Shakespeare’s greatest works

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Last updated: May 3, 2019

The aim of the paper is the discussion of the four language conventions used by Shakespeare in his three works – Hamlet, King Lear and The Tempest. It is necessary to look at these literary means as the ways of expressing certain ideas and achieving the emotional goals of the works.SoliloquySoliloquy is one of the four Shakespeare’s conventions and the one through which he not only describes inner thoughts and feelings of his characters, but the one which he uses in all three of his works making them the basis for judging these characters.

If we pay attention to the scene 2 of the first act of King Lear, we will face the soliloquy pronounced by Edmund. The scene describes Edmund as talking loud to him; this soliloquy is means to describe the unhappiness which Edmund feels inside. He feels that as each of brothers is loves equally, each of them should also have the equal share of the bounty; through this soliloquy he questions himself why he is not treated as his brother is.’When my dimensions are as well compact,My mind as generous, and my shape as true,An honest madam’s issue? Why brand they usWith base? With baseness? Bastardy? Base, base?’ (Act I Scene 2 lines 7–10)The soliloquy here is also used as a literary instrument for the contemplation of Edmund; it should be noted that soliloquy as such is often used for the public to know the inner thoughts and doubts of their characters. While in appearance the character may look as innocent and rather kind in his actions, soliloquy often becomes the discovery of the traits which are usually concealed from the reader; in the present case Edmund is depicted as being a villain without any sympathy or conscience.

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Language is extremely important in this scene.In The Tempest one should address the soliloquy which Shakespeare uses in the second act, relating to Caliban and Prospero.All the infections that the sun sucks upFrom bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make himBy inch-meal a disease! His spirits hear meAnd yet I needs must curse. But they’ll nor pinch,Fright me with urchin–shows, pitch me i’ the mire,Nor lead me, like a firebrand, in the darkOut of my way, unless he bid ’em; butFor every trifle are they set upon me;Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at meAnd after bite me, then like hedgehogs whichLie tumbling in my barefoot way and mountTheir pricks at my footfall; sometime am IAll wound with adders who with cloven tonguesDo hiss me into madness.Again as in the previous work, the author uses this soliloquy for the discovery of the inner thoughts and ideas which the character carries inside. Though it may be thought that the aside could serve this purpose better than soliloquy, but it is still evident that soliloquies in the Shakespeare’s plays play the major role of making the audience aware of the character traits participants possess; moreover, in the present play Caliban curses Prospero and makes his animosity seen; while Caliban has only briefly appeared in the Act I of the play, the present soliloquy is the first attempt of Shakespeare to give the reader ideas about the image of Caliban and his real role in the play. Through this soliloquy Caliban appears as the person who is not ruled by the civilized laws, but by wild laws of nature; in this relation soliloquy plays the best part and lets the reader see these implications without any difficulty.

The role of soliloquy in Hamlet should not be underestimated; moreover, in this play soliloquy plays so great role in making the plot that it can be considered to be the most meaningful device of all three plays described here. The famous ‘To be or not to be…’ does not even need to be cited, but it should be thoroughly analyzed to understand its meaning for the whole play. Soliloquy as such and as it has already been noted, is a very important literary device, but in Hamlet it acquires additional meaning through the popular debate which it causes; while the soliloquies which have already been discussed here bear the clear meaning and just add knowledge about the characters for the reader to understand the plot, soliloquy in Hamlet is the central action of the play and bears so many implications and discoveries that it may also be supposed to be one of the play’s culminations. Hamlet’s soliloquy absolutely turns the impression which he creates about himself throughout the play.

Seeming to be indecisive and uncertain in his knowledge of life, this soliloquy is the sign of major inner fight, the fight between life and death, the life of action and the life of silent acceptance. When he says ‘whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – this appears to be sign of the alternative which we should call here ‘not to be’, while the line ‘to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them’ is the alternative which we should call here ‘to be’.I guess that Shakespeare was leading the reader to this soliloquy through the whole play; he was trying to make the reader prepared to this soliloquy, but no matter how one could be prepared to this turn of events, the soliloquy and its implications strike; the use of this literary device in this place was so appropriate that the soliloquy itself is well known more than the whole play is. It is not denied that soliloquies were used by Shakespeare in many of his plays, may be even in all of them, but as we here speak only of three of them, the judgment and evaluation may relate to only these three works.AsidesAside is another interesting literary device, and it is different from the soliloquy. The difference lies in the fact that while soliloquy is spoken to the public while the actor is alone at the stage, the aside is spoken by the actor in the presence of other actors, creating the impression that the speaker does not want other actors hear what he speaks, and this device is often commented upon by the play writers themselves, putting the word ‘aside’ into the speech, thus making the reader understand the situation. Sometimes asides are spoken by the actor to the audience and to himself; sometimes they are spoken to some actors on the stage but not to all present there. In Shakespeare asides appear even more often than soliloquies do, and this is why it will be appropriate to consider the three plays discussed in the light of this literary device.

Reading Hamlet, it becomes evident that asides here play different roles and fulfill different functions; sometimes they are used for irony, sometimes they are used for premonitions of the future events and actions; sometimes (and most of the time) they serve as the way to look inside the character the actor plays (and in this asides are very similar with the soliloquies) because the words and thoughts which the character expresses to himself and not to others are very meaningful for the understanding of the character and the plot. “A little more than kin, and less than kind’ (Act I, scene 2, line 66) – this is the first aside which we face in Hamlet, and which is uttered by Hamlet. This aside here is used for the description of the real feelings Hamlet has towards the King. Aside is the means of reading the psychology of the character. While Hamlet says ‘That’s wormwood’ – it appears to be a kind of play within the play. This aside was a response of hamlet to the play queen, and the play queen had just said that she would not remarry. The aside shows disbelief of Hamlet in queen’s words, and simultaneously serves as breaking queen’s words, as well as the picture of how Hamlet sees women in general.King Lear is especially rich in asides; asides are the devices used in the work for the depiction of Cordelia’s doubts and her inability to express feelings and thoughts openly; this is why she often speaks ‘aside’ and aside becomes the principal means of her expression.

For example:’Cordelia. [Aside]. What shall Coredlia speak? Love, and be silent.’ (Act I, scene I,lines 63-64) or’Cordelia. [Aside] Then poor Cordelia!And not so, since I am sure my love’sMore ponderous than my tongue.

‘(Act I, scene I, lines 78-80)While Cordelia sincerely loves her father, she also understands that being honest with him in terms of her feelings would not please him, this is why the aside becomes here the only means of making the audience aware of Cordelia’s true feelings without letting her father know about them.Many asides are seen in The Tempest (Act 3, scene 3):’ ANTONIO[Aside to SEBASTIAN] I am right glad that he’s soout of hope.Do not, for one repulse, forego the purposeThat you resolved to effect.SEBASTIAN[Aside to ANTONIO] The next advantageWill we take throughly.ANTONIO[Aside to SEBASTIAN] Let it be to-night;For, now they are oppress’d with travel, theyWill not, nor cannot, use such vigilanceAs when they are fresh.SEBASTIAN[Aside to ANTONIO] I say, to-night: no more.

Solemn and strange music’Though the whole play written by Shakespeare leads us to the outcome when plotting by Sebastian and Antonio against Prospero does not work out and is absolutely powerless against Prospero’s magic, the use of these asides is essential for the understanding of the plotting as such and the way the thoughts of both Antonio and Sebastian go. They are not able to speak loud not to be discovered for their plans, and in order for the reader to understand that they still keep to the idea of winning the fight against Prospero.Disease imageryImagery and the creation of the mental picture is one more literary convention used by Shakespeare in his three plays which we describe here. It should be admitted that The Tempest was difficult to be characterized by the presence of any disease imagery, but both Hamlet and King Lear are full of disease imageries.The creation of this mental picture goes through a very thorough choice of words, this is why this literary convention is one of the most complex and meaningful. Some strong images of disease appear in King Lear when the King curses Goneril. Being furious, he wants different crippling diseases to ‘Infect her beauty… strike her young bones…with lameness’. (Act II) The similar disease imagery touches Lear himself, when he speaks about himself noting that it is a disease that’s in my flesh Which I must needs call mine’.

(Act II)Disease imagery is interesting in King Lear as it turns the fairy tale upside down, and makes it realistic and tragic.The disease imagery in Hamlet is the instrument of constant reminding the reader the core problem of the play which Shakespeare wanted to carry in the basic meaning of this play: poisoning of King Hamlet by his brother. This is the reason why Hamlet creates so many images connected with murder, disease and poisoning – this issue is always on Hamlet’s mind. The number of sickness images in Hamlet is higher than in any other play. There is a serious presence of the disease imageries which are related to Hamlet’s sickness and different ideas connected with tumor and ulcer, which is expressed in the moral corruption of the Danish Court. The use of the disease imagery in any play, and especially in Hamlet is the sign of showing the feelings of horror, powerlessness and disgust perceived by the characters (in our case they are mostly perceived by Hamlet).diseases desperate grownBy desperate appliance are relieved,Or not at all,’ [Act IV Scene 3 line 9]Orskin and film the ulcerous placeWhiles rank corruption, mining all withinInfects unseen.’ [Act III scene 4 line 147]The general trend in the use of disease imagery not only in Hamlet, but in King Lear as well, is symbolic, because Hamlet and other characters going through the images of diseases which follow them through the play, have to pay some price to get rid of these images and to be cured of them (full body of the infected world’ – as Shakespeare himself puts it.

The aim of disease imagery in both plays is the creation of the atmosphere of the total darkness, cold and isolated, in which a person would feel absolutely sick.The principal disease images found in Hamlet can be listed as follows:-          in the first Act one finds he premonition that the tragedy would take place and the reader is getting prepared to it. This disease imagery is used through the appearances of the Ghost – the killed king, which is interpreted as the prediction of the line of bad signs and dangers which the State would face in the nearest future.-          moon `was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse’ [Act I scene 1 line 120] says Horatio, as he describes the conditions in Rome just before the murder of Julius Caesar. He believes that the appearance of the Ghost is a portent to Denmark, as the sick moon was to Rome.-          One can also find the aversion against sexuality in the play, and this aversion is also depicted through the use of the disease imagery. The cause of this disease imagery is the marriage if hamlet’s mother to Claudius at the time when such marriages were supposed to be incestuous.

The mere fact of such marriage becomes the reason of Hamlet’s disease images which go through his mind through the whole play.’will but skin and film the ulcerous place,Whiles rank corruption, mining all withinInfects unseen´ [Act III scene 4 line 147]’   Structural climaxThe structural climax is the integral part of any dramatic structure, and thus we will try to find this climax in all three plays, as in case we assume any of the three plays lacks it, it would have the incomplete structure.The Act V (scene 2) is the climax of the Hamlet’s play. The reasons for assuming so are several. It is notable that the play begins with Hamlet’s contemplation of his presence and time in Denmark; in the fifth act the reader sees absolutely new Hamlet, without any indecisiveness and without any more expressions of self-approach. The very climax takes place through the fencing match; during this match Queen Gertrude makes some workd expressions as soon as the match begins, and what followed these expressions is the climax of the play – Laertes is allowed to express twinges of conscience just before he is able to wound Hamlet; but as soon as he himself is wounded to death, he is able to admit that his treachery had become the reasons of Hamlet’s death. Demands of the plot at this point of its resolution, in part, explain Laertes’ free confession and accusation.  But it is not inappropriate that Laertes, who shortly before had declared that he stood aloof from Hamlet in terms of honor and then faced the Prince armed with an unblunted and poisoned rapier, should be allowed to retrieve himself through full confession.

  Claudius must, and does, remain the rascal of the piece.’Now cracks a noble heart.  Good – night, sweet prince,And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’ (Act 5, scene 2)For most of us, the Prince emerges finally as sacrificial victim, one whose death is inevitable but which makes possible the purging of great evil and the restoration of a moral universe.

Thus, the structural climax here is the means of Shakespeare to show us the real inner world of Hamlet and to give us the realistic notions of his behavior, as well as decoding the implications which have been included into the play through other literary devices, especially the disease imagery.The climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax in King Lear occurs, according to the first definition, when Lear leaves Gloucester’s castle during a violent storm after being rejected by his evil daughters, Goneril and Regan. According to the second definition, the climax occurs in the final act, when Goneril, Regan, and Edmund die and Lear comes to his senses, then falls and dies on the body of innocent Cordelia, who has been executed.The climax in The Tempest occurs, according to the first definition, in Act III, Scene III, when Ariel (appearing as a Harpy, a mythological monster with the head of a woman and the body of a bird) reveals Antonio, Alonso, and Sebastian as sinners who conspired to remove Prospero from his dukedom. According to the second definition, the climax occurs at the end of Act V when Ferdinand and his father are reunited, and all the enemies in the play become friends.’ You are three men of sin, whom Destiny,That hath to instrument this lower worldAnd what is in’t, the never-surfeited seaHath caused to belch up you; and on this islandWhere man doth not inhabit; you ‘mongst menBeing most unfit to live. I have made you mad;And even with such-like valour men hang and drownTheir proper selves.

‘ (Act III, scene 3) ConclusionThe use of the Shakespeare’s four main literary conventions (soliloquy, aside, disease imagery and structural climax) are the means of making the plays brighter and more understandable to the reader; moreover, these literary devices don’t make the works understandable literally – they just clarify the implications which every author puts into his works. Shakespeare is not an exception – the deep sense of every word and sentence of the three plays described in the present work could not be revealed without using these literary conventions.Different literary conventions have different aims; while soliloquy is the analogy of the monologue (through the contemplation of the character actor on the scene, without any other actors present at the stage at this time), the aside, for example, is used with the presence of other actors, intentionally avoiding them to hear what the actor speaks, but making it heard by the audience.

In this way the thoughts and contemplations of the character are seen as secret to other play participants. This is very beneficial device for the author when depicting the plots in the plays (as it has been done in The Tempest).King Lear and Hamlet are very bright for the use of disease imagery, and this imagery goes as a whole line through both plays. This device is meant at depicting the inner world of the main characters, being morally sick, full of doubts and moral tortures.While the three previously described literary conventions can be avoided in any work of writing and are used by authors depending on what meaning they would like to carry to the reader, structural climax is the integral part of any play and is a part of the play’s dramatic structure.

This device is found in all three plays considered here and sometimes it is used for showing the characters of the play in the new (sometimes absolutely opposite) light.Works citedShakespeare, William  Hamlet. 1610. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. 10 May2007.

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