Controlled Assessment: Shakespeare and the Literary Heritage
How do the studied poets and Shakespeare use literary techniques to show how people respond to forces in the world in which they have no control?
This essay will compare the ways in which the writers of ‘Hamlet’, ‘On My First Sonne’, ‘Do not go gentle into that goodnight’ and ‘A Song in a Storm’ address the ideas of fate and the supernatural, love and death which are all themes that find themselves present in many texts and they are forces which humans have very little control over. Shakespeare along with the studied poets convey these themes in different ways and they use a variety of language devices and techniques which I will explore in this essay.
In the play Hamlet there is a strong presence of fate and Hamlet often holds fate responsible for things that happen to him in life. The supernatural usually becomes a part of the play whenever a clear presence of fate needs to be identified to the viewer. One of the clearest examples of this is the ghost of Hamlet’s late father who appears in the play on multiple occasions to give Hamlet guidance and to tell him about the truth behind his death. In the second on stage appearance of the ghost, Shakespeare personifies fate by saying ‘My fate cries out’ to show Hamlets compelling feeling to follow the ghost and find out what it is that he has to tell him. This shows Hamlet’s belief in fate and how he often ties in the decisions he makes in life to fate, however Shakespeare reinforces this idea by adding in an element of the supernatural. The appearance of the ghost makes Hamlet’s traditional interpretations of life seem much more real and believable. The ghost also appears later in the play where he tries to refocus Hamlet’s sense of duty because he thinks he has become distracted from his goal. Hamlet’s father can be seen as a symbol for fate. In the poem ‘On My First Sonne’ fate and the supernatural are referenced in the line ‘Seven years tho’ wert lent to me’. In this line Ben Jonson suggests that his son was lent to him by some higher force, for example fate. This poem is similar to Hamlet because it shows his willingness to accept and follow fate. Hamlet often complains about his ‘outrageous fortune’ but he doesn’t do much to try to go against it; this is apparent when he decides to follow the will of a ghost that may not even be real. Similarly in the poem by Ben Jonson he has accepted his son’s death but the poem is made up of his mourning and his rage at the turn of events.
Iambic pentameter is a device that is strongly present in Shakespeare as it is the meter that most of the characters follow as they speak. Hamlet, when in the company of others, usually refrained from using this to appear mad to the other characters. However most of the time when Hamlet is by himself or conversing with his friends Hamlet spoke in Iambic Pentameter. This is also present in the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy where Hamlet considers ending his life. Compared to this, the poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ has a weak sense of meter as it slowly deteriorates throughout each stanza. In the first line there is clear iambic pentameter, in the second line there is much less and in the final line there is barely any. Iambic pentameter could be interpreted to represent fate as it possesses the resonating sound of a heart beat. A heart beat is a repetitive pulse that is present in everything that you do and it doesn’t stop or waver until you die. This is very similar to the idea of fate that sits in the backgrounds of our lives controlling the course they take. This would make sense when analysing the presence of meter in the Dylan Thomas’s poem. The poem is telling people to fight against death and not let it control you and conquer you. It is telling people to ‘Rage, Rage against the dying of the light’.In the first line of each stanza the presence of fate is strong because it is following Iambic pentameter. However with each line the people referred to by the poet are breaking away from the shackles of destiny and by the last line they have succeeded in ‘raging’ against death. In Hamlet there is a large contrast because there is an extremely strong meter which shows that Hamlet is more resigned to fate. At the same time Hamlet is considering going against destiny in his own way by ending is own life but this is still far more submissive.
In the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy Hamlet immediately presents us with an interrogative of whether he should live or die, he uses this to show the mental conflict he is going through. This use of rhetorical questions shows his unwillingness to surrender to his fate and it also shows his fragile state of mind as he is questioning himself and not following stable views or beliefs. He goes on to further question himself, ‘To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Hamlet is using the metaphor of slings and arrows to express his emotions on fate, he is referring to the troubles of life as slings and arrows which implies that he feels that fate is against him and it is almost as if he is saying that it is personal. He further expresses his disregard to life by using the phrase ‘outrageous fortune’ where he is labelling his fate as outrageous. This suggests that he thinks that his fate is unnaturally unfair and it shows how he views his destiny as an enemy. He then provides the alternative of his dilemma and once again uses a metaphor to show his opinion by referring to his turmoil as ‘a sea of troubles’. This perfectly outlines Hamlet’s recurring attitude throughout the whole play where he often feels a high amount of self-pity and believes that everything is against him. To build this Shakespeare uses a variety of metaphors where Hamlet likens hardships to weapons or enemies.
Ben Jonson constructed this poem after the death of his son meaning that he was writing this poem from the heart, conveying his actual feelings about his son’s early death. The poem does seem to follow the patterns of a person’s internal speech ‘O, could I lose all father now! For why Will man lament the state he should envy?’ This gives the poem a much stronger sense of reality because it connects the reader to a real life event and the actual feelings of the poem rather than a fictional event or a historical recollection. Similarly Shakespeare was said to have written Hamlet after the death of his son in 1556. His son died of an unknown illness which gave Shakespeare the emotional inspiration he needed to write Hamlet. This has a huge impact on the play and on the poem because it changes the question from how people respond to forces beyond their control to how the writers react. It is unknown how much of Hamlet was based on personal experience but it is clear that a lot of emotion went into the production of the play and from this we can draw conclusions about Shakespeare’s own beliefs and reactions to outside forces. For example viewing Hamlet’s response to death of those around him we could possibly conclude that Shakespeare himself reacted the same way after the death of his son. It also shows us that the idea of fate or god were strong very present in his life due to the way he users it to explain occurrences. When analysing on my first son the same conclusions about Ben Jonson do not need to be made because it is written directly about what happened to him whereas Hamlet may be inspired by real life but it is actually a fictional story.
In the poem ‘A Song in a Storm’ the poet is trying to persuade the soldiers to go into war and not fear death, ‘The game is more than the player of the game, and the ship is more than the crew!’. This quote is telling people to accept death if it comes and that their life is part of a bigger picture because it is saying that even though a single player may be out of the game they may have made a difference or have been part of the ending outcome or even though a crew member may die at sea the journey would have never taken place if it wasn’t for each individual person. This is a different point of view from any of the other texts because it accepts death but argues that there is a meaning behind it. The other texts that accept fate or death like Hamlet or On My First Sonne choose to accept fate because they simply believe there is nothing you can do to avoid it which is unlike this poem which accepts fate because it believes it is a necessary action for the purpose of a larger cause like a war or a voyage at sea. ‘Be well assured, though in our power, Is nothing left to give, But chance and place to meet the hour, And leave to strive to live.’ This quote suggests that you should give your all to your fate and hope that your death was not in vain and that you were able to contribute to something greater. I feel that this is most similar in tone to ‘Do not go gentle into that goodnight’ even though they are arguing completely different points. I feel that this is because they are both telling you to fight and not give up, however one of them is telling you to fight against death and try to go against your fate as much as possible and the other is telling you to keep on fighting and accept that your death is part of that fight.
Another force beyond control, that is referred to by Shakespeare and the poets, is Love. Love is an emotion that is present in everyone’s lives and it is something that takes place subconsciously. Love is definitely present in Hamlet with the presence of Ophelia. Hamlet shares a very deep bond with Ophelia although this isn’t necessarily obvious until later in the play where Hamlet confesses his true feelings for her at her funeral. Hamlet suffers with his love for Ophelia and this shows all throughout the play where he feels his love for her is unrequited. Due to the belief that he is mad, Ophelia is strongly advised to stay away from him by her brother and father. ‘Alas, then she is drowned’ after Ophelia dies Hamlet starts to reveal his deeper love for her and his sorrow becomes even deeper. At her funeral he arrives and engages in a heated confrontation with Laertes. ‘I lov’d Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers with all their quantity of love could not make up my sum’ In this metaphor Hamlet truly reveals the deep love he has for Ophelia as he says his love for her was greater than the amount that forty thousand brothers would have together. Hamlet’s love for his father is the other main time that Hamlet expresses love. He clearly is deeply wounded by his father’s death and even more by his mother’s quick betrayal of him. ‘For look how cheerfully my mother looks and my father died within’s two hours.’ Hamlet talks to Ophelia about his fickle mother after she questions him about being drunk. In the poem ‘On My First Sonne’ Ben Jonson also expresses the love he has for his son in the quote ‘My sin was too much hope of thee’. Here he talks about how he actually loved his son too much for his own good, connoting that it is out of his control. This is similar to Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia and his Father, where he suffers with their loss and has to deal with the pain of death.
To conclude I feel that there is a theme of conflict that runs through all of these texts and it defines the different ways in which each person reacts to fate. In Hamlet he refers to everything as a fight and he faces the conflict of choosing whether ‘To be or not to be’ or if he should kill his own uncle. In ‘On My First Sonne’ Ben Jonson deals with the conflict of his sons very premature death. ‘Do not go gentle into that goodnight’ deals with fighting death and each person present in the poem struggling with the ‘rage against the dying of the light’. The poem ‘A Song in a Storm talks about embracing death and how it is part of a larger purpose and it reaches out to people who are scared and have internal conflict about the danger of death. The one element present in all of the texts is that they are all in some sort of conflict when it comes to deal;ing with the forces that are beyond their control.