English Thesis Paper A great number of lessons can be learned from Hamlet by Shakespeare. A very important lesson is that not everyone wants a leader, but every kingdom needs one. What is meant by this is that in a kingdom there will always be people who are not in favor of the person in charge. However, in a functioning kingdom a strong leader is of essence. The arrival of Fortinbras in Act 5 Scene 2 of Hamlet is clear evidence that Shakespeare was in hopes of a noble leader replacing Elizabeth. Shakespeare believed that corruption was swarming in the state of England, and a noble leader was needed to replace her.
Horatio makes it clear that conspicuous proceedings are going on in the state of Denmark. “In what particular thought to work I knew not, but in the gross and scope of my opinion, this bodes some strange eruption to our state” (Horatio-Act. 1 Scene 1- Lines 79-81). This was quite and deep quote that was made by Horatio. What Horatio was trying to say here was that something fishy was going on in his state, and that a change of the guard was needed. He was not quite sure what exactly was going on, but Horatio could sense that revolution was bound to take place.
Our secondary source made it clear that there was rebellion sprouting in England. As it reads, “The seeds of rebellion sprouted in the North, far from London and the influence of the court, amid a rugged landscape dominated by magnates who clung to their old ways and resented royal intrusions” (What Life was like in the Realm of Elizabeth P. 47). This quote is supportive of Horatio’s assertion that conspicuous behavior was going on in the state. This quote makes it clear that there was resentment to the ruler in place, and that a people’s uprise was certainly on its way.
In Hamlet it becomes clear that the state of Denmark was in for a rude awakening. In fact, it is said outright by a character in the play. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”(Marcellus- Act 1 Scene 4 line 100). This statement made it clear that Shakespeare, through other characters in the play, was hinting at the fact that there was need for change in the way that the kingdom was being run. This statement shows that Shakespeare clearly was voicing his own opinion through a character in his play. In our secondary source we found that “Poverty was rising and vagrancy with it”(What Life was like in the Realm of Elizabeth p. 8). Vagrants are individuals without regular income who travel from place to place and are seen as a threat to social order. The government was certainly not fond of these vagrants. The government considered most of these vagrants to be idlers who chose to be poor and lazy. This just adds pollution to the already clouded air of the kingdom of England at the time. In addition to the corruption and the threat of rebellion, the people were getting poorer, and the government’s view of their people was becoming more and more pessimistic. The issues associated with Elizabeth were enhanced in 1568. Peace at home was shattered in 1568 with the arrival of Elizabeth’s Catholic cousin Mary Stuart, who had been forced to abdicate the Scottish throne” (What Life Was Like in the Realm of Elizabeth, p. 80). Elizabeth faced a great deal of turmoil with the arrival of her cousin. Elizabeth knew that there was a constituency of English Catholics who wanted Mary to be their ruler. In fact, Elizabeth felt so threatened by her cousin that Mary was sanctioned to house arrest. A rebellion by Mary’s supporters broke out, but it was quickly extinguished by Elizabeth’s troops.
However, this made it quite clear that Elizabeth was not supported as the leader across the board. Shakespeare is emphasizing a kingly quality through the words of Hamlet. “Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly find quarrel in a straw when honors at the steak” (Hamlet Act 4 Scene 4 lines 52-54). Speaking through Hamlet, Shakespeare is showing that he believes that a ruler should know how to pick their battles. What Hamlet is saying is that a great ruler should not fight for an unworthy task, but should bring up a fight when honor at steak.
This is an astute assertion by Hamlet, because a great ruler should have the discretion to know when it is right to take up conflict. Elizabeth was trying to extend her views beyond her reign. In fact, her successor was already decided upon. “Before she died, Elizabeth acknowledged as her successor Mary Stuart’s son, James, thus ensuring England would remain Protestant”(What Life was like in the Realm of Elizabeth p. 151). This likely perturbed Shakespeare. In Hamlet, Fortinbras’ arrival in the state of Denmark signals a change of the guard in terms of rule.
The arrival of Fortinbras likely shows that Shakespeare wanted to see a change in the rule in the state of England. Diplomacy is another aspect of kingship that was brought up by Shakespeare. In Hamlet, towards the end, there was quite a bit of bloodshed amongst the people in the court. After Fortinbras arrived and claimed the throne, there was an issue of what to do with the dead bodies that were left. Horatio had quite a noble plan regarding what to do with the dead. “Speak loudly for him. Take up the bodies. Such as there becomes the field but here show much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot” (Horatio, Act 5, Scene 2, Line 445). This quote expresses the belief that the court is no place for dead bodies, it is not a battlefield. This is also a sign of the morality in leadership that Shakespeare clearly is hoping for. Even after all of the dust had settled, and bodies were laying out, it is clear that diplomacy is something that the new leadership possesses. Our secondary source reinforces the idea that Shakespeare appreciated the aspect of building a nation the right way. “The strong association between nation-building and history writing was clearly appreciated by Shakespeare.
The way that the crude matter of the past events, could be selected shaped and given meaning in a satisfying narrative, itself became the subject of drama”(The Sixteenth Century, p. 167). This shows that the future is often built upon what happened in the past. People can use the past to learn from mistakes and act in a more beneficial way the next time a situation arises. Although in Hamlet the past was clearly bleak, the new leadership is trying to use the past to learn what they should to in order to become a more successful nation.
It is clear that Shakespeare was looking for Queen Elizabeth’s successor to be a person who could use the past to help improve the future of England. Another idea that became clear is that a person’s bad character becomes the contagion, and this contagion contaminates the entire kingdom. A kingdom that is ruled corruptly will undoubtedly fall victim to corruption itself. Hamlet provides insight into this idea. “The dream of evil doth all the nobles substance of a doubt to his own scandal” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4, Lines 38-41).
What Shakespeare was saying through Hamlet was that the character of a ruler transcends itself onto the character of the citizens. For example, when there is controversy based on the action of a leader, people in the kingdom will either support or disapprove of the leader’s actions. The people who support the ruler’s corrupt actions will, in turn, act in an evil and corrupt manner because they believe that the actions of their leader warrants this kind of behavior. We also found evidence of Queen Elizabeth having resentment towards the people who questioned her.
According to our secondary source, “In the Privacy of her secret lodgings, she denounced those ‘wrongdoing subjects’ who challenged her judgment on marriage and succession”(The Sixteenth Century p. 173). This clearly gives evidence as to why Shakespeare was so disappointed with the rule of the state of England. This shows that Queen Elizabeth resented a good number of her citizens. A ruler who resents their subjects is asking for trouble. Once a ruler puts their stance over the stance of the people, it shows that the ruler is compromised. There was also evidence of a royal cover up that was orchestrated by Queen Elizabeth. In February 1587, the warrant for Mary’s execution was signed but Elizabeth ordered her secretary to show it to no one….. justified their action as taken for [the queen’s] special service tending to the safety of her royal person. Elizabeth sought to hang Davison by royal prerogative for allowing the warrant to leave his possession…. judges pronounced this course of action imprudent and almost certainly illegal”(The Sixteenth Century p. 135). This is clear and decisive evidence that Queen Elizabeth was in the midst of some sort of royal cover up.
It is curious that she did not want anybody to know about the hanging of Mary. The fact that she wanted a separate person hung for letting the warrant be publicized only reveals more about the cruelty that Queen Elizabeth was capable of. Queen Elizabeth’s underhanded actions only further explain why Shakespeare wrote about the need for a new more noble leader. Aside from the bad character of the ruler, it becomes clear that there is something brewing in the state of England, which is being covered up with lies and false perceptions. Polonius hints at this in Hamlet. Take this from this, if this be otherwise. If circumstances lead me, I will find where the truth is hid, through it were hid, indeed, within the center”(Polonius, Act 2 Scene 2 Lines 168-171). Through Polonius, Shakespeare is hinting at the fact that there is corruption somewhere within the state. In a noble manner, Polonius states that he will get to the bottom of whatever was happening, but he does not know what exactly is going on. Our secondary source also indicates that the government was looking to scapegoat people who may not have been involved in any scandal.
According to our secondary source,” Gerard……reminded them that he had been examined time and time again, and they had not produced a single trustworthy witness to show that I had taken part in any activities against the government”(What Life was like in the Realm of Elizabeth, p. 103). This tells a great deal about the reign of Elizabeth. The government was so hell-bent on covering their actions that they resorted to scapegoating people who had done no wrong. Soon, Essex had had enough of the rule of Elizabeth. Essex could not tolerate such chastisement and soon hatched a plot against the queen and her advisers including Raleigh. Joining Essex were other disaffected aristocrats who had squandered their fortunes and hoped to profit…” (What Life was like in the Realm of Elizabeth, p. 150). This shows even further that Elizabeth was not a popular ruler. Many people, including Shakespeare wanted her gone. Any time a rebellion is struck it is a sign of dissatisfaction with the ruler. It is now clear that Elizabeth’s support was waning, and that a changing of the guard was in order.
In a decaying world under the ruling of the state, change must take affect. Hamlet summarizes what is going on in the state of Denmark. “Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely”(Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2 Lines 137-139). This is quite a bleak description of society. The weeds in this decaying world appear to symbolize evil and lies. The “things” that rank and gross in nature appear to represent humanity. The picture that Hamlet paints is of a society that contains citizens that seem to go about in their ordinary manner while evil and lies exist in society.
Instead of trying to “weed out” the evil and lies, society carries on as if nothing is wrong. It also is indicated in one of our secondary sources that there was a great deal of begging and petty crime going on in the state of England. “Although the rogue pamphlets of the period described an organized hierarchy of criminal vagrants who frequently operated in the groups…There is little evidence of organized crime…Many of them on the road looking for work and willing to beg or resort to casual theft if no work was forthcoming”(The Sixteenth Century, p. 6). This clearly gives an indication of how the quality of life was decaying in the state of England in that time. With all the chaos that was going on around Elizabeth, nobody was paying attention to the people who were at the poorer end of the economic spectrum. Shakespeare was obviously annoyed at the fact that Elizabeth’s reign was causing a great deal of people to fall into peasantry. It is clear that change needed to take place. The arrival of Fortinbras indicates the end of a very troubling era in the kingdom of Denmark.
Fortinbras realizes that he has inherited the kingdom. “With sorrow I embrace my fortune. I have some rights of memory in the kingdom, which now to claim my vantage doth invite me”(Fortinbras Act 5 Scene 2 Lines 407-409). Shakespeare, through Fortinbras, is accepting the new ruler of the state of England. In Hamlet, Fortinbras took over after a very unpopular ruling. Likewise, in the state of England, when King James I was accepted as the new ruler of the state of England it indicated a changing of the guard at the ruler’s position.
The rule of King James I brought about a new philosophy in the kingdom. “With his execution in 1572, there were no more dukes in England until James I’s sentimental elevation of young Villars”(Elizabethan Renaissance, p. 120). The era of ruler’s appointing there people into office appeared to be over. Elizabeth’s kingdom fell similarly to Hamlet, and Fortinbras took over in a similar manner to King James I. An important lesson learned in Hamlet is that not everybody wants to be a leader, but every kingdom needs one.
The arrival or Fortinbras demonstrates that Shakespeare was in hopes of a noble leader replacing Queen Elizabeth. The characters in Hamlet is representative of the kingdom of England at that time of Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare hints at lies and conspiracies which the people were sublime to, and he knew that change was necessary in the ruling in order to save the kingdom of England. Shakespeare was a great philosophical writer who had a great talent with words. However, one may say that Shakespeare predicted the future of the state of England through the play of Hamlet.
He showed that although not everybody wants to be a leader, every kingdom needs a leader. Works Cited Collinson, Patrick. The Sixteenth Century, 1485-1603. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print. Rowse, A. L. The Elizabethan Renaissance: The Life of the Society. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000. Print. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Washington Square/Pocket, 1992. Print. Time Life Books, ed. What Life Was like in the Realm of Elizabeth: England, AD 1533-1603. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life, 1998. Print.