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Seminar 1 RENAISSANCE

Discussion:

1. Christopher Marlowe – the first great tragic poet in English literature.

Christopher Marlowe wrote his first drama “Dido, Queen of Carthage”; the
Children of the Chapel, a troupe of boy actors, performed it from 1587 to 1593. It was
published later, in 1594. In 1587, his second play “Tamburlaine the Great” was
performed on a London stage. This was the first English play written in blank verse,
and was based on the story of a conqueror, Tamburlaine, who rose from being a
shepherd to being a warlord. It was a resounding success and Marlowe followed it
with another popular play “The Jew of Malta,” written from 1589 to 1590. It was
performed in 1592 before the publication of “Dido, Queen of Carthage.” Later,
Marlowe published “Edward the Second,” “The Massacre at Paris,” and his
masterpiece “Dr. Faustus” in quick succession.
Marlowe’s plays received a great deal of success during the Elizabethan period.
Though he wrote poetry too, Marlowe is considered a greater playwright than poet.
Marlowe was a real source of guidance for Shakespeare for writing great plays in
blank verse. His works contained music that was in harmony with Milton’s works. His
blank verse was metrically precise, regular, and contained imagery not introduced in
English poetry at that time. He also introduced genuine blank verse and tragedy in
literature and paved the way for Shakespeare to follow.
Critics considered Marlowe to be the father of English tragedy and blank verse. It is
said that his works contained the true spirit of Elizabethan era. His most popular
poems are “Hero and Leander,” “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” and
“Elegies.”

Complete the sentences:


a) Marlowe’s characters are people who grow and change as events move them
b) Compared to earlier theatrical works, Marlowe’s dramas are known for the use of
blank verse and their overreaching protagonists.
c) His first famous play, Doctor Faustus, is based on the German Faustbuch, Doctor
Faustus is acknowledged as the first dramatized version of the Faust legend, in which a
man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power
d) His use of blank verse influenced William Shakespeare's writing style and using
blank verse in works other poets.

2. “Hamlet – “a tragedy of thought”.


a) The plot and plot structure of the play.
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Hamlet, in full Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, tragedy in five acts by William


Shakespeare, written about 1599–1601 and published in a quarto edition in 1603 from
an unauthorized text, with reference to an earlier play. The First Folio version was
taken from a second quarto of 1604 that was based on Shakespeare’s own papers with
some annotations by the bookkeeper.
Young Hamlet returns home from university to discover the world-shattering
news that, not only is his father (Old Hamlet) newly dead, but that his mother,
Gertrude, has married Old Hamlet's brother, Claudius, and that Claudius is now
king.The resultant instability has also led to threats of invasion by a solider from a
neighbouring state, Fortinbras.

b) Your opinion of Hamlet. What is Hamlet’s tragedy caused by?

Hamlet's tragedy stems from a number of origins. The obvious one is the death
of his father. When the play opens the young man is deep in grief, to the extent that he
wishes he were dead. 'O that this too sullied flesh would melt.' He would even
consider suicide if God 'had not fixed his canon 'gainst self-slaughter'. Hamlet is a
tragic figure from the moment the audience encounters him, dressed in 'solemn black'
'thy nighted colour' as his mother calls it. He continues to talk reverently of his high
regard for his late father throughout the play.
The second cause of Hamlet's tragedy is his mother's behavior. Instead of
sharing her son's grief, and supporting him through it, she has remarried with indecent
haste. He claims that 'a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourn'd
longer'. Indeed, she believes that Hamlet's melancholy is caused by 'his father's death
and our o'er hasty marriage'. She has married a man for whom Hamlet has little regard
and whom he compares very badly with his father. Furthermore, the new husband is
her deceased husband's brother. Many, including Hamlet, would consider this to be an
illegal and incestuous relationship. Hamlet is extremely disappointed and disgusted by
his mother's actions and bemoans the 'incestuous sheets'.
The third cause concerns something that becomes known to Hamlet after the
play opens that his father did not die as the result of a snake-bite, but that he was
murdered. His own brother, Hamlet's uncle, poisoned him ~ this was 'murder most
foul, strange and unnatural'. It leaves Hamlet in a very difficult position. His king and
step-father Claudius is also his father's killer, yet he can do little about it. It would be
treason to lead a movement against him; it could lead to his own passage to the horrors
of Hell or the 'sulph'rous and tormenting flames' of Purgatory if he were to kill him; he
is guarded or with his mother at all times; he has been told of the murder by a ghost,
who just might be a demon telling him lies as he says, 'a devil' which 'abuses me to
damn me'.

c) Women’s characters: interpret their actions and relations with other characters in
frames of the times.
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Though there are only two traditionally female characters in Hamlet - Ophelia
and Gertrude - the play itself speaks volumes about the uniquely painful, difficult
struggles and unfair fates women have suffered throughout history. Written in the first
years of the 17th century, when women were forbidden even from appearing onstage,
and set in the Middle Ages, Hamlet exposes the prejudices and disadvantages which
narrowed or blocked off the choices available to women–even women of noble birth.
Hamlet is obsessive about the women in his life, but at the same time expresses
contempt and ridicule for their actions—actions which are, Shakespeare ultimately
argues, things they’re forced to do just to survive in a cruel, hostile, misogynistic
world.
Gertrude and Ophelia are two of Hamlet’s most misunderstood and
underdeveloped characters. Hamlet himself rails against each of them separately, for
very different reasons, in misogynistic rants which accuse women of being sly
seductresses, pretenders, and lustful schemers. What Hamlet does not see and what
men of his social standing and his time period perhaps could not see if they tried is that
Gertrude and Ophelia are products of their environment, forced to make difficult and
even lethal decisions in an attempt to survive and stay afloat in a politically dangerous
world built for men, not for women. When Gertrude’s husband, King Hamlet, dies, she
quickly remarries his brother, Claudius who actually murdered him. There are two
possibilities: the first is that Gertrude knew about the murder, and the second is that
she didn’t. The text suggests that while Gertrude was likely not directly involved in the
murder, she was aware of the truth about Claudius all along and chose to marry him
anyway. While Hamlet accuses his mother of lusting after her own brother-in-law,
killing her husband, and reveling in her corrupted marriage bed with her new spouse,
he fails to see that perhaps Gertrude married Claudius out of fear of what would
happen to her if she didn’t. Gertrude, as a woman, holds no political power of her own
with her husband dead, she might have lost her position at court, been killed by a
power-hungry new or foreign king, or forced into another, less appealing marital
arrangement. Marrying Claudius was perhaps, for Gertrude, the lesser of several evils
and an effort just to survive.
Ophelia’s trajectory is similar to Gertrude’s, in that she is forced into several
decisions and situations which don’t seem to be of her own making, but rather things
she must do simply to appease the men around her and retain her social position at
court. When Ophelia is drawn into her father Polonius and Claudius’s plot to spy on
Hamlet and try to tease the reason behind his madness out of him, she’s essentially
used as a pawn in a game between men. Polonius wants to see if Hamlet’s madness is
tied to Ophelia, and so asks Ophelia to spurn Hamlet’s advances, return gifts and
letters he’s given her in the past, and refuse to see or speak with him anymore to see
test his hypothesis. Ophelia does these things and incurs Hamlet’s wrath and derision.
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Again, as with his mother, he is unable to see the larger sociopolitical forces steering
Ophelia through her own life, and has no sympathy for her uncharacteristic behavior.
After the death of her father at Hamlet’s hands Ophelia loses her sanity. Spurned by
Hamlet, left alone by Laertes (who is off studying in France, pursuing his future while
his sister sits at court by herself) and forced to reckon with the death of her father after
Hamlet, her last bastion of sociopolitical protection she goes mad. Even in the depths
of her insanity, she continues singing nursery songs and passing out invisible flowers
to those around her, performing the sweet niceties of womanhood that are hardwired
into her after years of knowing how she must look and behave in order to win the
favor of others specifically men. Indeed, when Ophelia kills herself, it is perhaps out
of a desire to take her fate into her own hands. A woman at court is in a perilous
position already but a madwoman at court, divorced from all agency and seen as an
outsider and a liability, is even further endangered. Though Ophelia kills herself, she is
perhaps attempting to keep her dignity and whatever shreds of agency she has left at
the end of her life intact.
Gertrude and Ophelia are subject to the constant psychological and emotional
weight of knowing that no matter how dehumanizing and cruel the treatment they must
face at court may be, things are even worse for women of lower social standings and if
the two of them don’t keep in line, lose their positions at court and face far worse
fates. Gertrude and Ophelia make the decisions they make out of a drive simply to
survive and yet Hamlet never stops to imagine the weighty considerations which lie
behind both women’s actions.