Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hamlet VS. Epic Heroes

               The two pieces if literature, Hamlet and Beowulf, were written at different eras.  Each era had its own style of writing that was embedded within it.  Beowulf was written in Old English, a time known for its epic poems and represented much of the Anglo-Saxon literature.  While Hamlet was written in the Elizabethan era; known for its drama and was greatly influenced by Greek and Roman theatre.   The two characters thus were written accordingly.  Even though both are considered heroes in the eyes of their readers, they differentiate from one another tremendously. 

                While both epic protagonist and Hamlet are called heroes, Hamlet differs from them due to main one reason: the author.  William Shakespeare wrote parallel to his time; where over the top theatrics were applauded.  So he wrote to please the audience and we end up with Hamlet’s character being emotional and reflective.  Throughout the play, Hamlet wears his heart on his sleeve, as seen in the first line of his “to be or not to be” soliloquy: “To be, or not to be--that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them…”  Within Hamlet’s soliloquies, we see the character himself point out his own flaws.  While epic heroes don’t realize they have such a grievous fault.  Take epic hero Odysseus as an example, his tragic flaw is pride, and while the reader knows this, Odysseus himself doesn’t make this self revelation.  Hamlet however does point out that he is too indecisive: My fate cries out, and makes each petty artery in this body, as hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.”

                Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in such a way for the audience to get Hamlet and the predicament he was in, but still manage to keep him in a shroud of mystery.  In epic poems, such as Beowulf, we are given much background on the characters, whether it is from the narration or other character’s dialogue.  We were given an immense amount of family lineage in Beowulf, going back a century or two, and that was just in the beginning of the poem.  The characters in the poems were described to us, while in Hamlet, we had to infer from his actions and words what kind of attributes he possessed.  Hamlet’s soliloquies let the reader inside his head for a moment and let the audience take a peek into what the character is actually thinking.  We are not told straight forward what he is feeling, but we can infer and create our own assessment of Hamlet.  To die, to sleep--To sleep perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause.”

                While both deemed heroes, and epic hero and Hamlet don’t share a lot in common with one another.  The main reason for the huge gap in consistency is time.  The authors of epic poems wrote their works respective to their time and audience.  Shakespeare did the same with Hamlet.   Hamlet uses the English language to express his feelings and inner thoughts, while epic heroes tended to use their language as a vehicle to give information about a battle scene or a characteristic about someone.  Both Hamlet and epic heroes represent what a hero was for their era.  

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