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Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: The Use of Allusion and Metaphors Research Paper

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Introduction

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of his best-known plays because of the well-written dialogue and soliloquies which use vivid and rich language filled with rhetorical devices. The play consists of both short and extended metaphors mixed in with allusions which contribute to building the plot themes and character development. Shakespeare’s use of allusion and metaphors in Hamlet is vital to creating the dramatic imagery surrounding the play and foreshadowing the extent of the growing conflict.

Allusion

There are multiple allusions spread throughout the play dialogues and soliloquies. Shakespeare was fond of allusions as a rhetorical device as they were able to describe and evoke emotions in the audience that would instantly recognize the reference. Shakespeare utilized allusions to the Ancient Hellenic and Roman Empire world as well as several Biblical allusions in Hamlet. In one of his soliloquies, Hamlet says, “My father’s brother, but no more like my father/ Than I to Hercules” (Hamlet 1.2 157-158). It is part of the character exploration, for both himself and his uncle. It reveals him as a displaced figure, both literally and figuratively. Hercules creates an image of the great hero in people’s minds, a force for good, which Hamlet implies that he is not, foreshadowing his own fall into madness (Cousins 5).

In another famous line, in a discussion with Horatio, Hamlet says, “Not a whit. We defy augury. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow” (Hamlet 5.1 233-234). In a biblical reference to Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says that no sparrow falls unless God wills it, in Hamlet upon hearing this the audience understands that Hamlet has accepted his fate and the tragic end that will come, foreshadowing his death in the final confrontation with Claudius. He moves from the debates of human nature into an exploration of the afterlife and fate as he approaches his death (Philias 226)

More about Hamlet

Metaphor

Metaphors are a popular literary device, but Shakespeare was extremely skillful with them in creating imagery and setting the tone. Shakespeare employs 3 types of metaphor, direct, indirect, and extended. Perhaps the most iconic metaphor from the play is when Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “Denmark’s a prison” (Hamlet 2.2 227). Through this metaphor, Hamlet effectively describes the state of the kingdom under his uncle’s rule, one where he has felt like a prisoner in an oppressive environment. The comfort and warmth that existed prior were gone, and Hamlet is trapped as long as his father’s murderer is the king (Berry 105).

In the well-known ‘to be or not to be soliloquy, Hamlet presents an extended metaphor, comparing sleep and death. “To die, to sleep— To sleep, perchance to dream” (Hamlet 3.1 72-73). He suggests that while sleep grants temporary rest, death provides eternal peace and reprieve from the trouble of life. The series of metaphors in this soliloquy enable Hamlet to misrepresent reality as a reflection of his inner self (Lewis 609). It shows his depressed and sickened state of mind, that does not wish to go live. It is an exploration of the character and the general imagery and tone around this element of the play.

Conclusion

Shakespeare uses allusion and metaphors in Hamlet to create dramatic imagery and provide foreshadowing into the plot. The poet’s skillful manipulation of the English language allows for the use of metaphors and allusions which smoothly fit into dialogue or soliloquy, not feeling forced. At the same time, many of them are instantly recognized by the reader or audience, stimulating their imagination and perception of the plot in a whole new light.

Works Cited

Berry, Ralph. “The Shakespearean Metaphor: Studies in Language and Form.” Springer, 1978.

Cousins, A. D. “Shakespeare’s Hamlet 1.2.153.” The Explicator, vol. 62, no. 1, Jan. 2003, pp. 5–7. Web.

Lewis, Rhodri. “Hamlet, Metaphor, and Memory.” Studies in Philology, vol. 109, no. 5, 2012, pp. 609–641. Web.

Phialas, Peter G. “Hamlet and the Grave-Maker.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 63, no. 2, 1964, pp. 226–234. JSTOR. Web.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark from The Folger Shakespeare. Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. Folger Shakespeare Library. Web.

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IvyPanda. "Shakespeare’s "Hamlet": The Use of Allusion and Metaphors." September 1, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shakespeares-hamlet-the-use-of-allusion-and-metaphors/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Shakespeare’s "Hamlet": The Use of Allusion and Metaphors." September 1, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shakespeares-hamlet-the-use-of-allusion-and-metaphors/.

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