Stacy Reilly

Professor Keefer

Summer 1999


What is the Duty of Prince Hamlet?

In reading Shakespeare's Hamlet, it is easy to make the initial judgement that Laertes was a more dutiful son than Hamlet was. This may have been evidenced by Laertes's immediate response to avenge his father'ss murder, as opposed to Hamlet'ss more contemplated approach in confronting a similar situation. I feel that to decide the level of duty or honor of either of these men based on their immediate response to each of their tragic losses is unfair. Both men have been raised completely different, and because of that, our expectations of them are biased. It seems more likely to expect the son of the king to seek revenge for his father'ss death without hesitation or contemplation.


However, we are clearly shown that Hamlet'ss very nature was inquisitive and calculating. He replays in his mind the events that have taken place and he contemplates his mother'ss reactions and responses to those events. He is clearly disturbed by the behavior of both his uncle (who is now king) and his mother. However, his very nature does not allow him to react without evidence, he must know the truth before he seeks justice.


Unlike Hamlet, Laertes is shown to us as impulsive and passionate from the beginning of the story. He expresses his concern to Ophelia about for her feelings for Hamlet. He warns her that regardless of the fact that Hamlet has declared his love for her, he still may not be able to marry her. Since he is the son of the king, he may not necessarily be allowed to choose his bride. I believe that he is warning her to be careful, and that if she is not, she will suffer, and so will Hamlet. It is as though, he his warning us that, what is right and wrong in his perception is very clear, regardless of the fact that there may be circumstances that are unknown. To him there needs to be no investigation of motives or reason when harm has been done. He thinks in the moment, and responds just the same. I do not believe that one approach is any more honorable or dutiful than the other is. Each obviously has it'ss own merits and pitfalls. Moreover, in this story, the course of action of both of these men causes tragic suffering and loss for everyone involved.


When one of the guards who claim to have seen the ghost of Hamlet'ss father confronts him with this information, Hamlet seems to be almost relieved. He has been obsessed by the thought that the events surrounding his father'ss death are mysterious. When he actually sees the ghost of his father for himself, and hears him tell the story of his own murder, we see a son who is not only distraught by his own fear of foul play, but who is also relieved at knowing the truth. However, Hamlet'ss own insecurities seem to prevent him from accepting this truth completely. Instead, he ponders the notion that this may be an evil ghost that has come to do him harm, or that in someway this is not real, even now, he cannot accept the vision of his father as true. He must prove that the evil that his father speaks of has happened just the way that he has claimed.


He sets out to lay a trap for his uncle. It is important to Hamlet that the rest of the kingdom knows the truth. It is as though his own knowledge is not enough; he must have the support of the people. He proceeds to devise schemes in order to trap and expose his uncle for his crimes. One of these involves having the travelling actors depict his father'ss confession of the events surrounding his murder on stage in front of the kingdom, so that he may see the response of his uncle and all others around him.


Another element of his plan involves convincing those around him that he has lost his mind. During this process, he torments his mother, and rejects Ophelia'ss love, which is devastating to both of these women. He can not see the pain he is causing them because he is so consumed by his need for concrete proof of his father'ss murder. He has chosen to put his own need for reassurance that his father has told a true account of what has happened, over any sense of moral obligation to those around him. In his quest for this truth he is compelled to punish his mother for her weakness in quickly becoming physically and emotionally involved with her husband'ss brother. He sees her actions as a betrayal to the king, even though the uncle betrayed her as well. He berates her to the point of hysteria, in spite of his father'ss request to be gentle with her. Hamlet is so self-absorbed with his own grief and his internalized need for revenge that he is unable to see anyone else'ss suffering or pain. He allows this rage to rule his spirit. I don'st believe that he even realizes the consequences of his choices until after Ophelia commits suicide and he sees her in her coffin. His approach to "justice" has only seemed to prolong the retribution that he seeks, and will result in additional deaths.


This behavior is the exact opposite of Laertes's response when he hears of his father'ss murder. Laertes immediately challenges Hamlet to duel. He does not give the matter a second thought. For him there is no reason why he should question his reaction to someone who has harmed him or his family even if that someone is the son of the king. However, in his anger he allows himself to be corrupted by Hamlet'ss uncle. He becomes a pawn of the uncle'ss plot to get rid of Hamlet so that his evil deeds will not become public. Before the duel he poisons the tip of his sword. This seems out of character for Laertes. He has not been presented to us as devious, dishonorable or even dependant upon anyone for help. But one can see that he has been so blinded by the rage of his sister'ss madness and suicide, and by the murder of his father that one can understand and even accept his behavior. He is almost even respected for his actions because they appear to be so selfless.


By Laertes's method of handling his situation he compromises his own integrity by allowing himself to be completely ruled by his own impulses. Whereas, Hamlet whose lack of impulse only causes more pain and death, but who has remained true to himself can almost be seen as a victim.


Both do achieve their goal of avenging their father'ss murders. Each in their own way, and both at a substantial cost to themselves, and to all around them.


Shakespeare in Love


After reading the screenplay, watching the film and rereading Hamlet in class, one can see how brilliant the script to Shakespeare in Love is. I feel that Stoppard was able to capture both the subtleties and the beauty of the language that is Shakespeare.


In true Shakespearean fashion, he managed to assemble richly woven layers of plot and character development throughout the piece. Although the film did not go all of the way in exposing the extremes that Shakespeare'ss life spanned, I feel that there was a great deal of depiction of the way Shakespeare lived his life. He showed us the pubs, the whores, the scoundrels and the general characters that made up the population that wasn'st aristocratic.


Although the lead character of the story is Shakespeare himself, you get the feeling that this is like any other story that he might have written. It is as though Shakespeare has written himself as a character into the text.


I found the idea of the plot interesting, because it was true to form for the time. Women were not only barred from the stage, but from most everything else as well. They were seen as property and bargaining or leverage tools in both the common and the aristocratic classes. The notion of duty and honor become the barriers designed to keep the lovers (Viola and William) apart. Viola has been promised by her father to another man for marriage, but falls in love with William.


She has no passion for her intended, but ultimately most obey her duty to her family, and sacrifice her romantic attachment to William to marry a man that she does not love. However, before she does that, she will experience her dreams of love, passion and art by having an affair with William and masquerading as a man to act in one of his plays. Viola is such a great actress that she fools everyone, up until the very end.


The story ends in great farce tradition, with a very funny cameo made by Queen Elizabeth, which further serves to twist the paradox of the oppression of women in England at the time.


Pride, Duty, and Oedipus


Where exactly do these traits fit into the life of Oedipus Rex? This is no easy or simple question to answer. At first glance, it appears that Oedipus is more concerned with his own sense of pride. He must pursue the horrible prophecy that lies before him. Every step of the way, he has the option to quit, to stop searching for what is ultimately his demise. He is on a mission to find out if what has been predicted by Tiresias is true.


The prediction is that Oedipus will have been responsible for the murder his father, and will unknowingly marry his mother. He initially pressures Tiresias, who obviously is not eager to share the prophecy with Oedipus, into telling him. He does this claiming to be doing this out of a sense of duty to his city, and in the possibility of avenging the death of his father. Tiresias warns him that seeking this knowledge is only serving his own vanity, and will only result in pain and suffering for all involved. But, Oedipus cannot stop. His pride and vanity win out. His duty is only to himself at this point, not to his people, or even what he considers to be justice.


Upon sharing the prophecy, and the realization that the parents that raised him were not his biological parents with Jocasta, his wife, he is once again warned not to continue on this self-destructive quest. Jocasta begs him not to pursue the issue. But he ignores her pleas. It is evident that he has no real sense of duty to his wife, even though, unknown to him, she has realized the horrible reality of the entire situation.


Oedipus's quest to fulfill the oracle'ss prophecy serves to be the cause of his own downfall. Sophocles has written an intricately woven tale of irony that truly illustrates the lengths that human beings are capable of going to in order to satisfy their need to uncover what are often painful and dangerous truths about themselves. It is though the duty that Oedipus has to himself is all that actually matters in the end. This need to know brings great sorrow to all of those that it affects, including Oedipus himself.


"The Man and the Child" by Anne Morrow Lindburgh


It is the man in us who works;


Who earns his daily bread and anxious scans

 It is the man who hurries as he walks;

Finds courage in a crowd; shouts as he talks;

Who shuts his eyes and burrows through his task;

Who doubts his neighbor and who wears a mask;

Who moves in armor and who hides his tears.

It is the man in us who fears.


It is the child in us who plays;

Who sees no happiness beyond today'ss;

Who sings for joy; who wonders, and who weeps;

It is the child in us at night who sleeps.

It is the child who silent turns his face,

Open and maskless, naked of defense,

Simple with trust, distilled of all pretense,

To sudden beauty in another'ss face


It is the child in us who loves.


"Even " by Anne Morrow Lindburgh


Him that I love I wish to be



Free as the bare top twigs of tree,

Pushed up out of the fight

Of branches, struggling for the light,

Clear of the darkening pall,

Where shadows fall

Open to the golden eye

Of sky;


Free as a gull

Alone upon a single shaft of air,

Invisible there,


No man can touch,

No shout can reach,


No stare;


Free as a spear

Of grass,

Lost in the green


Of a thousand seen

Piercing, row on row;

The crust of earth,

With mirth,

Through to the blue,

Sharing the sun


Circled, each one,

In his cool shpere

Of dew.


Him that I love, I wish to be


Even from me.


Analyssis of "The Man and the Child" and "Even "

Both by Anne Morrow Lindburgh


Both poems display rhyming couplets. Neither seems to have any real examples of consonance, or true assonance.


"Even " does seem to be able to really give the reader a true sense of the essence of the freedom that lies in nature and in love. For example, the way in which she describes the bare top twigs of tree, and how the branches are struggling for light, clear of the darkening pall. I feel the essence of the forest, and the bare tree-tops fighting to come out of the darkness, and live in the sun. Or in the third stanza, when she describes the gull invisible up in the air, where no man can reach or touch, I feel the abandon of the type of love that she speaks of.


"The Man and the Child" on the other hand, seems to speak of the freedom that is usually lost as we age. It warns of the implied duty in which we are supposed to develop. It warns of the fear and isolation that can grow if we give in to that idea of what being a "responsible, and serious" adult is. If we follow this path, we will probably never really understand or appreciate the duty that we should have to hold on to our ability to trust and love.


Moral Duty in A Tale of Two Cities?


Opposites collide throughout this story; countries, religions, emotions, classes, and ultimately life and death. The struggle is seen from the notion of "circumstances and purposes." This refers in large part to Dickens's state of mind and objective at the time he wrote the story. The intrusive, unusually editorial point of view, with references to "I" and deviations from narrative to monologue, seems to reveal the story'ss bondage to the teachings of his morals or perhaps his own internal bondage to the morals of his time and religious principles. Therefore it is clear as to why a character like Lucie, must be the ideal traditional woman, supportive, loyal, and of course extremely feminine. We are shown the ideal of love by the representation of Lucie, as opposed to that of hate, which is represented by Madame Defarge. The Defarge'ss are depicted as the embodiment of hate and all that is evil.


However, if one were to dissect these characters by today'ss standards, Lucie Mannette, would not be held in such high esteem as in the story'ss setting. Her fainting at stressful moments and a "stand would be seen as weak and oppressed. Where as the character of Madame Defarge'ss hate is easily to be identified with as that as a woman who has been exploited and tormented, which unfortunately are qualities that many of today'ss women seem to identify with as opposed to the unyielding love that Lucie is capable of.


When one considers the ugliness that Madame Defarge as been exposed to during this time in France, her thirst for revenge is completely understandable. She has been victimized, and is more consumed with seeking revenge, than any sense of moral duty to anyone. In her quest for vengeance, she assumes the traits of those that have caused her anguish. Because she and her family have suffered at the hands of a noble family, from which there is no recourse to achieve any justice, the scope of her revenge exceeds merely the one family, and is directed upon the entire class from which they hail.


One way that we are shown her pain, is through her knitting. This represents her cold patience, and her need to retaliate. She steadfastly knits each one of her intended victims's names into the death shrouds. Her heart is understandably filled with hatred and hurt; there is no room for anything else, especially moral duty.


Taken from a page in my stream journal:


Watching Molly Bloom'ss soliloquy tonight has caused me great angst like that I have not felt before seeing the pain and resentment on her face serves to remind me of all that has not been happy or all that is dark and depressing reading it looking at the words on the page does not make me feel as sad for her or myself as it does when I saw it on the screen even though I was uncomfortable and tired and cranky and could not wait to get out of the dark cramped room that we were in I was profoundly touched by her sorrow and her humor at times of it life is bleak and hurtful to people often with no explainable reason I guess there really is no required reason for the twists of fate or the winds of destiny or whatever the hell it is supposed to be that makes this often crappy world go around like a circus carousel that is no longer fun like it was when all was innocent was it ever innocent I don'st think that I can remember that far back to the time that I was born was it even pure then from what mother has told it was painful then even definitely for her probably for me as well but I will never know things are better now better than anytime maybe for lots of reasons maybe for none just because that is the way of the world or some hokey shit like that that some cliched pop writer has said my head is spinning too much vodka not enough Thai food what else is new better to drink than eat many times more fun and less fattening which is more depressing the viscous cycle never seems to end maybe one day it does but maybe that is the day that you are buried or cremated or whatever the ones who are left alive after you choose to do to you oh well lights out!





One of the most striking characteristics of this tome, to me, is its ability to give life to the sexuality of everyday life. What we now take for granted, and tend to view as not at all racy, and certainly not obscene, was for its time very controversial. We see how the consequences of sex can often be very painful at times, or how they can serve to liberate one from feelings of grief or isolation. However, the pleasure never seems to last for very long. But, while it is serving to distract its character from their unhappiness, it makes the bleak seem a bit more bearable.


To be able to write characters that engage in not only sex, but to show women that have extra marital affairs, men that visit bordellos, and to imply homosexuality at that time was scandalous. This was not commonly done at that time, and in artistic circles was seen as innovative and brilliant. However, in academic circles, it was the source of great debate and controversy, and remains as such to this day still.


The sexuality of the characters and the way in which they attempt to use it to escape their anguish had a deep affect on me while reading the book, and an even more profound one when I watched the film in class. It caused me to react with both a real sadness, and an inspiration that only comes to those that survive life's often devastatingly cruel and painful occurrences. I felt the fragility of what day-to-day life can often be for many people. But, I felt it in a way that made me laugh and that also made ma take solace in what is often thought of as the mundane. To me the mundane, routine of every day life can be very comforting and protective in times of chaos. It is familiar, and reliable. Maybe that is what causes so many people to become Obsessive-Compulsive today.


Obviously, this was not a term that was used at this time. People were then eccentric, nutty, quirky, or fussy. But it seems that this preoccupation really seemed to sooth some for the time being at least. Or, maybe it just made their resentments at life's disappointments even greater. I don't know, and from my perspective in some way that is the point of Ulysses, that maybe there is no point.

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