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Within the play Hamlet there exists many puns and phrases which have a double meaning. Little ploys on words which tend to add a bit of entertainment to the dialogue of the play. These forked tongue phrases are used by Shakespeare to cast an insight to the characters in the play…to give them more depth and substance. However, most importantly these phrases cause the reader or audience to think. They are able to show a double meaning that not all people would pick up on, which is the purpose of the comments.
Little is known about Shakespeare’s life, other than he was a great playwright whose works serve to meld literary casts for ages to come. This was his occupation, he wrote and directed plays to be performed. This was his sole form of income that we know of, it was his way of putting the bread on the table. If people did not like what Shakespeare wrote, then he would not earn any money. If the people didn’t like what they saw, he became the starving artist. Shakespeare wrote these dialogues in such a manner as to entertain both the Nobility, as well as the peasants.
The Shakespearean theater is a physical manifestation of how Shakespeare catered to more than one social class in his theatrical productions. These Shakespearean theaters has a unique construction, which had specific seats for the wealthy, and likewise, a designated separate standing section for the peasants. This definite separation of the classes is also evident in Shakespeare’s writing, in as such that the nobility of the productions speak in poetic iambic pentameter, where as the peasants speak in ordinary prose. Perhaps Shakespeare incorporated these double meanings to the lines of his characters with the intent that only a select amount of his audience were meant to hear it in either its double meaning, or its true meaning.
However, even when the tragic hero Hamlet's wordplay is intentional,
it is not always clear as to what purpose he uses it. To confuse or to clarify? Or to control his own uncensored thoughts? The energy and turmoil of his mind brings words thronging into speech, stretching, over-turning and contorting their implications. Sometimes Hamlet has to struggle to use the simplest words repeatedly, as he tries to force meaning to flow in a single channel. To Ophelia, after he has encountered her in her loneliness, "reading on a book," he repeats five times "Get thee to a nunnery," varying the phrase very little, simply reiterating what was already said by changing "get" to "go." This well known quote, to this day cannot be deciphered in its entirety, for nunnery is a place where nuns live, yet it is also a brothel. Hamlet seems to knowingly cast a shade of confusion into the minds of the audience…or is it in fact clarity within confusion. That is, the audience is able to better understand the thoughts and inner struggle of Hamlet via these conflicting terms.
After Hamlet has visited his mother "all alone" in her closet and killed Polonius, after she has begged him to "speak no more", and after his father's ghost has reappeared, Hamlet repeats "Good night" five times, with still fewer changes in the phrase than "Get thee to a nunnery" and those among accompanying words only.
So Hamlet seems to be struggling to contain his thoughts even by use of these simple words, rather than enforcing a single and simple message as a first reading of the text might suggest; and the words come to bear deeper, more ironic or more blatant meanings. It is from these phrases which even manage to confuse the complex mind of Hamlet that we begin to get a glimpse into the intentions of Hamlets mind, and seeing just exactly the way he ticks.
Much of the dramatic action of this tragedy is within the head of Hamlet, and wordplay represents the amazing, contradictory, unsettled, mocking nature of that mind, as it is torn by disappointment and positive love, as Hamlet seeks both acceptance and punishment, action and stillness, and wishes for consummation and annihilation within a world he perceives to be against him. He can be abruptly silent or vicious; he is capable of wild laughter and tears, and also playing polite and
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Characters in Hamlet, English-language films, British films, Hamlet, Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Ghost, William Shakespeare, Shakespeare Programming Language, Critical approaches to Hamlet, Rosencrantz Guildenstern Are Dead
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