Music and the Leit Motif in Hamlet

Music and the Leit Motif in Hamlet

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Music and the Leit Motif in Hamlet    


Throughout William Shakespeare's Hamlet, many leit motifs were seen. If

the definition of a allegorical symbol was used for the concept of a leit

motif, music was a leit motif in Hamlet.  Music was repetitively brought

up, in the play, and was also used by Shakespeare as a means of portraying

the concept of being played upon.  The flute was used to illustrate how

Hamlet and Claudius played upon others and each other.  Ophelia and other

characters sang while they were mad, or dealing with mad characters.

The use of music in Hamlet tied in with the concepts of Apolonian verse

Dionysian, spying and lying, madness, poetry verse prose, and the burden

of revenge on a thinking man.

   Possibly the most obvious case of music being used as a lead in for the

idea of one playing upon another was seen in Act 4 Sc. 1, on lines 25-38.

At this point in the play, Hamlet was confronted by Guildenstern, as

Guildenstern made an attempt to spy on Hamlet.  Hamlet countered

Guildenstern's inquiry when he questioned him as to if he could not play a

pipe, how could Guildenstern expect to play Hamlet, when he stated "You

would play upon me…do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?

Call me what instrument you will, you cannot play upon me." (Act 3. Sc. 2.

Ln. 394-402).  Hamlet then likened flute playing to lying, when he stated

that "It is as easy as lying." (Act 3. Sc. 2 Ln. 387)  Though Guildenstern

attempted to play upon Hamlet, it was a futile attempt, as even Guildenstern

admitted that he did "not have the skill" (Act 3. Sc. 2. Ln. 392) to play

upon Hamlet.

   If being played upon was linked to music through the previously

mentioned scene, three other  major instances of characters were seen were

one character played upon another.  The first of these cases, were Hamlet

put on the play to trick Claudius, was also in Act 3 Scene 2.  Hamlet put

on the play to prove to himself that the ghost's words were true and that

Claudius did indeed kill his father.  Claudius was successfully played upon

when he stormed out of the play at the exact point where the player king was

brought back to life.  The play tied the leit

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Related Searches">motif of music with the idea

of the Apolonian verse Dionysian.  Hamlet was controlled by his Apolonian

side to such an extent that he was unable to take action.  The play proved

this, as Hamlet had to prove to himself that the ghost's words were true,

through the play.  This also went back to the hatred cast on a thinking man,

another theme seen in Hamlet.  Hamlet had the burden of revenge put upon

him by the ghost, but since he was such a thinking man, he was unable to

take action.

   As was Hamlet, Claudius was also an expert at playing upon others.

The first example of this was in Act 2 Scene 2, when Claudius was able to

convince Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet.  They agreed to

kill Hamlet as Guildenstern replied "we both obey, And here give up

ourselves in the full bent To lay our service freely at your feet, To be

commanded." (Act 4. Sc.2 Ln. 31-34) , to Claudius' request for them to

spy on Hamlet.  Later in the play, Claudius played upon Laerties, as

Claudius used the fact that Hamlet killed Laerties father and Claudius

blamed Ophelia's death on Hamlet, to enrage Laerties enough to fight and

attempt to kill Hamlet.  Although Claudius was a master at playing upon

others, to get them to do what he wanted them to do, Hamlet picked up on

Claudius' schemes in both instances.  He immediately picked up on

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as spies and he also knew in advance that

Laerties would try to kill him in a fight.

   The theme of madness was tied in with the leit motif of music by the

characters of Ophelia and Hamlet.  When Ophelia went mad, she began talking

about an event of a quite peculiar nature.  This event she sang of was of a

young, unwed maiden who made love with a young man.  This was a thing that

she should not have been singing about and should not have even know about,

being that she was imortant.  Yet, she did know about this because she

lived it, with Hamlet.  This was exactly what happened with Hamlet and her.

This showed how corrupted she was by Hamlet.  After Ophelia died, it is

curious to not, that her gravedigger was also singing while he dug her

grave.  Continuing with the theme of madness, Hamlet also showed musical

talent, but only while he was sane, or at least not feigning madness.

Through out the play, when Hamlet was insane, he spoke poetically, which

had a musical quality.  But, while Hamlet was feigning madness, he always

spoke in prose.
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