Comic Relief In Hamlet Essays On Madness

Hamlet And Comic Relief Essay

A distinguishing and frequently mystifying feature of William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet is the presence of dark humor: constant wordplay, irony, riddles, clowning, and bawdy repartee. The language of Hamlet is cleverly and specifically designed in the guise of Shakespeare's dark humor. In regards to all uses of comedy and wit, the language of this play is meant to be pleasing to the audience but not to the characters. This concept is essential in understanding what place comedy has in a tragedy such as Hamlet. Hamlet's very use and style of language, especially the use of the pun, the dialogue with the minor character Polonius, and the graveyard scene reveals intentions and plans through the mode of comic relief.

The exchange of wit often relied heavily on the identity of the actors (Thomson 116). Shakespeare writes the plays for his audience in his time, so the audience would be familiar with the actors. Thus, there may have been some very pointed sarcasm thrown into the dialogue that seems very funny to the 17th century playgoer (depending on the real identity of the speaker), but appears mystifying to the modern viewer. The pun is the most frequent of Shakespeare's comic uses.

Act one introduces the reader to Hamlet, who seems to be showing signs of strong angst towards his elders, but uses biting remarks to defend himself. Hamlet believes that humor (albeit sarcastic humor) suggests a nimble and flexible mind, as well as an imagination. Wittenberg is a pinnacle of wits, which is where, of course, Hamlet wants to return to (Watts 94). "A little more than kin, and less than kind" (1.2.65). Hamlet's first words in the play show him playing with words in order to state a paradox: Claudius is twice related to him, as uncle and stepfather, but not really his kin or kind at all. Immediately thereafter, the king questions, "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" (1.2.66) Hamlet responds with, "Not so, my lord, I am too much in the sun" (1.2.67). He means that the king has called Hamlet "son" too often (Fisch 220). "Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables"(1.2.180-81). Here Hamlet bitterly jokes that the real reason his mother's remarriage came so soon after her husband's death was so that she could save money by serving the leftover funeral refreshments to the wedding guests.

In the last scene of act one, the reader meets Hamlet's last family member, his deceased father, and still has problems dealing with his feelings. Hamlet's feigned madness is concocted in his mind in this scene. This reflects the ability of his nimble mind to change characters very easy, which is significant later in the play. Shakespeare's extensive knowledge of differing meanings of the same words (Charney 46) is put to good use here. When Hamlet...

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An Analytical Essay on Comic Relief in Hamlet

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An Analytical Essay on Comic Relief in Hamlet


In Hamlet, the majority of the comic relief is dark and depressing. The main character is obsessed with death and makes morbid jokes about old age, deception, and corpses. This side of the character is shown so that the reader can understand how much this disturbs the prince. The result of this is a play with some very depressing scenes.

Hamlet's negative attitude gives way to many sadistic jests at the events surrounding him. He tells his friend Horatio that the food brought for the funeral was served at the wedding, also. This joke is sad because Hamlet is still grieving while he is forced to endure the pungent incestuous image of his mother sharing a bed with his uncle. This disturbing time for him leads to most of his depressing humor. His family's blatant deception causes him to state sarcastically that if the world is honest, then the end of the world must be near. The reader can identify with Hamlet's feelings of bitterness and disillusionment because of his sarcastic reactions.

Fairly soon after, Polonius becomes the object of Hamlet's ridicule. The appearance of this aspect of humor is not surprising due to the cruel nature of the play. Polonius is an older man who forgets what he is saying in the middle of a sentence and absolutely cannot come to a point quickly. Hamlet calls him a "great baby," and Rosencrantz says that when men grow old, they mentally become children. After Polonius is killed, Hamlet refers to removing the body from room as "{lugging} the guts." Since the body has been stabbed, the reader can assume that Hamlet is making light of the bloody, most likely disemboweled corpse. First Polonius is mocked because of his age; then Hamlet returns to him dark humor.

The most prevalent form of macabre humor is Hamlet's way of trivializing death. He makes many jokes about this . When he describes how a king could be digested by a beggar, one could envision Claudius cringing. Along with the image of death, Hamlet uses the word "progress," which indicates a royal journey. He taunts the king and death at the same time. Later during the graveyard scene, he asks Yorick's skull: "Quite chapfall'n?" He is asking if the skull is down in the mouth or depressed, which is a sick question to ask of a long dead cranium.

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Comic Relief         Analytical         Hamlet         Dark Humor         Jokes         Old Age         Main Character         Ridicule         Polonius        




This obsession with the dead originates with Hamlet's inability to accept his father's death and his own suicidal tendencies.



Due to the deception he is facing, Hamlet also make some cruel comments about the way that women change their appearances to attract men. He displays this in front of Ophelia. He is redirecting his disgust from his mother to her. When she tries to speak with him, he gives her a speech on the evils of woman. Her chief fault, according to Hamlet, is changing her appearance and actions. He describes how a woman will paint her face, behave ridiculously, and pretend to be simple-minded to explain her actions. During the graveyard scene, he reiterates his point by informing the skull: "let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come." No matter how talented a woman is at making herself beautiful, she will eventually become as the putrid skull that Hamlet holds. The moldering flesh of deception finally rots away to reveal the truth.



Throughout the time that Hamlet is pretending to be mad, his jokes reveal what he is really feeling. They show the bitterness and sorrow that Hamlet is enduring, and they show that he is angry that his family is succeeding with their deceptions. He is hiding behind the illusion of madness and the screen of his jests. Hamlet is impassioned, and through his humor, the reader knows how dark life seems for him.



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