatres were evil for the social stability of England. The main fears were idleness and the idle. Idle people are not involved in productive labour, they do nothing profitable. So then the best solution was to close theatres.

    In 1583 Philip Stubbes wrote Anatomie Of Abuses. The main attacks go against those who “transgress class and gender boundaries”, because when doing so they destabilize the social order. His second attack goes against some dangerous practices, such as the “excess in apparel”. He thinks there should be a regulation in clothes, for they disguise people. That would avoid people to use clothes not belonging to their social class.

    Finally, Stephen Gosson in a work called The School Of Abuse attacked those who had aspirations beyond their own social status. His second attack goes against women. He describes them as creatures subject to change and inconstancy.

    Don John's second plot doesn't work because Dogberry and Verges discover the whole thing. Till that moment the plot had worked. That's because he dissimulated the trick through theatre. Drama can change the reality of things. And drama proves how dangerous actors can be. For example, when Margaret disguises in Hero's clothes. Don John's plot worked because it found fertile ground. In other words, Hero like any other woman is considered a whore by nature. Hero was not taken for a whore before that moment because she behaved in a proper way. When everything exploded in the wedding everybody believes Don Pedro and Claudio because at those times people believed that women were evil by nature. That's why Hero neither can defend herself nor find a valid argument to save her honour.

    Much Ado About Nothing is a play that deals with ideology and the role drama plays in ideology. That's why the Tudor Dynasty became so important in the Renaissance: thanks to the free propaganda that was spread with the theatre.

    Much Ado About Nothing is the most important comedy written by Shakespeare. Afterwards we have As You Like It and Twelfth Night. The three works were written in the late nineties. They are called “mature comedies”. In the comedies, the clown is the basic character. Probably this had to do with the taste of the public. From the nineties onwards we see the development of the tragedies. This time is a moment of tension and war. People going to the playhouses had developed their taste, they were ready for characters who were more complicated (1680's). In between, we have the mature comedies, with characters more elaborate than the early comedies. Now is the new century the clown is not relevant anymore, but the tragedians.

    Twelfth Night

    Twelfth Night marks the end of Christmas festivities. That day is January 6th. This day was of celebration in court, where plays were presented for the queen. The 6th January the world became upside down. It was a day of celebration in Europe, in which excesses were allowed. It was the official day of excess. One standing tradition was the election of the king of fools. That explains the choice of the play. It's a day where appearances are deceptive. Disguise is essential in Twelfth Night. There were no actresses in those times. So it may be complicated for the actor with the role of Viola, who interprets a woman disguised as a man.

    The title of the play remains a mystery. Its second title is What You Will, which people later recorded. The date of composition is between 1599-1601, although we cannot be specific. But we know that in 1601 the queen entertained a count called Orsino coming from abroad. Perhaps this play was written for that event. The main source for Twelfth Night is Farewell To Military Profession, by Barnaby Riche (1581). New characters were added to Twelfth Night, such as Feste.

    Plot: Orsino, the Duke of Illyria (Yugoslavia), is in love with an aristocratic lady called Olivia. Olivia mourns the death of her brother and Orsino tries to marry her. But Olivia refuses him because she wants to remain in official mourning.

    Olivia is the supreme figure of the household. Her voice carries weight. Sir Toby (her uncle) doesn't seem to be the main figure because he's always drunk. The Duke Orsino is the governor of Illyria. He's had important chances to get married, but he's refused them.

    Olivia is in an unnatural position in the society of those times. In Elizabethan times there was an institution called “The Court of Wards”. It had to do with the nobility. If the son of a noble household were to find without a father being under age, the possessions were administered by the Court of Wards until the boy became of age. What the crown did was to sell the wardship, the right to administer those possessions. Anyone could buy or sell, find a bridegroom for the boy, etc. That was a good system to become rich. Sir William Cecil, for example, administered the riches of the Earl of Oxford and married him with her daughter. The practise for a woman of not to marry was allowed for the queen, but not for anyone else. That went against the social order: marriage offers fruits and gives heirs. Procreation in the family was something essential. If Olivia remained single and died, the whole patrimony of the household would collapse. That was the crucial problem that also the queen Elizabeth proposed.

    Olivia is receiving propositions from the highest man in the country. It's not an equal marriage, but it's convenient for both sides. It would represent a marriage between the monarchy and the nobility, which provides stability. But she's going against the laws of nature.

    Viola arrives at Orsino's court after a shipwreck where she believes she's lost her twin brother Sebastian. Viola decides to disguise herself as a boy in front of Orsino. She makes her call Cesario. All the disguise is a way of hiding herself to avoid becoming an outcast. But she falls in love with him. Then we have a problem: Viola, representing a man, is in love with another man. That's another unnatural position.

    Viola then goes to gain Olivia's heart for Orsino, but Olivia falls in love with Cesario (Viola). This goes once again against nature. A woman is in love with another woman. Besides, it's an unnatural union because Cesario is a servant and Olivia is a woman of a high position.

    All this is a whole question of homosexuality. A convicted homosexual could be punished to death in Elizabethan times.

    John Rainoldes (1592) says the adoption by men of women's clot incites a lust that is specifically homoerotic: “Scripture condemns prostitution of both women and men, detesting specially the male by terming him a dog [...] we control likewise the means and occasions whereby men are transformed into dogs, the sooner to cut off all incitements to that beastly filthiness, or rather more than beastly." Marginal glosses refer the reader to biblical and classical instances of sodomy, homosexual sadism and homosexual marriage. The slippage here from effeminacy to bestiality is notable, and should remind us that in this culture femininity is not equated with docility -- on the contrary, what is feared in women is their violent and uncontrollable appetites. For Rainoldes, the very fact that women are prohibited from the stage reveals the true aetiology of theatre: what the spectator is "really" attracted to in plays is an undifferentiated sexuality, a sexuality that does not distinguish men from women and reduces men to women - the deepest fear in anti-theatrical tracts. Far deeper than the fear that women in the audience will become whores, is the fear of a universal effeminization. In this anxiety, the fact of transvestite boys is only incidental; it is the art itself that effeminates.

    Montaigne's Travel Journal tells one story about seven or eight girls dressed up as males in order to participate in a voyage. One of them is discovered and executed because of her “heresy” disguising herself as a man.

    All this is the same case in Twelfth Night. All its events are a very dangerous subversion. Puritans as this time were concerned with the sexual deviations and the threat to society they supposed. In other comedies there's a hidden message against it. The love Viola feels for Orsino is real, but she's disguised as a boy.

    (Cesario) Viola loves Orsino Olivia loves Cesario (Viola)

    Sebastian joins Antonio. Antonio finds himself in a desperate situation. And going to Orsino's place he's probably be executed. Yet, he decides to go because of the love he feels towards Sebastian. This is the beginning of a homosexual reality. Shakespeare of course is not so clear. He makes homosexuality to be indirectly present in the play. In The Merchant of Venice Antonio and Basanio have a very peculiar relationship. Antonio risks also his life as Antonio does with Sebastian. In The Gentlemen of Verona the situation is just the same, or even ion the Sonnets, which are dedicated to a young man whom the persona was in love with. These poems were very intimate, not destined for publication. So many critics have interpreted the persona to be Shakespeare and that young man be someone real, perhaps the Earl of Southampton. However we have no proof for all this so as to accuse Shakespeare of being a homosexual.

    At this time no author could escape this issue. This accusation was frequent in theatre companies, which were abundant in men and young boys - women were forbidden to act in playhouses). That's why this is a fundamental accusation in these times.

    There are several subplots in Twelfth Night. The main one concerns Malvolio. He's a servant with social aspirations. He wants to be someone that he cannot be. He's self-assured, proud and egotist. That's why he's punished in the end of the day. Maria is a fool of him. She plays a trick on him writing a letter imitating Olivia's handwriting, in which she confesses how much she loves Malvolio. In that same letter, Maria asks him for dressing in yellow stockings, something that Olivia really hates. Therefore after reading the letter Malvolio appears in front of Olivia doing all those things she hates and so they believe him fool. Finally he's confined in a room. Once again, we have a unnatural position: he aspires to a rank he can't have. And he's punished through comedy, in a hilarious manner. He's punished for social transgression: “only a madman could aspire to a position he cannot have”. He sees himself the lord of the place: matrimony gives you a higher social rank. It's a question of power, financial meaning.

    The second subplot is carried out by Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby. Their subplot is connected to the confusion of the duel. When Viola should appear, it's Sebastian who appears. There's an exchange of roles. Cesario (Viola) appears where he shouldn't be, as well as Sebastian does. With this, everything is ready for the final act. Until now, the essence of Twelfth Night is unnatural positions. Then things set right.

    Olivia marries Sebastian by error. Then it comes a natural matrimony. The matter is that she think she's married Cesario. The resemblance between Sebastian and Viola makes her to confuse them. Theatrical elements make the play to produce a good end. If it hadn't been by the disguise, the marriage would have never taken place. Besides, Olivia marries with an equal, for Sebastian has a noble origin. So the marriage is doubly natural, for she also marries a man, and not a woman as Olivia was.

    Finally, Viola marries Orsino, as the natural path is. Once again, the union is natural: she has a noble origin and she's a woman, as not a man as she pretended to be.

    Malvolio ends up with the place he should have had from the very beginning of the play. He's learnt the lesson.

    Those are the ways how nature recover its natural track, how central power demands how things should be. Things are as politics dictate them to be, as God wants them to be. That's because the kings power is believed to be divine, so then the king is a voice derived from God.

    The second lesson we can extract from the play is the role that theatre plays. The lesson we are taught is that drama plays are very important defending the social values that power defends. Therefore, accusations against drama are unfounded, the good drama can play a very important role within society. The support of theatre into nobility and court is well-formed, well-deserved. That's why the theatre company where Shakespeare worked was approved by the court (“The King's Men”).

    • Comparison between the films of Much Ado About Nothing by Kenneth Branagh and Twelfth Night by Trevor Nunn.

    The air is a very important difference between both films. Twelfth Night takes place during the autumn, so the film shows an oppressive feeling in ourselves. There's a reason in the text for that: the problems and tribulations inside the play are dark. However Much Ado About Nothing doesn't have this atmosphere, not reflecting in a proper way Shakespeare's intentions.

    The war seem something very light in Much Ado About Nothing. But Illyria is not such an idyllic place as Messina, and we feel here the omnipresence of souls. Shakespearean comedy is difficult to interpret. Not many comedies are put into scene because their approach is problematic.

    In the film Twelfth Night we see that Sir Toby marries Maria in secret. That's an unequal marriage, for she's a servant and Sir Toby is a nobleman. The fact that unequal marriages were not blessed by the queen explain why this marriage has to be secret. That was the same situation for some courtiers such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Leicester (the queen's favourite).

    Twelfth Night was represented in court, so there are some elements that were deliberately written for it. Bearing that in mind, Shakespeare winks an eye to courtiers: the play can be read allegorically, differently by courtiers.

    Olivia is fact represent the queen Elizabeth. That's seen in the fact that she's the supreme figure of the household. She's a voice of power cultivated in the virtue of virginity and she doesn't want to marry. To see this comparison even clearer, the clown calls her Madonna, which was a term only used to refer to the queen (the Virgin Mary). Psychologically she was an icon, an image of the population, a kind of goddess.

    The colour yellow is also significant. Elizabeth's favourite colours were black and white. But when Henry VIII (her father) knew Anne Boleynn was executed (under his commandment) he celebrated a party in court where he appeared dressed in yellow from head to toe. So it was be read in two ways: the positive way, because it's a colour connected to her father, or the negative way, because it's a colour connected to her mother's death.

    • Act IV, scene II

    Feste goes to see Malvolio, who's imprisoned. He doesn't present himself as a fool, but as Master Parsons. He knows Malvolio is not mad. And yet Feste plays all along with him.

    MALVOLIO: [Within] Who calls there?

    Clown: Sir Topas the curate, who comes to visit Malvolio the lunatic.

    MAL: Sir Topas, Sir Topas, good Sir Topas, go to my lady.

    Clown: Out, hyperbolical fiend! how vexest thou this man! talkest thou nothing but of ladies?

    SIR TOBY: Well said, Master Parson.

    MAL: Sir Topas, never was man thus wronged: good Sir Topas, do not think I am mad: they have laid me here in hideous darkness.

    Clown: Fie, thou dishonest Satan! I call thee by the most modest terms; for I am one of those gentle ones that will use the devil himself with courtesy: sayest thou that house is dark?

    MAL: As hell, Sir Topas.

    Clown: Why it hath bay windows transparent as barricadoes, and the clearstores toward the south north are as lustrous as ebony; and yet complainest thou of obstruction?

    MAL: I am not mad, Sir Topas: I say to you, this house is dark.

    Clown: Madman, thou errest: I say, there is no darkness but ignorance; in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog.

    MAL: I say, this house is as dark as ignorance, though ignorance were as dark as hell; and I say, there was never man thus abused. I am no more mad than you are: make the trial of it in any constant question.

    Clown: What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?

    MAL: That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.

    Clown: What thinkest thou of his opinion?

    MAL: I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion.

    Clown: Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness: thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits, and fear to kill a woodcock, lest thou dispossess the soul of thy grandam. Fare thee well.

    Edmund Campion was an Oxford theologist who became a religious dissenter in Elizabethan times. He travelled to Rome and became a Jesuit. Later, he came secretly to England under the company of Father Persons. Edmund Campion was caught but Persons escaped. Then four jailers disguised themselves as conferences so as to obtain a confession from him. In fact he was denied pen and paper for it. Campion was executed in 1581.

    Sir Toby represents the typical courtiers who does nothing and only thinks of pleasure. The fool represents the entertainer of the queen. He enjoys a certain degree of intimacy in his free time. It also happens the same with the Elizabethan courtiers, such as Leicester, Christopher Hatton (known in court as “the mutton” and popular for dancing well) and the Earl of Oxford. There's a moment in the play where Sir Andrew Aguecheek was called by Sir Toby “the mutton”, and he also says he dances very well.

    Illyria is also a representation of a militarized place, as well as England at the end of the century, due to the fear of the attack of the Spanish Armada. This explains the disguises Campion has to bear in order to get into England.

    All these subtle massages were notice at court. And all this was very dangerous. But that same trick had already been put into practice, when a rebellion took place in Essex, with the intention of replacing queen Elizabeth. That was when Richard II was put on stage again. That's because the hidden massage of the play was: “the current king is not fit as king”. Finally, the Essex rebellion was a failure (1601).


    This play was probably never staged. It was probably written is 1599 / 1600, though some critics say it was in 1601.

    The sources for writing it were taken from a previous play called Ur-Hamlet, probably written by Tomas Kyd (the famous author of The Spanish Tragedy). Probably the ghost derived from Ur-Hamlet. This Ur-Hamlet was itself based on a book written by one Belleforest, entitled Histoires Tragiques. And in turn, Belleforest's story is based on a twelfth-century story called Amleth, coming from the Saxo Gramaticus.

    Hamlet - Ur-Hamlet - Histoires Tragiques - Amleth

    The First Quarto Edition (Q1) is very inferior to the play we know nowadays. It's not very reliable. The Second Quarto Edition (Q2) is a magnificent text, probably edited on Shakespeare's “foul papers” (manuscript). The Folio Edition appeared in 1623, but it had some differences with Q2. Here there are scenes that don't appear in Q2, and vice versa. The final text we have nowadays is a blend of Q2 and the Folio edition. This version contains all the scenes appearing in Q2 plus the new scenes from the Folio edition. But probably, the most reliable edition is Q2.

    Hamlet goes, above all, about revenge. There are three cycles of revenge in Hamlet.

  • Hamlet's father has killed the king of Norway and thus has initiated a cycle of revenge. He's the murderer of Fortimbras' father. So now, Fortimbras has to take revenge. Fortimbras would be the next king of Denmark at the end of the play. The cycle is closed this way.

  • Hamlet's uncle has killed Hamlet's father. And now Hamlet must revenge his father.

  • Hamlet kills Polonio. Laertes, Polonio's son, must takes revenge.

  • The main young male characters are inheritors of revenge. Their lives are truncated by their fathers' deaths. Hamlet is going to become king, he's got a wonderful future. Then he must take revenge: all his movements are dominated by the words of the ghost.- The lives of these three sons (Hamlet, Laertes, Fortimbras) are ruined. So violence occupies a prominent position in the play.

    Hamlet undergoes some transformation in the play. He's learnt certain basic things from life, he's more mature at the end. The moment he understands all these things he sees hope. And that's precisely at the end of the play, just before dying. Hamlet is a great student of life, but all that learning comes from suffering. And it's that suffering what gives him knowledge. The most tragic thing is that Hamlet never finds a moment of peace/happiness in all the play.

    Together with violence, the element of mystery and darkness must be added. Denmark is not a land of joy, it's mysterious from the very beginning of the play. Let's see Act I, Scene I:

    Elsinore. A platform before the castle.

    (FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO)


    Who's there?


    Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.


    Long live the king!






    You come most carefully upon your hour.


    'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.


    For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
    And I am sick at heart.


    Have you had quiet guard?


    Not a mouse stirring.


    Well, good night.
    If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
    The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.


    I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?



    Friends to this ground.


    And liegemen to the Dane.


    Give you good night.


    O, farewell, honest soldier:
    Who hath relieved you?


    Bernardo has my place.
    Give you good night.



    Holla! Bernardo!


    What, is Horatio there?


    A piece of him.


    Welcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus.


    What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?


    I have seen nothing.


    Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
    And will not let belief take hold of him
    Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
    Therefore I have entreated him along
    With us to watch the minutes of this night;
    That if again this apparition come,
    He may approve our eyes and speak to it.

    It's not Bernardo who should say “Who's there?” in the very first line of the play, but Francisco. Bernardo is coming to begin his guard, and Francisco finishing it. Later on, we understand why the question is made by Bernardo: there's been an apparition outside the palace lately. So from the very beginning the play is dark and mysterious We never free ourselves from the initial shock in the play.

    • Shakespeare begins the play this way as an introduction. Thus, Shakespeare gives us much information about Fortimbras' father, killed by Hamlet's father. As we have previously seen, there are three cycles of revenge in Hamlet. The first cycle (related to Fortimbras) is told in this part: he's planning an invasion of the country.

    In the second place, this first scene marks the division between fantasy and reason, which is at the same time related to the realm of night and day. The play is mainly dominated on fantasy. Horatio, who is the only scholar in the play, is caught between these two forces. He starts by not believing what he sees and by the end he's convinced that everything is real. “Beyond what we know there are other things”.

    Day Reason Night Fantasy

    What they see offers no explanation. It's a horrifying appearance with no reasonable explanation. And Hamlet is the link between the two worlds. He's somebody who moves from the world of reason to the world of fantasy and then returns. Somehow then he can be defined as a “traveller”. Besides, Hamlet is the only figure to whom the ghost speaks, he's the only one who follows it and who sees it later. This figure transforms him. All the characters move between the two worlds but they don't trespass the line, Hamlet is the only one who does it.

    In the third place, the scene tries to provoke horror and wonder. It's an introduction that announces wonderful but horrifying things. It prepares the audience psychologically for what comes next. At those times, the audience was very superstitious towards the dead. The influence of the dead is threateningly real then: that's the time of witchcraft , spirits, fairies, etc. The sphere of the night was also horrible. The fear the darkness portrayed was appalling. The fear to the night was very powerful at those times.

    • Immediately after the scene of the night, it comes daylight. Here we have the next facts:

  • Death of (Old) King Hamlet.

  • Marriage of the widow.

  • Messengers sent to Norway to tell Fortimbras' uncle to open his eyes to what it's about to happen.

  • Analysing the facts, we see that Hamlet's uncle is an excellent king because he wants to avoid war. He's very wise politically speaking, he doesn't want blood to be spilled if it can be avoided. Fortimbras is preparing for war because he thinks that England is in political anarchy after the death of its king. Then he presents himself as a man who speaks with reason. The structure of his whole soliloquy is very structured: logic prevails.


    Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
    The memory be green, and that it us befitted
    To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
    To be contracted in one brow of woe,
    Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
    That we with wisest sorrow think on him,
    Together with remembrance of ourselves.
    Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
    The imperial jointress to this warlike state,
    Have we, as 'twere with a defeated joy,--
    With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
    With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
    In equal scale weighing delight and dole,--
    Taken to wife: nor have we herein barr'd
    Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone
    With this affair along. For all, our thanks.
    Now follows, that you know, young Fortimbras,
    Holding a weak supposal of our worth,
    Or thinking by our late dear brother's death
    Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,
    Colleagued with the dream of his advantage,
    He hath not fail'd to pester us with message,
    Importing the surrender of those lands
    Lost by his father, with all bonds of law,
    To our most valiant brother. So much for him.
    Now for ourself and for this time of meeting:
    Thus much the business is: we have here writ
    To Norway, uncle of young Fortimbras,--
    Who, impotent and bed-rid, scarcely hears
    Of this his nephew's purpose,--to suppress
    His further gait herein; in that the levies,
    The lists and full proportions, are all made
    Out of his subject: and we here dispatch
    You, good Cornelius, and you, Voltimand,
    For bearers of this greeting to old Norway;
    Giving to you no further personal power
    To business with the king, more than the scope
    Of these delated articles allow.
    Farewell, and let your haste commend your duty.

    Marriage here is crucial: nothing has changed, order prevails. By marrying the old king's wife, he secures Hamlet's succession to the throne. Guarantee to the succession is good also so as to avoid invasion. Politically, the message is that we are under a well-established monarchy.

    Old Hamlet -- Queen Gertrude

    Old Hamlet's brother (New king)

    Young Hamlet

    Hamlet's mother is a queen because she marries the successor to the old king. By law, the crown would go to Hamlet's uncle after Old Hamlet's, with his marriage to Gertrude or not. But this marriage preserves the political structure. This is the best thing the king could have done to avoid the invasion from outside.


    How is it that the clouds still hang on you?


    Not so, my lord; I am too much i'the sun.


    Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
    And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
    Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
    Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
    Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die,
    Passing through nature to eternity.


    Ay, madam, it is common.


    If it be,
    Why seems it so particular with thee?


    Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not 'seems.'
    'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
    Nor customary suits of solemn black,
    Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
    No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
    Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
    Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
    That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
    For they are actions that a man might play:
    But I have that within which passeth show;
    These but the trappings and the suits of woe.


    'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,
    To give these mourning duties to your father:
    But, you must know, your father lost a father;
    That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound
    In filial obligation for some term
    To do obsequious sorrow: but to persever
    In obstinate condolement is a course
    Of impious stubbornness; 'tis unmanly grief;
    It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
    A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
    An understanding simple and unschool'd:
    For what we know must be and is as common
    As any the most vulgar thing to sense,
    Why should we in our peevish opposition
    Take it to heart? Fie! 'tis a fault to heaven,
    A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
    To reason most absurd: whose common theme
    Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried,
    From the first corse till he that died to-day,
    'This must be so.' We pray you, throw to earth
    This unprevailing woe, and think of us
    As of a father: for let the world take note,
    You are the most immediate to our throne;
    And with no less nobility of love
    Than that which dearest father bears his son,
    Do I impart toward you. For your intent
    In going back to school in Wittenberg,
    It is most retrograde to our desire:
    And we beseech you, bend you to remain
    Here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye,
    Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.

    Hamlet pronounces his first words to the public. It's the first confession to the audience. We already know that Hamlet `s been to the university of Wittenberg, and now he's planning his return. The king and the queen want him to go there and stay. The want him to study a political degree, as he is the successor to the throne. But he decides to say at home and prepare himself there for the throne.

    • Woe: he feels pain and woe because of his father's death. But they see that woe from a reasonable point of view: it's okay to feel woe for someone's death, but life continues. “Any other thing would be beyond reason.”

    • `Seems': when he speaks with his mother about `seems1 he says it's normal to wear black clothes to show you're still mourning. He says to his mother that his clothes cannot show what he feels inside. Here we see that Hamlet is talking about the difference between appearance and reality. Anyone can show one's woe through his/her clothes (appearance), but what Hamlet feels inside is real. The same happens with his uncle: the king seems good but in reality he's a murderer. There's an outer world (appearance) versus an inner world.

    Inner World / Outer World

    Reality / Appearance

    Many of the characters of Hamlet are situated in the world of appearances. Hamlet is the only one who has the power of seeing that inner reality, he sees his mother as an incestuous woman and the king as a murderer. That's why when the ghost appears to Hamlet he says “O, my prophetic soul!” Now that Hamlet is wise there's nobody who suffers more than him. Hamlet is a man able of moving between the inner and the outer world by means of his intuition. He first guesses and afterwards he knows.


    O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
    Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
    Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
    His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
    How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
    Seem to me all the uses of this world!
    Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
    That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
    Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
    But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:
    So excellent a king; that was, to this,
    Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
    That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
    Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
    Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
    As if increase of appetite had grown
    By what it fed on: and yet, within a month-
    Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman!--
    A little month, or ere those shoes were old
    With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
    Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she--
    O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
    Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle,
    My father's brother, but no more like my father
    Than I to Hercules: within a month:
    Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
    Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
    She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
    With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
    It is not nor it cannot come to good:
    But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

    This is Hamlet's first soliloquy. It's his first declaration on what's eating him: he's contemplated suicide already but what prevented him of taking his life away was the thought that God condemns this action.

    Besides, he's worried for his father's memory: he's afraid of forgetting him. He's also preoccupied for the question of speed: how fast things have gone since his father's death: a royal marriage and a new king. But he mostly thinks about incest. Henry VIII first married Catherine of Aragon, who previously had been married to his brother Arthur. The couple gave birth to a female child, but Catherine of Aragon was never possible to give Henry a male heir for the throne. So he divorced her and married Anne Boleynn. Henry's first matrimony to Catherine of Aragon became considered a question of possible incest, the seed of doubt appeared. All these things worried at that time and Shakespeare also reflected them in his play. Hamlet also shared that seed of doubt and that's why he gains our sympathy, for nobody else is able to know Hamlet's inner world of desperation.


    Hail to your lordship!


    I am glad to see you well:
    Horatio,--or I do forget myself.


    The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever.


    Sir, my good friend; I'll change that name with you:
    And what make you from Wittenberg, Horatio? Marcellus?


    My good lord--


    I am very glad to see you. Good even, sir.
    But what, in faith, make you from Wittenberg?


    A truant disposition, good my lord.


    I would not hear your enemy say so,
    Nor shall you do mine ear that violence,
    To make it truster of your own report
    Against yourself: I know you are no truant.
    But what is your affair in Elsinore?
    We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.


    My lord, I came to see your father's funeral.


    I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student;
    I think it was to see my mother's wedding.

    Horatio is Hamlet's intimate friend. He came from Wittenberg to attend Old Hamlet's funeral. That means that Horatio has been in the castle for two months. And curiously this is the first time he sees Hamlet. What does this mean? This is one of the many mysteries that are seen in Hamlet.

    Here Hamlet begins to show himself. He's someone who bombards everyone with questions. Questions play a crucial role with his relationship with Ophelia and also with Horatio. Hamlet feels a terrible need to know. Through questions he can know beyond appearance. Hamlet verifies the answers. Whenever Horatio replies Hamlet he always tells the truth: that's why Horatio is the only one in whom Hamlet trusts. Hamlet wants to obtain the complete picture of everyone, the apparent and the real.

    Act 1, scenes 4 and 5.

    Those are the scenes where Hamlet is going to undertake a voyage that is going to transform him. Horatio pushes him when Hamlet is prepared for the encounter with his father. His intuition tells him that something is about to happen.

    (Scene 4)

    The image is very powerful. The hearts of the audience are with horror and wonder at the same time because the realm of the dead was scary in those times. And particularly the night is the realm of the dead. The night spirits are impressive, that's why to approach the ghost supposes a combination of despair (a despair which gives him energy) and courage to initiate a voyage to the unknown.

    The conversation with the ghost doesn't take part until the ghost and Hamlet are alone. And on the other hand we have Horatio and Marcellus, who urge Hamlet not to follow the spectre because he would may drive Hamlet mad (that's why we say that the ghost is very powerful).

    Hamlet is the only one who speaks with the ghost and, at the same time, the ghost also chooses him to talk to. Hamlet, as usual, is very inquisitive with him and asks numerous questions. Hamlet needs a piece of information to confirm his suspicions. He's going to verify his guesses through the answers.

    With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
    Say, why is this? wherefore? what should we do?

    This scene puts the seed of doubt in Hamlet. The message he receives from the ghost may come either from an evil or a good spirit, but Hamlet doesn't know whether it is a manifestation of evil or not. And for that there's not a clear reply from the ghost. That's why Hamlet has to prepare the play for his uncle.

    (Scene 5)

    The crime of the king is revealed. The first explanation the ghost gives Hamlet is that he's a soul in the purgatory (it's not directly said, but through hints). In fact, he uses the word “purged”.


    I am thy father's spirit,
    Doom'd 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.

    There is an anachronism according to that. The play was portrayed in the 12th century, when the purgatory wasn't still introduced by the Catholic church. The purgatory was a creation of the church that became dogma in the 13th century basically to save merchants from hell - they supplied the church with large amounts of money illegally gained. The purgatory only existed in the catholic world in the 16th century, when the play was written. This is an indication that perhaps Shakespeare had a Catholic background.

    Hamlet is utterly changed through that experience. He's had a contact with the world of dead. That recalls Plato's myth of the cave when he says:

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

    Hamlet has a degree of knowledge that nobody else possesses. That can be seen when he says:

    There's ne'er a villain dwelling in all Denmark
    But he's an arrant knave.

    The difference between Horatio and Hamlet is that Horatio thinks that everybody wear masks, while Hamlet, due to the ghost, is able to know the hidden identity behind the mask. That's what makes Hamlet so famous: the discovery of masks that is going to appear in the following acts. The hunt of identities starts after that scene. And Hamlet possesses intelligence, irony, madness to play that game. Particularly madness is very useful because that way he can wear with anything. Hamlet gives himself a powerful mask, and thanks to it he gets to know who the characters around him are. The negative thing is that he's not aware that knowledge brings suffering. The moment he discovers one identity some things are not possible anymore, such as love (Ophelia) or friendship (Rosencratz and Guildestern). No one obtains nothing for free. The price in the end is solitude, isolation.

    • A Journey to the Unknown

    There is a new Hamlet after that journey to the unknown. He manifests it into several ways:

    • Dislocated language: it's difficult to follow his discourse.

    • Strange behaviour

    • Change above all with all the characters in the play, especially with those who from his intimate circle of friends and relatives.

    Ophelia: she's the first character that meets Hamlet after his encounter with the ghost. It's a meeting that doesn't take place on stage. We know who is Ophelia in act I, scene III. There is a sentimental relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. She describes that relationship as venerable, there's no evil in that relationship. It's general love.

    I do not know, my lord, what I should think. (Ophelia)

    Both Polonius and Hamlet mark a distance. That distance prevents Ophelia to have a ground for intimacy with Hamlet. She seems to be constrained by a filial duty, which is clear when his father demands her information about that relationship. Laertes and Polonius are like master of the woman. Ophelia is sister and daughter above anything else. She's defined in terms of the men surrounding her. What's been discussed here is the possibility of becoming the `wife of'. This is Ophelia's tragedy: Ophelia belongs her father's realm and she's not `the wife of' yet. She's between past and future. That possibility of becoming a wife is totally denied to Hamlet by both Polonius and Laertes.

    Laertes tells her that they don't belong to the same social class. We are talking about a royal wedding, a question of state. Whenever politics have to do with this, real love doesn't count. Hamlet is subject to his birth so the “sanity and health of the state” depends on that marriage.

    For he [Hamlet] himself is subject to his birth:
    He may not, as unvalued persons do,

    Carve for himself; for on his choice depends
    The safety and health of this whole state

    Polonius demands a whole confession (this marks his state of superiority). When it comes out, a filial duty appears. It's a question of honour, it can be lost through that wedding. That's why she should be faithful to her role.

    • Act II, scene I : here we have another confession by Ophelia, after her encounter with “the new” Hamlet.


    O, my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!


    With what, i' the name of God?


    My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
    Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;
    No hat upon his head; his stockings foul'd,
    Ungarter'd, and down-gyved to his ancle;
    Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;
    And with a look so piteous in purport
    As if he had been loosed out of hell
    To speak of horrors,--he comes before me.


    Mad for thy love?


    My lord, I do not know;
    But truly, I do fear it.


    What said he?


    He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
    Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
    And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
    He falls to such perusal of my face
    As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so;
    At last, a little shaking of mine arm
    And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
    He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
    As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
    And end his being: that done, he lets me go:
    And, with his head over his shoulder turn'd,
    He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;
    For out o' doors he went without their helps,
    And, to the last, bended their light on me.

    Ophelia looks not to be sure of her love for Hamlet. There's no exchange of words between the two. It's difficult to visualize without a dialogue. He comes to see her in a terrible shocking state. She's never seen him in such a state. Then he holds on her, touches her face and “He falls to such perusal of my face as he would draw it.” Then he whispers in a profound way. Polonius' conclusion to this is that love has driven Hamlet mad. Then he goes to confess the king the reason of Hamlet's madness.

    We know that Hamlet is not mad, but why this behaviour? The ghost is a reality he can't touch, but Ophelia is tangible. This is basically a study of masks. The power he has after seeing the ghost is that of seeing beyond appearances. That enables him to perceive the mask and the reality behind it. That's a terrible gift which will lead him to end up alone. He needs to know who is Ophelia in reality. He needs to study Ophelia's face in order to know her reality. And what he actually sees shocks him. What's hidden in Ophelia is hidden in her message.

    • Act III, scene I: by looking Ophelia's face Hamlet sees something he doesn't like. That is seen in this scene. What Hamlet sees in Ophelia is the possibility of betrayal. Ophelia is the future `wife of' and the `daughter of'. In a moment of choice Ophelia would choose her family, and that's Hamlet knows and proves in this scene. And being `daughter of' means betrayal.

    Hamlet gives here his famous soliloquy. Just after it, Hamlet talks to Ophelia.


    To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
    To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us pause: there's the respect
    That makes calamity of so long life;
    For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
    The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
    The insolence of office and the spurns
    That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?
    Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pith and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!
    The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
    Be all my sins remember'd.

    Hamlet is trying to make a choice between life and death. He chooses to live, but not because he prefers so. If he lives, he must face life. If he dies all his troubles disappear. He'd rather die because there's nothing at this point that forces him to do so. If he doesn't die it's precisely because of the fear to the unknown. In fact, he's so desperate that he contemplates suicide. It's the fear to the unknown that keeps him alive. In fact there's no wish to live. When he's sunk to the low level is when Ophelia appears.

    Ophelia is following the orders of his father and the king. She's doing what Polonius told her. But she fails representing that role in front of Hamlet


    Good my lord,
    How does your honour for this many a day?


    I humbly thank you; well, well, well.


    My lord, I have remembrances of yours,
    That I have longed long to re-deliver;
    I pray you, now receive them.


    No, not I;
    I never gave you aught.


    My honour'd lord, you know right well you did;
    And, with them, words of so sweet breath composed
    As made the things more rich: their perfume lost,
    Take these again; for to the noble mind
    Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
    There, my lord.


    Ha, ha! are you honest?


    My lord?


    Are you fair?


    What means your lordship?


    That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should
    admit no discourse to your beauty.


    Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than
    with honesty?


    Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner
    transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the
    force of honesty can translate beauty into his
    likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the
    time gives it proof. I did love you once.


    Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.


    You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot
    so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of
    it: I loved you not.


    I was the more deceived.


    Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a
    breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;
    but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
    were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
    proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
    my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
    imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
    in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
    between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
    all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.
    Where's your father?


    At home, my lord.

    Hamlet is very inquisitive. He makes a very crucial question: “are you honest?”. That's is the definite tests to Ophelia, it's the last chance to save their relationship. In a previous scene, Polonius has read a letter that Hamlet had sent to Ophelia. That letter was a full declaration of love (act II, scene II).

    'Doubt thou the stars are fire;
    Doubt that the sun doth move;
    Doubt truth to be a liar;
    But never doubt I love.
    'O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers;
    I have not art to reckon my groans: but that
    I love thee best, O most best, believe it. Adieu.
    'Thine evermore most dear lady, whilst
    this machine is to him, HAMLET.'

    After this declaration of love Hamlet asks “are you honest?” and later on he asks for her father. Then she replies: “At home, my lord”. And that's false because he's a few steps afar. That's the ultimate betrayal, By “betraying” him, the relationship is finished and he reacts violently with her.


    Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the
    fool no where but in's own house. Farewell.


    O, help him, you sweet heavens!


    If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for
    thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as
    snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a
    nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs
    marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough
    what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go,
    and quickly too. Farewell.


    O heavenly powers, restore him!


    I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God
    has given you one face, and you make yourselves
    another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and
    nick-name God's creatures, and make your wantonness
    your ignorance. Go to, I'll no more on't; it hath
    made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages:
    those that are married already, all but one, shall
    live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a
    nunnery, go.

    The relevance of this part doesn't have to do with the word nunnery, which in those times meant `convent' as well as `prostitution house'.

    She's put to be what she isn't through the make up: “God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another”. Hamlet has put to a test to Ophelia and she “betrays” him. But from Ophelia's point of view she can't do anything better. If she is somebody in the court it is because of being `the daughter of', that's her role. There's a psychological mechanism that makes her to be loyal to her father. And her status comes from him. When Polonius is killed by Hamlet she becomes nobody. She's no longer `the daughter of' nor `the sister of', for his brother is away. And besides, as her relationship with Hamlet is broken, she cannot become `the wife of' either. That's why she becomes mad, because she lacks entity, she suffers a crisis of identity. In general, we could say she is just a puppet inside the tragedy.

    She's a victim of his father. Hamlet cannot see that Ophelia depends on his father in this matter. Ophelia is caught between two betrayals and chooses Hamlet's one. Something similar happens with Rosencratz and Guildestern in act II, scene II.


    My honoured lord!


    My most dear lord!


    My excellent good friends! How dost thou,
    Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both?


    As the indifferent children of the earth.


    Happy, in that we are not over-happy;
    On fortune's cap we are not the very button.


    Nor the soles of her shoe?


    Neither, my lord.


    Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of
    her favours?


    'Faith, her privates we.


    In the secret parts of fortune? O, most true; she
    is a strumpet. What's the news?


    None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest.


    Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true.
    Let me question more in particular: what have you,
    my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune,
    that she sends you to prison hither?


    Prison, my lord!


    Denmark's a prison.


    Then is the world one.


    A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
    wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.


    We think not so, my lord.


    Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
    either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
    it is a prison.


    Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too
    narrow for your mind.


    O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
    myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
    have bad dreams.


    Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very
    substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.


    A dream itself is but a shadow.


    Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a
    quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.


    Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and
    outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows. Shall we
    to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.


    We'll wait upon you.


    No such matter: I will not sort you with the rest
    of my servants, for, to speak to you like an honest
    man, I am most dreadfully attended. But, in the
    beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinore?


    To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.


    Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks; but I
    thank you: and sure, dear friends, my thanks are
    too dear a halfpenny. Were you not sent for? Is it
    your own inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come,
    deal justly with me: come, come; nay, speak.

    He imposes three or four crucial questions. For these questions he always receives a lie. Once again they're performing a role in front of Hamlet. But he's superior to them in knowledge, that's why he reacts laughing. Hamlet is betrayed by them. They are Hamlet's friends but also the subjects of a king. They have to choose and Hamlet corners them. The moment they betray him, they're doomed to death. When Hamlet goes to England, Rosencratz and Guildestern carry a letter in which is the king orders to kill Hamlet. But Hamlet changes the letter to kill Rosencratz and Guildestern. He does so because they've betrayed him. But for Rosencratz and Guildestern there was no escape: they had to choose between the king and Hamlet. And they follow the most powerful force. Horatio is the only one who doesn't betray Hamlet. This explains why Horatio remains alive at the end of the play (besides than for being able of telling the story).

    Ophelia, Rosencratz and Guildestern are caught in a dilemma of choice. They are victims, the cannot do a better thing. It's a question of loyalty to the voice of power (Ophelia to his father and Rosencratz and Guildestern to the king).

    Hamlet is also a victim of circumstances. He's aware of the hidden reality of things. The rest of the characters live in a world of appearances, that's why he ends up alone, he can't stand those masks. Hamlet is very much a tragedy of solitude and isolation. The Hamlet that comes back from England is absolutely different to the previous one. This is seen after the scene in the cemetery. He plays very much the role of the audience. He destroys the illusion of the mask. Hamlet's questions are not a matter of information, because Hamlet knows all the things he's asking. His questions are a search for honesty. He wants honesty in Ophelia, Rosencratz and Guildestern. They all wear masks and they keep them until it's too late. But Hamlet doesn't make an effort to be on their place, he can't judge the position of the others. That's his main fault.

    • Act III, scene IV: A change takes place in Hamlet. Hamlet has been Hamlet's been terribly cruel and sees his mother as someone evil. He's mad only apparently. Finally, we see a union between Hamlet and his mother.

    Hamlet kills Polonius as if it were something natural. That begins a new cycle of revenge, where Laertes is the main revengeful figure.

    Afterwards Hamlet behaves with cruelty. He makes his mother see two portraits, one of the king and the other of Hamlet's father. It works like a mirror where she can see her inner self. He's done this before with the mousetrap (the play represented to prove his uncle was a murderer). In the mousetrap, the king sees himself reflected. The image of the stage is the image of the real world. The mousetrap works effectively so much that the king has to leave the place and go into confession. There's a kind of parallelism between both scenes. The mousetrap worked with the king but it didn't make the queen to notice it. That's why Hamlet plays the same trick again, now for her. It works in the end: he forces her to see the truth of things. By the time the scene ends, the queen notices that reality: in that moment they become twin souls, they join into one. Now Hamlet's mother can see things into a new light. There's a new understanding of Hamlet by his mother. After that, the queen sees that Hamlet is not mad, there's no search of the truth on her part anymore. He's created a rite of passage for her. And from this moment onwards life between both characters is the best they can ever enjoy.

    At the beginning of the play the ghost is seen by three people, and now only by Hamlet, he's not seen by Gertrude. Why this change? Wilson knight wrote a book called The Imperial Theme. In that book he describes Hamlet as “the ambassador of death”: the visual presence of the ghost is no longer necessary, the link between death and life is actually Hamlet. The first moment the ghost appears death is the most important element. It's not necessary for the queen to see the ghost because Hamlet himself can give her the same message. Besides the message is basically for Hamlet. The presence of the ghost is no longer necessary for the other characters. The queen in fact is right when he says This the very coinage of your brain: This bodiless creation ecstasy Is very cunning in.”. He's so obsessed with the ghost that he's become a sort of ghost himself. All this goes back to the very first scene in the play, which is the one that dominates the whole story.

    Hamlet is also an “ambassador of death” because he creates chaos around him, he's a destroyer of life. Those who touch him end up dying, except for Horatio. All this death has to do with Hamlet's contemplation. He's a man of reflection and contemplation, but he's also a man of action. He acts whenever it's necessary. And when he acts he destroys , he's unable to create; all his creations lead to destruction.

    Hamlet has killed someone behind the curtain. He doesn't care who has killed. The problem is that Horatio is an innocent man, an outsider of the main plot. Hamlet has a lot concerning Ophelia, but anyway Hamlet is to blame for this death.

    We don't see the pains in Hamlet of the guilt of killing a man. So what kind of man is Hamlet? We know many things that the rest of the characters in the play don't know. That's why we know Hamlet is not mad. He's simply pretending to be mad to get certain things. Hamlet doesn't care for his life, life is nothing for him. He's closer to death than to life. So that's why he doesn't care to kill a man. Al his views on man, life, love, etc. are negative. There's nothing in this world which would prevent him of keeping himself alive. Though he doesn't suicide because he's frightened for what's beyond life.

    Hamlet is a sort of `nihilist', his soul is dead inside and life has no appeal for him. And the ghost gives Hamlet something to see beyond appearances, but that is a poisonous gift that destroys him. Knowledge is painful, it can kill. If we have a tragic ending it is because he's decided that end. Hamlet is warned about it, but he carries on. Hamlet is in a sense like Faustus: he obtains a definite knowledge but the price of it is the illness of his soul.

    • Act V, scene I: We have been previously informed about Ophelia's madness and her death in the last scene.


    One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
    So fast they follow; your sister's drown'd, Laertes.


    Drown'd! O, where?


    There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
    That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
    There with fantastic garlands did she come
    Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
    That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
    But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
    There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
    Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
    When down her weedy trophies and herself
    Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
    And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
    Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
    As one incapable of her own distress,
    Or like a creature native and indued
    Unto that element: but long it could not be
    Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
    Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
    To muddy death.


    Alas, then, she is drown'd?


    Drown'd, drown'd.

    The queen has given an account very accurately. She looks to be watching from a distance without helping the victim. The first question asked is “Drown'd! O, where?”, instead of how she died or when. Obviously it is the excuse for introducing the beautiful queen's explanation, but it sounds weird.


    [...] How long hast thou been a

    First Clown

    Of all the days i' the year, I came to't that day
    that our last king Hamlet overcame Fortinbras.


    How long is that since?

    First Clown

    Cannot you tell that? every fool can tell that: it
    was the very day that young Hamlet was born; he that
    is mad, and sent into England.


    Ay, marry, why was he sent into England?

    First Clown

    Why, because he was mad: he shall recover his wits
    there; or, if he do not, it's no great matter there.

    The third cycle of revenge has been introduced. We know that Hamlet's father has killed Fortimbras' father. That cycle of revenge coincides with Hamlet's birth.

    After coming back from England Hamlet's attitude has changed. He's returned a new man. Hamlet's last words before dying are “The rest is silence”. Those words are strange for a person who has had a contact with the outer world. Those words would mean that only life counts, anything else. That is a way of introducing the carpe diem motto in the play. Yorick is nothing after his death. The scorn represents emptiness. But his skull remained for thirty years. The end means nothing, life is the important thing.


    So much for this, sir: now shall you see the other;
    You do remember all the circumstance?


    Remember it, my lord?


    Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting,
    That would not let me sleep: methought I lay
    Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly,
    And praised be rashness for it, let us know,
    Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well,
    When our deep plots do pall: and that should teach us
    There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
    Rough-hew them how we will,--

    He makes a division between past and present. In his past, Hamlet suffered form an inner fighting, and in the present “There's a divinity that shapes our ends”. That's to say, we aren't subjects to our will, but subjects of God. We must accept life as it comes, for everything is written down and nothing can be altered.

    Hamlet says: "There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. It it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come -- the readiness is all." The important thing is to be ready for the end. Death will come when it wants to do it. Hamlet prefers to enjoy life until death surprises him.

    Now Hamlet seems to have achieved internal peace. Now he's a new and mature man. England is like a sort of rite of passage for Hamlet. He's forgotten the ghost and he's destroyed his anxiety. And precisely now when he's prepared to be a great leader, a good king, when he's experienced life and suffering, he dies. After all his suffering, including some deaths, Hamlet is about to die. And he doesn't deserve such a tragic end, typical of a tragic hero. He's repentant of his past and has discovered a new meaning in life. That provokes a feeling of emptiness in the audience, because now Hamlet doesn't deserve to die. That's why the final death of Hamlet comes as a shock. But his death is also necessary to close those cycles of revenge. When the tragedy ends, those three cycles of revenge are finally closed.

    Only the future remains, but it isn't handicapped by its past. The past is closed and a new cycle/future begins. Horatio is the only one who remains alive because a recorder of deeds is required. He's the one who will link past, present and future.


    Macbeth is a play from a different age. It's Jacobean. We have a new king, James I, from the Stuart Dynasty (Scotland). This is relevant if we take into account that the action of the play takes place in Scotland.

    We cannot read Macbeth without considering the king James I. Shakespeare wrote the play when he was in the company “The King's Men”, very probably for representing it in court. James I in his first three years of king saw more plays than Elizabeth in her reign. James was a great supporter of drama and of the Shakespeare's company. He loved theatre plays. Shakespeare, having all this in mind, who his plays in a manner they pleased the king.

    Macbeth, as a tragedy, points out the question of free choice. It treats the tragic end of a man. But is Macbeth responsible of what he has done or is everything written before hand (question of Destiny)? It is true that the evil forces (The Three Weird Sisters, The Three Witches) surrounding Macbeth is an important issue with much weight inside the play. And that is connected to James I, who wrote the book Daemonology and was an expert in witchcraft matters.

    This tragedy, written to please the king, is very much a play about kings, the way kings govern and what happens to a country when a king disappears. It's a play about power. The moment Duncan is killed by Macbeth a change is established, there's a before and after. When Duncan is killed, there is a political division in the country. Fear (connected to darkness) predominates in court. From that moment onwards, most of the play takes place at night.

    The realm of nature is also relevant: almost all the animals mentioned in Macbeth have negative connotations. They're connected with death and/or violence.

    The moment Duncan is killed, the world is turned upside down. We have moved from order into chaos. Macbeth is the man responsible for all this: a royal murder affects the whole country and destroys the future of a nation.

    Murder follows murder, terror reigns, Scotland becomes a land without future. Everything is chaos because Macbeth is an illegitimate king, because the land is being ruled by an original sin, by a murderer. Nothing good can come from him. James I was a very firm believer in the divinity of kings. A king was a sort of semi-sacred figure whose power came directly from God. He actualy believed in his divinity. The king simbolizes politically the role of God. He's also a believer of absolutism, like all Stuarts were. He didn't believe in Parliament and thought that power came from God directly into him.

    Macbeth has to do with the eternal fight between good (the king) and evil (witches). After Duncan's murder, Scotland becomes a barren land because without the king, the Lord's power in not present in the country. In Macbeth two kings are killed, not just one. The question arisen then is why the killing of a king is illegitimate and the other isn't.

    • Act I, scene I.

    The witches appear to convey a message. They're foretelling the future. Macbeth is perhaps the play with more questions. Here from the beginning everything is very sinister, mysterious. The three weird sisters are announcing their next meeting, which will be with Macbeth.

    The three witches meant a lot in the mentality of the age: the agents of evil have a physical presence here. It's the witch hunting period. We are before very horrible and terrifying characters at that age. There are records of people that even fainted when they saw Macbeth's witches on stage. So we can sum up that Macbeth is a play about the role of evil on earth.

    Why three witches? Because the number three had a magical connotation in the pagan world. Besides, the play's setting is in Scotland, a country with a Celtic background, where gods used to be represented with three different faces. And goddesses used to be a triple being, like for example childhood, adulthood and ageing.

    • Act I, scene II

    After the encounter of the three witches there's a kind of prologue that tells us who is Macbeth and what he's done. Two battles are mentioned: the first referred to a rebel called Macdonald, who has been defeated by Macbeth. Immediately afterwards, the king of Norway attacks the place, but Macbeth and Banquo defeat him. But in court a second battle is mentioned: Macbeth has taken place probably in it, since Duncan rewards him. All these things are not so clear, and that's done on purpose because Macbeth tries to be a very dark play. Even Macbeth is highly surprised by his second title as thane of Cawdor.

    “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won.” (Duncan)

    After the murder of Duncan, the world turns upside down. This is what the witches have announced: confusion. It's very much a period dominated by evil forces. Night prevails in Macbeth because he's a creature of the night, very sinister.

    • Act I, scene III.

    First Witch

    Where hast thou been, sister?

    Second Witch

    Killing swine.

    Third Witch

    Sister, where thou?

    First Witch

    A sailor's wife had chestnuts in her lap,
    And munch'd, and munch'd, and munch'd:--
    'Give me,' quoth I:
    'Aroint thee, witch!' the rump-fed ronyon cries.
    Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger:
    But in a sieve I'll thither sail,

    And, like a rat without a tail,
    I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do.

    Second Witch

    I'll give thee a wind.

    First Witch

    Thou'rt kind.

    Third Witch

    And I another.

    First Witch

    I myself have all the other,
    And the very ports they blow,
    All the quarters that they know
    I' the shipman's card.
    I will drain him dry as hay:
    Sleep shall neither night nor day
    Hang upon his pent-house lid;
    He shall live a man forbid:
    Weary se'nnights nine times nine
    Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
    Though his bark cannot be lost,
    Yet it shall be tempest-tost.
    Look what I have.

    Second Witch

    Show me, show me.

    First Witch

    Here I have a pilot's thumb,
    Wreck'd as homeward he did come.

    The witches are planning the wreck of a ship. They're going to provoke a storm at sea. The mentality of the age attributed these things to evil. The Tiger was a ship that wrecked at that time. The witches are agents of evil and they're there to provoke fear.

    Third Witch

    A drum, a drum!
    Macbeth doth come.


    The weird sisters, hand in hand,
    Posters of the sea and land,
    Thus do go about, about:
    Thrice to thine and thrice to mine
    And thrice again, to make up nine.
    Peace! the charm's wound up.

    (Enter MACBETH and BANQUO)


    So foul and fair a day I have not seen.

    The first words by Macbeth are not coincidence (very similar words said by the witches before). That's because Macbeth has already entered the realm off darkness, of evil. He's caught between Good (represented by the king) and Evil (represented by the witches). Macbeth undergoes a kind of journey from one realm to the other.

    When Macbeth belonged to the realm of Good, he was fitful to his role as a subject, he defended his king to preserve the order the king had imposed in the land. But from this scene onwards Macbeth is dominated by Evil. And the sentence “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” shows he's started his journey towards darkness.


    How far is't call'd to Forres? What are these
    So wither'd and so wild in their attire,
    That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth,
    And yet are on't? Live you? or are you aught
    That man may question? You seem to understand me,
    By each at once her chappy finger laying
    Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,
    And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
    That you are so.

    First Witch

    All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

    Second Witch

    All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

    Third Witch

    All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!


    Speak, if you can: what are you?

    The witches use three different titles to refer to Macbeth. That's because they can control past (the title of Glamis is a title of the past), present (thane of Cawdor) and future (king). They can control time.


    Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear
    Things that do sound so fair? I' the name of truth,
    Are ye fantastical, or that indeed
    Which outwardly ye show? My noble partner
    You greet with present grace and great prediction
    Of noble having and of royal hope,
    That he seems rapt withal: to me you speak not.
    If you can look into the seeds of time,
    And say which grain will grow and which will not,
    Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear
    Your favours nor your hate.

    Banquo immediately caught the meaning of the prophecy. He understood what meant `seeds of time' (past, present and future).

    First Witch


    Second Witch


    Third Witch


    First Witch

    Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.

    Second Witch

    Not so happy, yet much happier.

    Third Witch

    Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:
    So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!

    First Witch

    Banquo and Macbeth, all hail!


    Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more:
    By Sinel's death I know I am thane of Glamis;
    But how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives,
    A prosperous gentleman; and to be king
    Stands not within the prospect of belief,
    No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence
    You owe this strange intelligence? or why
    Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
    With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you.

    (Witches vanish)

    The witches vanish. Macbeth from this moment onwards will change his behaviour. And then we must deal with the question of `free choice'. He has elected freely what course to run. This is related to the play, but to what extent Macbeth is able of acting by free choice after meeting with the witches? Apparently, Macbeth cannot escape from the grasp, he looks to be a victim of evil. But this is not so.


    [Aside] Two truths are told,
    As happy prologues to the swelling act
    Of the imperial theme.--I thank you, gentlemen.


    Cannot be ill, cannot be good: if ill,
    Why hath it given me earnest of success,
    Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor:
    If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
    Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
    And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
    Against the use of nature? Present fears
    Are less than horrible imaginings:
    My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
    Shakes so my single state of man that function
    Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is
    But what is not.

    From this moment onwards Macbeth will make some `asides', a kind of secrets between the character and the audience. Macbeth, by means of `asides', is telling us what he thinks, and what is the effect that the witches' words have taken on him.

    Two truths are told,
    As happy prologues to the swelling act
    Of the imperial theme

    Those two truths are that Macbeth is the thane of Cawdor at present and that he'll become the king of England in the future. The important thing is that he's beginning to consider the means required to gain the crown. The murder of the king is contemplated as a possibility. And that is in connection with the matter of the `free choice': the three witches tells him he shall be king, but they don't say how he'll become so. He decides taking the crown by killing, he decides the means. That is what brings the tragedy.

    • Act I, scene V.

    Macbeth has come across an obstacle: the king's son, prince Cumberland, and he's the heir to the crown. Macbeth's thoughts are against him. The line of succession to the crown is based on hereditary principles, and yet Macbeth becomes king.

    Macbeth becomes king because Duncan's son flies away, so Macbeth then is a “primus inter pares”. Two systems for reigning in Scotland are present in the country: the hereditary system and a Celtic system, by which a king is elected among his equals.

    Macbeth's intentions are black and deep. He's about to commit murder. In a way he's announcing certain circumstances surrounding the murder: it takes place by night in Macbeth's house. The question of appearance and reality emerges again. Macbeth seems to become a friend of the king just to kill him later. Macbeth is moved primarily by ambition, and Lady Macbeth too. Yet Macbeth fears his nature, he doesn't feel strong enough to commit the crime. He's actually contemplating murder, he does so from the very beginning. Yet he lacks guts.

    Lady Macbeth is who convinces him to carry out the murder, and uses a powerful argument: manliness: “be a man and kill him”. Lady Macbeth is reading a letter. The way it starts is strange.


    'They met me in the day of success: and I have
    learned by the perfectest report, they have more in
    them than mortal knowledge. When I burned in desire
    to question them further, they made themselves air,
    into which they vanished. Whiles I stood rapt in
    the wonder of it, came missives from the king, who
    all-hailed me 'Thane of Cawdor;' by which title,
    before, these weird sisters saluted me, and referred
    me to the coming on of time, with 'Hail, king that
    shalt be!' This have I thought good to deliver
    thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou
    mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing, by being
    ignorant of what greatness is promised thee. Lay it
    to thy heart, and farewell.'
    Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
    What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
    It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
    To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
    Art not without ambition, but without
    The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly,
    That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
    And yet wouldst wrongly win: thou'ldst have, great Glamis,
    That which cries 'Thus thou must do, if thou have it;
    And that which rather thou dost fear to do
    Than wishest should be undone.' Hie thee hither,
    That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
    And chastise with the valour of my tongue
    All that impedes thee from the golden round,
    Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
    To have thee crown'd withal.

    The enterprise is explained by Macbeth to her. The enterprise refers to the murder of the king. But he lacks courage to carry out his plans. The character of Lady Macbeth in important inside the play. She's related to eve, she resembles her. Man is responsible for sin but for the temptation of a woman. The link of evil and man is the woman. It's only through Lady Macbeth that the crime is committed. She's a tool of the devil.

    Lady Macbeth is a mother. There are references in the play to her role as a mother. And here she's losing all the positive attributes of a woman, and first and foremost tenderness. Everything is lost in favour of cruelty. That's why she asks the spirits to deprive her of her sex, deprive her of being a woman. She becomes an evil creature surrounded by evil creatures and she creates her castle in hell.

    When Lady Macbeth says “to cast the nearest way” is like if she were saying “you're too soft, you need to become a creature of evil”. That's what Lady Macbeth does, to give the ultimate breath Macbeth needs to commit the crime. In all this they resemble Adam and Eve. Why doesn't she commit the crime? This way is more powerful. James I was a biblical expert (James' Bible), so the connection of Lady Macbeth with Eve becomes necessary. That way Shakespeare winks an eye to the king.

    • Act I, scene VII.

  • The crime Macbeth is about to commit is a very horrible action indeed. He's going to murder a person who's a guest, and Macbeth is a host. Here, the question of trust between host and guest is violated. If you keep a guest you are responsible for his security, and that guest also trusts you. So here the guest is a king, Macbeth should display all the safety possible to assure his security. Macbeth destroys Duncan's sleep; from this moment onwards Macbeth becomes a creature of the night, he cannot sleep anymore. And like Macbeth broke the reliance the king put in him, he can't trust anyone.

  • He's killing a king. And it's not just that, it's that he's killing a king with good attributes:

    • Meek in bearing his faculties.

    • Clear in office.

    • Angelic virtues.

    A king (like king James) has absolute power, and all depends on how he exercises that power. Duncan wasn't a tyrant, he was clear explaining why he did certain things and he was seen as a good man by others. But when Macbeth becomes king, he's actually the opposite to Duncan: he has absolute power and employs it in being wicked. He's a tyrant and a cruel murderer, he's not clear in office... There's a tremendous degree of suspicion on Macbeth. He simply acts, he doesn't explain his actions. And of course, he doesn't have angelic qualities, but evil.

    Many critics sustain that Macbeth is propaganda of the consequences of killing a king, and how the world changes from order into chaos. Unnatural things happen: horses eat each other, night prevails over day, etc. That was propaganda in favour of the crown.: the king is a guarantee of order. All this is seen this way because at those times there were attempts to kill king James. But in Macbeth two kings are killed, not just one. On one case, killing one king is chaotic and in the other one is positive. So killing a king may be positive (Macbeth) or negative (Duncan). So more than propaganda for the king, it's a warning. Everything is disguised through language. “Fair is foul, foul is fair”.

    Macbeth has to do with politics. Making a psychological study of the character, we see an interior development throughout the play. Both Macbeth and Hamlet are figures that can control the past, the present and the future. And in both cases these figures possess a knowledge that the rest of the characters don't.

    In the case of Macbeth, the killing of Duncan is central. Many think about killing him, but he's the only one who does it. Therefore, it is the thought that transforms Macbeth, not the fact of killing him. After his thought of murder, he becomes evil

    Macbeth is as alone as Hamlet. There are two reasons that provoke this solitude:

  • When Macbeth becomes king, he must keep a political balance between fear and love (according to Machiavelo). But in the case of Macbeth, he just is fear, there's no love in him. He only kills and terrorizes those surrounding him. Scotland becomes a stage for crime.

  • At the beginning Macbeth is an honest man. The source for his transformation comes from the killing of the king. And afterwards, he can't even get rid of that fear.

  • Macbeth has discovered a monster in him that he cannot dominate. Whenever he kills, a new personality is born. He's not what he looks, he offers one mask but he's a killer. Because he's killed trust, then he cannot trust anyone. And his fear is spread through Scotland. This happens to such extent that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth must be separate, for they cannot trust each other.

    Life has becomes a complete nonsense for Macbeth. Macbeth destroys himself and the people around, there's a tremendous nihilism in the play, in the end he gets nothing. In spite oh having the crown, he cannot do anything right because he's transformed reality utterly, and especially reliance. Besides Macbeth, contrarily to Richard III, doesn't find pleasure from being evil to others. And yet Macbeth possesses a double personality: gentleman and killer. That's why he remains alone: politically, because he's not a good king and personally, because he's dominated by the evil inside him.

    John Bayley, a well-known Shakespearean critic, thinks that the killing of Macbeth serves to reveal the consciousness of the hero.

    Richard III

    • Act I - opening

    Richard is the Shakespearean character with more lines after Hamlet. The play is full of monologues and asides, so we are able to know in advance what he's going to do. Richard becomes a sort of grandiose villain, he's a sort of Machiavelo. He's the first grand figure containing dramatic elements, he's certainly an evil character. The connection protagonist - character is established from the very beginning, which is a bit shocking.

    Another essential feature is the embodiment of theatre. He manipulates all, the characters on stage. The whole strategy is so well devised that practically all characters follow the steps he imposes. But only for a time, as we will see, for he falls in the end.


    Now is the winter of our discontent
    Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
    And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
    In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
    Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
    Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
    Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
    Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
    Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
    And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
    To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
    He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
    To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
    But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
    Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
    I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
    To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
    I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
    Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
    Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
    Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
    And that so lamely and unfashionable
    That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
    Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
    Have no delight to pass away the time,
    Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
    And descant on mine own deformity:
    And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
    To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
    I am determined to prove a villain
    And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
    Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
    By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
    To set my brother Clarence and the king
    In deadly hate the one against the other:
    And if King Edward be as true and just
    As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
    This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
    About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
    Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
    Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
    Clarence comes.

    In this monologue he says what he's going to do.

    Now is the winter of our discontent
    Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

    He refers to the War of the Roses, to the past. The present is dominated by peace, love, enjoyment and pleasure. Winter past / Summer present.

    He also refers to the future, which will be a time of unrest and instability. His first villainy will be to oppose brother. The War of the Roses was a civil war between two noble houses: York and Lancaster. The origin of the war started with Richard II. This Shakespeare's play tells us about the position of Richard II. The crown was taken by the house of Lancaster, where it stood for three generations: Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI. After the last king, the crown returned to York with Edward IV. This transition is the one Richard is talking about (Richard was a Yorkist). The present is glorious because once again the crown is in York, and the future of it are developed in this play.

    Richard became king in 1483 and in 1485 he was defeated in Bosworth by Henry VII (Tudor). This last Henry married Elizabeth of York, joining both houses Lancaster and York. So the future Richard is talking about is his struggle to get and retain the crown.

    Shakespeare wrote at the end of the Tudor Age. When he recovered the past to write about it, he manipulated it, probably in order to beautify and glorify the Tudor Dynasty.

    We see a sharp contrast between Richard and Richmond. While Richard is evil and deformed, Richmond represents hope and purity. The fact of Richard being like a monster is made on purpose to glorify Henry VII, and see Richmond as the salvation of the country. But historically, Richard probably wasn't like Shakespeare describes him. Shakespeare is obviously manipulating history, but at the same time drawing historical sources taken from Hall or Holinshed's Cronicles (both writings were tremendously biased).

    Richard is practically confessing he's going to convert future into hell. That's because the crown dominated his brain and once he has it, to maintain it safe. With Othello's Iago we don't know why he's so evil. But in the case of Richard, we know he's moved by ambition. Richard is between both extremes: he supplies a partial answer to his evilness. He apparently says that he's born a creature for troubling times. He needs to move in troublesome waters, he's a killer, he's warrior-like. And the problem with present is that there is no war, so he's unhappy. He's not made for the times, nature has not given him features for love. Is Richard telling lies to us, as to the rest of the characters?

    It's interesting to analyse why Richard is successful, being a villain. His clues for success are seen in Act I, scene I, after his introductory monologue:

  • Hypocrisy: he's a master wearing masks depending on the occasion. He does so with his brother Clarence. He's a master of masks. He adapts his discourse to the person he's talking to. Therefore, he's a great actor.

  • He presents himself as the saviour of the situation. But he needs to create problem and weaken power, weaken the king. He does so by saying to Clarence that the country is being reigned by a woman, because the king is a puppet in her hand. He manipulates reality. Bu using such mechanisms he weakens central power.

  • He possesses full control of information. He knows all about the rest, but nobody knows the real Richard. It's rather late in the play when people know his real truth. Nobody considers Richard to be dangerous. However, he knows everyone. By anticipating the characters' reactions he can manipulate them.

  • He's in full control of time, and in that way he's comapred to a playwright. Therefore, he can prepare things in the way he wants. Before the king dies, he has to kill Clarence, so that people would think it was the king who killed him. He's invisible in his actions, he moves in the shadows.

  • He cannot live, I hope; and must not die (Richard)

    • Act I, scene II.

    Henry is going to be buried by his widow Anne. The widow of the Prince of Wales knows that the hand that has killed her husband had also killed Henry. And that hand was Richard's.

    She's so full with anger that she even curses the murderer:

    More direful hap betide that hated wretch,
    That makes us wretched by the death of thee,
    Than I can wish to adders, spiders, toads,
    Or any creeping venom'd thing that lives!
    If ever he have child, abortive be it,
    Prodigious, and untimely brought to light,
    Whose ugly and unnatural aspect
    May fright the hopeful mother at the view;
    And that be heir to his unhappiness!
    If ever he have wife, let her he made
    A miserable by the death of him
    As I am made by my poor lord and thee!

    It's very shocking that Anne changes her mind in only three minutes. Finally, she marries the murderer she hates. The reader already knows it because Richard has told us so in the previous scene. The idea of wooing and wining her is to make his wife.

    O, gentlemen, see, see! dead Henry's wounds
    Open their congeal'd mouths and bleed afresh!
    (Lady Anne)

    The corpse of a killed person was supposed to bleed before his murderer. It was a kind of superstition or belief of the time.

    To take is not to give. (Lady Anne)

    They marry. How this tremendous change in Anne since “I would I knew thy heart”? Richard plays his game in a very advantageous position. Lady Anne cannot sustain her life, she's not “daughter of” or “wife of” anymore. She's alone and in the house of her enemy (the Yorks are ruling now). She has to grasp the only the only chance that is afforded to her, and Richard is that chance. She can hardly reject the offer.

    However, the scene is presented by Shakespeare in such a way that it looks confusing. The reader believes she falls for him because of his wooing to her. He says to her that he can be a devil, but that he can be also transformed by her love. And after he's said so, he offers her to kill him. But he knows she won't do it because his words have had an effect on her. Appealing to her beauty, tenderness, etc. seems to work (but only because of the woman's despair).

    The undertakers were people who threw vegetables away -mainly apples or hard things- when they disliked the performance of a play.








    Enviado por:La Ninja Waïpei
    Idioma: inglés
    País: España

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