Just as Hamlet seems curious and questioning the matter of life and death, Shakespeare leaves his audience inquisitive of the many controversial themes exposed in arguably his most dramatic play.
Though Shakespeare consistently employs an abundance of rhetoric throughout his plays, much grandiosity of his prose relies on imagery to reflect and reinforce the many contentious themes he reveals within his pieces.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet exhibits themes of madness and betrayal to which he uses imagery to paint a picture in the reader’s mind as to the deepest sentiments of the characters and their situations.
While Hamlet is searching for an answer to his queries such as, “to be, or not to be,” (Shakespeare, III, i, 58) the reader soon understands his dilemma through the extended imagery provided by William Shakespeare.
The reader is aware of Hamlet’s disapproval of his mother’s hasty wedding as of his first soliloquy early on in the play. Shakespeare uses much imagery to describe Hamlet’s sadness and suicidal thoughts, as he feels his mother has betrayed “so excellent a king” (Shakespeare, I, ii, 139).
Hamlet describes his mother’s new obsession: “she would hang on him/ as if increase of appetite had grown/ by what it fed on,” (Shakespeare, I, ii, 143-145). Shakespeare uses imagery to emphasize the importance of the theme of betrayal, rather than simply mentioning that Hamlet feels betrayed. By doing so, the reader has a superior understanding of the magnitude of the theme and recognizes its significance.
Later in the play, additional imagery is used to further the theme of betrayal, as Hamlet cries to his mother of her poor choice to remarry. He says her choice was unwise, and compares her injudicious selection to one chosen by “eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,/ears without hands or eyes,/ smelling sans all,” (Shakespeare, III, iv, 80-83).
Hamlet claims that even deprived of all but one sense, one would recognize the senselessness to the wedding, and wonders “what devil was’t” (Shakespeare, III, iv, 78) that compelled Gertrude to remarry such “Hyperion to a satyr” (Shakespeare, I, ii, 140).
Through such imagery as mentioned above, Shakespeare is able to demonstrate the extent of Hamlet’s disapproval of the marriage, which furthers the theme of betrayal that dominates throughout the play.
Similarly, Shakespeare uses imagery to depict a theme of madness throughout the play. Following the murder of Polonius, Gertrude describes Hamlet’s madness by comparing it to the sea beneath a storm. She illustrates this by declaring Hamlet is as “mad as the sea and wind when both contend/ which is the mightier,” (Shakespeare, IV, i, 8-9).
Shakespeare’s use of imagery allows the reader to compare the circumstances to a more familiar situation, thus highlighting the extent of Hamlet’s madness. Correspondingly, Shakespeare uses imagery in Laertes’s speech of Ophelia’s madness. The reader is aware of his distress, as Laertes cries, “O heat, dry up my brains! Tears seven times salt,/ burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye!” (Shakespeare IV, v, 130-131).
Shakespeare creatively mentions the salted tears of which Laertes feels could burn his eyes out, allowing the reader to enter the piece and connect with Laertes’ anguish and sorrow as he witnesses Ophelia’s madness. The feeling of misery is developed through the imagery provided in the prose. Laertes continues; “By heaven, thy madness shall be paid by weight,/ till our scale turn the beam,” (Shakespeare, IV, v, 132-133).
Shakespeare uses imagery once again here to allow the reader to picture an overflowing scale of revenge for Ophelia’s madness, which will be found in heaven. The theme of madness is portrayed through the wealth of imagery provided by Shakespeare, which allows the reader to connect to the characters while indicating the prominence of the theme.
Whether it is Hamlet who imagines death to be but a sleep possibly full of disturbing and never-ending nightmares or Gertrude and Laertes who distinctly describe their misery with images that illustrate the madness of Hamlet and Ophelia, Shakespeare never fails to provide the reader with a profusion of rhetoric, namely a cornucopia of imagery to exemplify the themes of betrayal and madness rich in significance throughout his play.
Such descriptive language evokes sensory experience, enabling the reader to enter Shakespeare’s Hamlet and recognize these essential themes. Providing the reader with the ability to relate to the characters’ situations through imagery and comparisons to more familiar circumstances, Shakespeare not only creates an excessive ornateness of language but persistently reflects and reinforces his themes through the appealing technique.
Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” The Literature Network. Jalic Inc, 22 Feb 2006. Web. 12 Apr 2010. <http://www.online-literature.com/shakespeare/hamlet/>.
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