Hamlet and A Streetcar Named Desire
Hamlet “The Prince of Denmark” was one of the most remarkable literal pieces during the Victorian period. The playwright, William Shakespeare, was also one of the most renowned artists during the period and he was especially famous for the satirical and ironical way he depicted systems of governance and authority. In the play Hamlet, Shakespeare uses the Prince of Denmark called Hamlet to bring out the kind of decay, espionage and political power struggle that existed in the Kingdom. In the process, Shakespeare manages to superimpose the qualities of shadow, solar and dark in the character Hamlet. The intricate superimposition of these qualities within one character in the play reveals the realities that hitherto been substantiated by researches in psychology. Conventionally one would have expected Hamlet to be the hero of the play but he also dies eventually. The irony of killing Hamlet is used by Shakespeare in bringing out the realities of the society. “It seems ironic that….. Hamlet all died…”
(URL 1). The realities contradict the fairy tales characteristic of romanticism where the hero and the heroine live happily ever after and the villain gets punished. The same realities of the society are brought out by Tennessee Williams in his play A Street Car Named Desire. The realities of feminine criticism show the role that women play in their success or demise in the so called “a man’s world.” Williams directly criticizes some perceptions of femininity characterized by irrational submission and sacrifice for the sake of mediocrity. In the character Stella, Williams brings out feminine criticism strongly intentionally while at the same time leaving the aspect of compassion. The detrimental relationship that Stella experiences with her chauvinist husband would have in normal circumstances drawn pity towards Stella but ironically it does not. The observation in the analysis of the two plays is that they bring out societal realities many centuries apart using different characters and different approaches.
The first of the qualities of Hamlet that the audience encounters with in the play is his solar qualities. Solar qualities are generally associated with aspects such as composure, courage and consciousness in varied events and circumstances; “the sun in most civilizations epitome strength in general” (URL 2). Although, Hamlet is still mourning the death of his father he is not afraid to express his feelings because his center of consciousness allows him to do that. “Sun, fire and sky are closely related to creative energy…consciousness” (URL 3). The aspect is seen in Act I Scene II when King Claudius inquires why Hamlet is still sad but Hamlet answers that: “Not so, my lord; I am too much i’ the sun” (URL 3 ). Hamlet goes on to explain to Getrude that it is common for one to show grief in such a situation and even admits that it is his true nature. The admittance is seen in Act I Scene II where Hamlet says that:
…together with all forms, moods, show of grief.
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show… (URL 3).
Hamlet outlines that although some of the emotions he is showing can be acted by men, the grief he feels inside surpasses acting. The fact that Hamlet is able to akcnowledge the affection he had towards his father shows brevity which is an aspect of solar qualities. His sincererity of the emotions he feels also emphasizes on his solar qualities. As a man he is not ashamed to show how emotionally fragile the death of his father has left him and such move takes a lot of courage. Justice is also an apsect of solar qualities and after the encounter with his father he is determined to seek justice.
However, shadow qualities characterized by being uncertainity quickly overwhelm Hamlet as he is unsure of the autheniticity of the ghost or the message it delivers. His suspicions drive him to be insincere with his friends and even doubt his mother and Ophelia just because of the words of the ghost. On the other hand Hamlet also doubts the words of the ghost and is therefore thrown into the twists and dramas of confusion. Hamlet’s vengeance is sparked off by his encounter with the Ghost who reveals to him a dark secret within the kingdom. The evil and pretentious King Claudius killed his brother (Hamlet’s father) who was at that time the king and went on to take the kingdom and to marry Hamlet’s mother Queen Gertrude. Hamlet’s father then reappears as a ghost to Hamlet sparking off the passions of vengeance against King Claudius. Shakespeare uses the Ghost to emphasize on the importance of loyalty during the period due to the dangers of betrayal similar to the one that befell Hamlet’s father. Hamlet acts irrationally and this creates the circumstances that eventually lead to many deaths at the end of the play. Irrationality is an aspect of shadow quality. “Some Shakspeare interpreters really contend that he really does suffer a mental breakdown” (URL 4).
The acts that proceed his irrational state reveals a dark side of Hamlet. He acts recklessly and he accidentally kills Polonius. His irrationality then progresses and he is not even remorseful but proceeds to hide the body of Polonius. At this point Hamlet to the audience already becomes a cold blood murderer. The perception is that Hamlet did not have the respect of life and his pursuance of revenge had overshadowed his judgement. The act of killing polonius sparked off venegance both from Ophelia and her brother Laertes. The venegance eventually lead to Hamlet’s death even before he accomplishes his mission. Ironically, the same sword that kills Hamlet also kills his cousing Laertes who was also seeking revenge against Hamlet. The dark side of Hamlet managed to poison Laertes to his death.
Moving on to the play A Streetcar Named Desire, the playwright manages to clearly outline the realities of the society through feminism using the character of Stella. The approach mostly involves emotional and physical pain with the most pain and being experienced by the fragile Stella. Blanche who helps to bring out Stella’s criticism has also embarked on a self destructive mission while at the same time seeking to keep her composure. The playwright presents Stella as a beautiful womam but one who is unable to take control of her life (URL 5). The good and bad qualities of Stella have been superimposed together. Stella seems to be presented as nice lady but one who is letting the men around her take advanatge of her. Before Blanche arrives we see Stella and her husband Stanley having a fight in which Stanely gets extremely physical. Instead of avioding Stanely and his friends she still follows them and this shows a negative perception of femininism of being overtly dependent of men regardless of the circumstances. There seems to be a certain unhealthy psychological attatchment that Stella has created in her psyche towards Stanely and men in general- this is also an negative perception of femininism. “Gender, it could be said, is part of that culture-determination” (URL 6). The general perception that females are the weaker sex and males the stronger sex is clearly outlined in the lack of determination and strength by Stella. Although she is aware that they might be sometimes unpleasant and even warns Blanche of it, on her side she seems very comfortable with the situation. She even reaches the point of sibling betrayal. The action attempts to show the submissiveness of Stella to the extent of mediocre self sacrifice. “She (Stella) refuses to accept the truth about her sister’s past and about Stanley’s violation of Blanche” (URL 7). Stanely and his friends strike out as male chauvinists who are out to take the advantage of the women around them. However, the author does not take offense with the men. Initially in the play one would quickly refute the men as being bad but as play goes on there is a realization of “…the abject lack of action and control from the women” (URL 8). The analysis of the two plays outlines how two different authors have used different charcters and approaches to bring out certain aspects of human nature that are self destructive. In Hamlet the archetypal critical format has been used to bring out the different character developments of Hamlet. On the other hand In A Streecar Named Desire, the author has used the feminine criticism. The two plays can act as rich sources of intellect and insight for people in the society who live purposeless lives because of empty pursuits. Stella pursues a man who does not have the slightest respect for her let alone love. Eventually, she gets abused physically and psychological and her sister gets raped by the same man she pursues. On the other hand Hamlet pursues venengeance with passion and recklessness and ends up having not only himself killed but also other people some of them innocent.
Michael Cummings. “A Streetcar Named Desire By Thomas Lanier Williams, Known as Tennessee Williams (1911-1983). A Study Guide.” Cummings Study Guides. 1 December 2010.
Eagleton, Mary. “Feminist Literal Theory: A Reader.” New York: Bartlett, 2010.
Guerin, Wilfred. “Archetypal Approaches.” 1992. A Handboos of Critical Approaches. 1 December 2010.
Lee, Elizabeth. “Feminist Theory: An Overview.” 1996. The Victorian Web. 1 December 2010.
Rush, David. “A Student Guide to Play Analysis.” Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005.
Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” London: Fork. Press, 2007.
Study Worlds. “Hamlet (Revenge).” Study Worlds. 1 December 2010. http://www.studyworld.com/newsite/reportessay/literature/Shakespeare%5CHamlet_Revenge.htm.
Williams, Tennessee. “A Street Car Named Desire.” London: Heinemann, 1995.