Hamlet – its Universality

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Hamlet – its Universality

Shakespeare’s tragic play Hamlet is an excellent example, perhaps the best in English literature, of a work that has universal appeal. This essay will analyze the incredible universality of this drama, with the input of literary critics.

Robert B. Heilman in “The Role We Give Shakespeare” relates the universality of Shakespeare to the “innumerableness of the parts”:

But the Shakespeare completeness appears graspable and possessable to many men at odds with each other, because of the innumerableness of the parts: these parts we may consider incompletenesses, partial perspectives, and as such they correspond to the imperfect (but not necessarily invalid) modes of seeing and understanding practiced by imperfect (but not necessarily wrongheaded) interpreters and theorists of different camps. Each interpreter sees some part of the whole that does, we may say, mirror him, and he then proceeds to enlarge the mirror until it becomes the work as a whole (10).

Indeed, the reader finds a wide variety of “parts” from beginning to end of Hamlet. This is seen in the fact of over 20 characters with speaking roles; and in their variety of occupations from king to grave-digger; and in the 20 different scene changes; and in the differentiation in speech, actions, etc. between every single individual character. Observe the countless parts in the opening scenes: The play begins with the changing of the sentinels on a guard platform of the wall of the castle of Elsinore. Recently the spectral likeness of dead King Hamlet has appeared to the sentinels. Tonight the ghost appears again to Barnardo, Marcellus and Horatio, a very close friend of Hamlet. Horatio and Marcellus exit the ramparts of Elsinore intending to enlist the aid of Hamlet, who is home from school, dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle. There is a gathering of the court, where Claudius pays tribute to the memory of his deceased brother, the former king, and then conducts some items of business. Hamlet is there dressed in black, the color of mourning, for his deceased father. His first words say that Claudius is "A little more than kin and less than kind," indicating a dissimilarity in values between the new king and himself. Heilmann’s “innumerableness of the parts” is abundantly testified to in just the first two scenes described in this paragraph. The 18 remaining scenes are similarly full of variety.
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