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Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Shakespeare’s Hamlet Essay

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Shakespeare and Aeschylus are two prominent figures who composed certain dynamic characters from a tragic hero point of view in the world of literature. The struggles of Orestes and Hamlet are similar. Each is summoned to avenge his father’s murder, and each experiences an interior conflict as a consequence.

Weaving together different but analogous plots allows the dramatist to create meaningful juxtapositions that complement and enrich the main plot, including the character of the central protagonist. One such device in Hamlet is Shakespeare’s placing of the Danish prince in the context of Fortinbras and Laertes as the characters that, like Hamlet, find themselves in the role of having to avenge their fathers’ deaths. On the other hand, Orestes is a worldly-wise character having no interest in emotions and ethics. He has nothing to do or know about revenge or envy.

The dramatic contrast in the revenge plots is accordingly achieved by the differing dynamic alignments of the three figures, whereby Fortinbras is presented as opportunistic and pragmatic endostatin, Laertes as an inflexible, morally rigid (decent) static, and Hamlet as an idealistic and showy exotic. The differing dynamisms of character thus explain why Fortinbras is less concerned with revenging his father than with regaining the lands lost by his father to Denmark; why Laertes is concerned only with justice in revenging his father, and not with self-advancement or power; and why Hamlet is concerned neither with just revenge, still less with acquiring power, but with the emotive and theatrical effects of his actions.

The three sons avenging their fathers thus handle their similar tasks under three different banners: of political ambition in the case of Fortinbras, of justice in Laertes, and of art-cum-philosophy in Hamlet. (Bradley, 2001) While quite the opposite to Hamlet, Orestes is keen to be almighty and powerful, disregarding all the morality involved in his way.

Orestes is representative of the shift, slaughtering his mother and her aficionado in reprisal and then later being at liberty of guilt by the judgment of a jury in Athens.

For the retribution cycle to be comprehensive, Orestes has to assassinate his mother, the killer of Agamemnon, and her lover, Aegisthus, just as Clytaemnestra killed Agamemnon and his lover, Cassandra. Orestes turned up home with the intention to retaliate against his father Agamemnon, and the retribution thesis again presented itself. Orestes is also depicted as masculine, having crossed the significant threshold from puberty to maturity, which is indicated by his cutting off a lock of his hair. After Orestes murdered Aegisthus, he confronted his mother. Clytaemnestra emphasized her motherhood while telling Orestes, “Wait, my son – no respect for this my child? The breast you held, drowsing away the hours, soft gums tugging the milk that made you grow?” (Aeschylus, p 46)

Orestes had other thoughts and comprehended that he would face the curses of his mother if he would murder Clytaemnestra or of his father Agamemnon if he did not murder his mother. This is analogous to the circumstances faced by Agamemnon when he discussed whether or not he should forfeit Iphigeneia. Orestes then murdered his own mother, Clytaemnestra. Subsequent to Clytaemnestra’s murder by her child Orestes, the Furies, the retaliator of matricide, give free rein to themselves upon Orestes, and one would expect that the premise of revenge camouflaged as justice would again emerge, and the terrible cycle of retribution would carry on with Orestes assassinate by the Furies, but it doesn’t. This marks the significant evolution of justice, which is exhibited in the ultimate play of the trilogy, The Eumenides.

There are a number of dissimilarities between Orestes and the previous killers, Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon, along with dissimilarities between the retribution of the Furies and the two occurrences of reprisal by Clytaemnestra and Orestes, which both indicated that an amendment injustice is going to happen. Dissimilar to Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, Orestes did not revel in the killing of his sufferer, Clytaemnestra. Orestes was at first uncertain about murdering his mother but is advised on by Pylades, who says, “What of the Prophet God Apollo, the Delphic voice, the faith and oaths we swear? Make all mankind your enemy, not the gods “. (Aeschylus, p-154).

This specifies Apollo had the fractional liability in the Clytaemnestra’s assassination. After Clytaemnestra’s killing, Orestes felt culpability, an emotion unidentified to both Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. Orestes did not feel sorry for what he did, but he did not feel good about doing it, and surely did not revel in it. At the conclusion of the assessment the members of the jury were evenly divided between Orestes and the Furies, and Athena gave the deciding vote in favor of Orestes, who is then free.

Hamlet’s distinction is indeed borne out by Hamlet’s conciliatory address to Laertes before their duel, in which the prince offers an extraordinarily accurate self-analysis of his transitional, exostatic character, as broad as Laertes’s static character is narrow. Hamlet acknowledges the contradictory impulses in his personality: his present static regret and appeal to Laertes’s forgiveness (“Give me your pardon, sir. I have done you wrong,” 5.2.222) and his former exodynamic “madness” (5.2.228, 233, 235), from which Hamlet now distances himself.

His character indeed seems to have moved slightly toward stasis in act 5, as has often been observed by critics, who found the prince who has returned from England a more stoically mature person. (Stirling, 1999) Hamlet now talks about his former exodynamic outbursts as if they belonged to someone else, because the present, more static Hamlet is now a different person, more of a “brother” to Laertes than an enemy.

On the other hand, when it comes down to making the actual decision, Agamemnon decides to act as a king instead of as a father:

But when necessity’s yoke was put on him

He changed, and from the heart beneath came bitter

And sacrilegious, utterly infidel,

To warp a will now to be stopped at nothing.

The sickening in men’s minds, tough,

Reckless in fresh cruelty brings daring (Aeschylus, 217-223).

Works Cited

Aeschylus (Author), The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation Bearers; The Eumenides (Penguin Classics), W. B. Stanford (Contributor, Editor, Introduction) Robert Fagles (Translator), Paperback: 336 pages, Publisher: Penguin Classics (1984) ISBN-10: 0140443339.

Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on “Hamlet,” “Othello,” “King Lear,” “Macbeth.” 1994. Reprint, London: Penguin Books.

Sadowski, Piotr. “Psychological Configurations and Literary Characters: A Systems View.” Journal of Literary Semantics 29 (2000): 105—22.

Stirling, Brents. Unity in Shakespearian Tragedy: The Interplay of Theme and Character. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

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