Hamlet and Lear Essay
Shakespeare has many overlapping themes that seem to correlate throughout his different works of literature. However, there are many themes that conflict as well. King Lear and Hamlet are two works of literature that can be both compared and contrasted.
Hamlet and Lear seem to be complete opposites on the surface. Hamlet is a young prince who is lost in a world of confusion and deception. His father is brutally murdered by his uncle and he then must face him as his new father-in-law when he marries his mother. Lear is an elderly man who is past his prime and is trying to raise his daughters in a world of vanity and live with the Renaissances preoccupation with appearances. As conflicting as these two characters seem they also have to deal with many of the same pressures and they surprisingly handle certain situations similarly. One such circumstance is that they are both forced the verge of madness. But this isnt the only thing that is coincidental between the two characters situation. They both have methods to their madness.
Hamlet goes through many trials and tribulations throughout this play. He must live though his fathers untimely death, his uncles hasty marry to his mother, Ophelias refusal to see him or except his love letters, and the conspiracies that he sees planned against him. This alone is enough for any reader to understand why he has gone mad and to sympathize with. But Hamlet is stronger than he lets on to anybody. He is only pretending to be as mad as he is so that people will not become suspicious when he snoops around the house and acts irrationally toward his mother and step-father. His madness becomes the obsession of the house and King Claudius actually brings his old friends, Rosencranz and Guildenstern, to the house to find out what is causing him to loose his sanity. He asks them, Something have you heard/of Hamlets transformation? Everybody ends up with his or her own personal explanation to why Hamlet has gone mad. Queen Gertrude feels that it is simply his fathers death and her marriage that has caused him to cross the line between sanity and insanity. Polonius believes that it was his refusal to let Hamlet see his daughter, Ophelia, that has made him mad. Ophelia can not find a reason for his madness, and feels it is the pressure of society and his new family that has changed him so dramatically. Whatever the reason, most of Hamlets friends and family were set on the fact that Hamlet was no longer in his right mind. However, Hamlet used this tactic of pretending to be out of his wits to fool his enemies into underestimating his plans of revenge until the moment of attack, and then, of course, it would be too late.
King Lear also was accused of going mad. He divided his kingdom into three parts so that each one of his daughters could share in his wealth. He had each daughter battle against each other to see who could flatter him the most. Goneril and Reagan both fought ruthlessly to attain the better division of land. When his youngest daughter (who was also his favorite) told him that she loved him like a daughter should love a father and that one day she would have a husband that she would also love, he became frenetic. He disowned her from the family, leaving the property to his other two daughters. Lear is shunned by his two daughters later on in the play, and is kicked out onto the streets where he becomes delirious. Although this display of daft behavior is more genuine than Hamlets, I believe that Lear ranted and raved because he was used to getting attention. Social status was very crucial in the renaissance era. Many people would judge a person by how many followers and possessions they held. Now that Lear was on his own and not surrounded by his followers he felt that he was worth nothing if he had nothing. For the first time in his life, he had to face his true self worth. I think this frightened him more so than anything else did. So instead of facing this awakening thought he began to act mad, so that he would not have to face the inevitable truth. I do not believe that this alone was the cause of his deliriousness, or that he was faking his madness. But I believe that this pushed him to the edge, and that he easily accepted this behavior instead of dealing with his fate.
Hamlet and Lear handle this situation similarly because they both use a method of madness to escape the disaster unfolding around them.
Another similarity between the two plays is the loyalty that is felt toward a parent from a child. Hamlet decides he will do whatever it takes to revenge his fathers death, even if means putting his own life on the line. Hamlet states his dedication to his father and his revenge by stating Suit the action to the word/and the word to the action. It became his obsession. To find a punishment that would fit the crime.
In King Lear, Cordelia tries to be a truthful daughter and answers her fathers question with brevity and frankness. Instead of enjoying the refreshing truth for once, the king banishes her from his property. Later on, Cordelia reenters the play and attempts to save her father and win him back his throne. When the French army is defeated her and her father are captured and brought to prison. In the chamber she tells her father that she does not hold a grudge against him and is happy that he has come back into her life. Although they are both killed shortly after, it is presented to the audience that Cordelia was the only daughter to remain loyal to her father.
It is important to realize that both plots revolve around the idea that these two characters remain loyal under all circumstances throughout the plays.
The last similar theme that I will discuss is the part of the fool. In Hamlet, it seems that whenever he speaks it is out of madness and that there is no validation to what he has to say. But he is usually trying to get across the evil plots of King Claudius without coming out and saying it. He says, though this is madness/yet there be method int. He uses these outbursts of delusions to spread the truth.
In King Lear the fool plays an important but small role. He is the one that takes Lear under his wing when he is forced to live on the streets. It is the fool that continues to give him the advice and remind him of his folly and to plead with him to alter his course. This is no court jester but a voice of inner sanity and outward conscience. Perhaps Shakespeare wished to remind us of the Psalmist: Out of the mouth babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger.
Therefore, whenever the fool speaks in either Hamlet or King Lear, it is to state some truth or fact so that perhaps the readers can detect it but the characters are still clueless.
The contrast that I can determine from these two plays is the fact that Hamlet seems to be based on the thought that when an evil has been done; it is almost impossible to fix. No matter how hard you try to turn things around, you must realize that revenge is not the answer. Hamlet succeeded in his plan of attack against the king. But in the process he managed to kill every main character in the play, including himself. I think that Hamlet was a perfect example of how Shakespeare loves to send contradicting messages. He presents the idea that not everything is black and white. In life, there are always gray areas. He says that revenge does not solve the problem yet he revolves his plot around it and shows how Hamlet could not rest until he sought out revenge, no matter what the cost.
In King Lear, I do not believe that the message was mixed at all. I believe that it was very clear that the theme of the play was to love the ones that are true to you, even if they dont love uxoriously, their love is real and it will withstand any obstacles in its path. The ending also distinctively shows that if you live your life holding grudges, you will end up alone or surrounded by fools.
Regardless of the similarities and differences of these two plays, the reader will learn a lesson in love either way. And the lesson that Shakespeare teaches time and time again is simple. Love is a paradox; it will never be understood.