Hamlet Context

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  • Hamlet Context
    • Historical
      • Elizabeth I
        • Risk of invasion from Scotland, Ireland and Spain
          • Conspiracies were rife- Polonius as a comic take on spymaster (Walsingham)
        • Uncertainty of lack of an heir
          • Power from her virginity- lack of sexualisation
        • Responsible for Mary Queen of Scots' execution 1587- validated the killing of a monarch
      • Concepts of Kingship
        • Machiavellian ruler 'The Prince'- 'it is better to be feared to be loved'
        • Sacred Kingship and Divine Right of Kings- rulers seen as a divine incarnation of God
          • Chain of being linking Kings to God
        • The Body Politic- all the people in the country a body with the King the head- 'something is rotten in the state of Denmark'
      • Mary Queen of Scots marrying her husband (Lord Darnley)'s murderer (Earl of Bothwell- parallels Gertrude
      • Henry VIII
        • Used religion (Leviticus 20:21) to justify divorce from Catherine of Aragon
      • Wars of the Roses as watershed for duelling between families/ centralised state punishment
        • Henry VII outlawed aristocratic prerogative of personal vengence
    • Literary
      • Influence of Seneca- rhetorical patterns and bloody revenge
      • Montaigne's concept of the 'Everyman' (1580) - 'bearing the whole stamp of the human conditions
        • Educated man's critique of revenge as shown in soiloquies
      • Concepts of revenge tragedy: ghost, madness, physical horrors, noble birth, play within play
        • Based on the Spanish Tragedy by Kyd
      • Amleth- in Latin history of Denmark from 12th c. from Histoires Tragiques
    • Social
      • Science
        • Galileo displaced the world as centre of the universe
        • Four humours- too much black bile makes you melancholic and sardonic
          • Contrasted by Decart's 1610 view that personality is mental not physical
      • Religion
        • England swinging from radical protestantism to Catholicism and back since Reformation
          • Henry VIII
            • Used religion (Leviticus 20:21) to justify divorce from Catherine of Aragon
        • Hamlet student of Wittenburg- heart of reformation, would have been taught ghost was demon in disguise
          • Influence of Scot's 1584 view that spirits exist but cannot take on physical form
        • Catholic view that ghosts are spirits from purgatory to be believed
      • Disease and plague rife at the time- Hamlet would have been considered old at 30
      • Women in marriage literally become physical property of her husband
        • Value based on their chastity
          • Breitenberg: 'their chastity is a badge of honour for their husbands'
        • 'Weak, frail, impatient and foolish'
        • 'An excellent ornament of men'
          • Below men on the chain of being
      • Changing codes of masculinity
        • Medieval idea among the elite of fighting to defend their honour and reputation
        • New Renaissance ideas of honour as a matter of conscience and seeking ways to please God/ the state
      • Renaissance humanitas- humanities should be studied and developed
        • "What piece of work is man" directly based on Pico della Mirandola's 'Oration on the Dignity of Man'
    • Biographical
      • Shakespeare a possible Catholic- Warwickshire the heart of Catholicism
      • Favourite of Lizzy I, Denmark used so as not to critises the political situation of England
      • Son Hamnet died 1596- grief from this may have inspired play
      • Shakespeare's play company- Lord Chamberlain's men


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