Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare between 1599 and 1601, roughly halfway through Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The monarchy is reflected in the play, which serves as a reflection on culture. It comments on society by reflecting the monarchical form of government. Shakespeare highlighted people from that period by describing cultural and social trends.
During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Shakespeare’s career as a poet and dramatist was blossoming. His most well-known tragedy Hamlet reflected the cultural and social climate of the day. The following themes are addressed in order to show the social and cultural environment of the time:
- gender roles;
- familial ties and marriage;
The plot is focused on societal norms and expectations.
- Gender Roles
At this point in time, Queen Elizabeth I of England reigned supreme. Society, on the other hand, was patriarchal, with no debate over male dominance. Men were in charge of marriage matters. They had the option to participate in politics and choose careers and education. Women’s duties included household chores, parenting, and domestic service. In general, society considered women to be the weaker sex in all areas.
Women were also held to a higher standard than men in their physical and mental abilities, independence, and emotional strength. As a result, the only objective for women was to have a successful marriage.
I say, we will have no more marriages:
those that are married already, all but one, shall
live; the rest shall keep as they are.
To a nunnery, go.
(Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1)
Women’s role is demonstrated in the play Hamlet. The plot focuses on male characters. They are in command of the world, whereas women are just “backstops” to their lives. Women do not contribute to the story and do not add any value. At present, they are prohibited from entering the court, where the key events took place. Shakespeare presented the two female characters as docile, helpless, and reliant females. Throughout the narrative, they were unable to control their feelings.
Familial Ties and Marriage. The family was an essential element of Elizabethan society. The family was seen as the basis of society at the time, and familial ties were powerful. The family functioned within established social norms and biblical laws. Children’s conduct was tightly controlled, as well.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare captures this truth. The necessity of avenging his father is a reflection of strong family ties in the main character’s story. Ophelia’s plotline demonstrates women’s obedience and devotion to their families. She stays away from Hamlet, as her father and brother instruct her:
I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.
(Ophelia, Act 1, Scene 3)
Self-actualization. The desire for self-fulfillment appeared to be different in the Elizabethan age than it does today. When individuals conformed to social norms, they were said to be self-actualized. They defined themselves by their position in the social pecking order.
The main characters in The Tragedy of Hamlet demonstrate a variety of self-actualization strategies. They are, however, all limited to the time period. Claudius finds contentment in his quest for power and domination. For Ophelia, self-actualization entails acceptance and obedience of others. Polonius wants to improve his social standing. Hamlet’s and Laertes’ fulfillment is vengeance for their fathers’ murders:
Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.
(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5)
So, in conclusion, The Tragedy of Hamlet reflects and depicts Elizabethan society in a variety of ways. Shakespeare demonstrates the monarchical form of government and societal norms that have been established.
As a result, the royal form of government is the appropriate answer for the question of how “Hamlet” reflects Elizabethan society.