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Compare And Contrast How Shakespeare English Literature Essay

The three texts all utilise literary methods of showing the different aspects of the male and female sexual relationships between key characters. In ‘Hamlet’, the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia will be criticized; In ‘The Millers Tale’, the relationship between Alison, John/Nicholas and Absolon will be looked at. Finally, the relationship between Frank and April Wheeler will also act as a medium of comparison with the other characters to feature this analysis.

All three texts are composed of male/female sexual and romantic relationships that are compromised by madness and debauchery. In ‘Hamlet’, the protagonist seems to be compelled to enact madness so as to avenge his father. In ‘The Millers Tale’, Alison, a young married woman is confounded by lust and cheats on her husband with the younger and much more cunning Nicholas. In ‘Revolutionary Road’, April Wheeler seems to be affected by a bad upbringing and thus causing her to make unwise decisions that affect her relationship with her husband Frank. Hamlet’s ‘madness’ has an effect on his relationship with Ophelia, ‘O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!’, Ophelia believing that Hamlet is truly mad, shows her feelings towards the protagonist by using hendiadys to describe him, ‘The glass of fashion and the mould of form’. Hamlet conforms with his perceived madness by rudely mentioning to Ophelia, ‘It would cost you a groaning to take off mine edge.’, the effect this has on the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is monumental as this is the last interaction between the pair before Ophelia finally loses her reason with news of her Father’s death. L.L. Schűcking states, ‘The passive Ophelia treads he terrible path to mental derangement’ this conforms to the traditional view of women on this period. Shakespeare may be showing that women are affected at a deep level by emotional matters and he shows this by the scale of damage that is done to Ophelia by Hamlet playing with her emotions.

There might be a representation of an ‘Oedipus complex’ in Hamlet. ‘This is an idea developed by Freud who says that all sons develop affections for their mothers and murderous instincts towards their fathers. There are many arguments that go against this perspective though. Hamlet is very outspoken about Gertrude’s ‘incestuous behaviour’ so isn’t likely to want her in a sexual manner. Furthermore, Hamlet seems to view his father as a type of god, ’Hyperion’ and so isn’t very likely to want to kill him. In fact, Hamlet wants to do the exact opposite, as he is trying to revenge the murder of his father. Hamlet only sees the ‘incestuous behaviour’ from Gertrude and for him, she represents women in general, he is suspicious of all women. We do get a different view of Gertrude and particularly of Ophelia through the eyes of other people at certain times. When they are shown, they are often represented in a very negative way, in the way they would have been represented at the time. A good example of this is when Laertes tells Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet and she replies ‘I shall obey, my lord.’ Because we are led to believe that she is in love with Hamlet, this is an order she shouldn’t be disposed to obey. In medieval times when Hamlet was set, women were expected to obey their fathers and brother until they got married and could obey their husbands. This is why Ophelia had little choice but to say this. This is why Ophelia’s madness has such an importance in the play. It gives Ophelia the freedom to say what she could not say before, for example giving columbines to Laertes to represent ingratitude’s and infidelity ‘There’s fennel for you and columbines’ Also her loss of innocence ends with her eventual suicide. At the time suicide was a sin against God and so people who committed suicide weren’t allowed a proper funeral. Ophelia’s innocence is however preserved by allowing her a funeral even after her suicide. Hamlet claims that he is faking madness but at times his madness appears real. There are two suspected reasons for his madness and both reasons include women. The first explanation is that Hamlet is in love with Ophelia and his rejection from her has driven him to madness. This is a reasonable explanation because Hamlet often seems a lot more discourteous whilst talking to Ophelia ‘Get thee to a nunnery.’ The other explanation for Hamlets madness is that he is offended by Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius. He doesn’t think that Claudius is worthy to be like his father.

Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia in the play can be interpreted in two ways. Most of the time he appears cruel to her; as if he is just using her as a way of further convincing everybody else that he is mad. A good example of this is when he is talking to her and he realises that Claudius and Polonius are listening. This is when he says the line ‘get thee to a nunnery’ He seems to hurt Ophelia both physically as well as mentally. Another explanation of this is that he is trying to protect her. Hamlet describes the world as a ‘corrupt Eden’ and so ‘get thee to a nunnery’ is sending her away from evil and corruption. Also he is sending her away from the bloodshed that he predicts is going to happen. Hamlet is often sceptical against women. He says to Ophelia ‘or is thou wilt need marry, marry a fool, for wise men know what monsters you will make of them.’ This shows how bitter he is towards women and how bitter he is towards the world. This bitterness may be because he feels he has been betrayed by the two main women in his life. His mother’s offence being her marriage to Claudius and Ophelia’s by rejecting him. Gertrude isn’t necessarily innocent in the play but is however tainted by Claudius. This proves that Shakespeare presents women as being morally week, and led by men, rather than making their own choices. Even when Gertrude breaks away from the evil of Claudius she is led by another man in her son Hamlet. Although this is a more positive reflection of Gertrude and women it still shows how women are easily led and not able to make their own decisions. It isn’t certain whether Shakespeare is showing this presentation of women as a way of showing that this is wrong, or whether it is just a part of the play that fits in with historical setting. Or he may have been agreeing that this is the way that women should be portrayed. 

In ‘The Millers Tale’, Alison is focused on as the centrepiece of attention between three males; this is shown to be because of her beauty “Fair was this yonge wyf”. However, her beauty is also the reason for the downfall between the relationship she had with John, her husband. In the opening sections of the play, Chaucer declares John as an over protective character “Jalous he was, and heel hire nawe in cage”. Furthermore, Alison is also described as being a flirt and having a “likerous eye” which insinuates the expectation of her infidelity which is proved in her interactions with Nicholas. Chaucer with this text is exclaiming that relationships with a large age gap usually induce the younger partner to become unfaithful.

Hamlet’s murderous plot is much similar to Nicholas’s methods way of seducing Alison, both Characters show to be very cunning in their means of achieving their goals; both pretend to be mad and act in a different way than usual. Nicholas pretends to have become absorbed by his astrological work, “This man is falle, with his astromye”, Hamlet acts in a perverse way towards Ophelia and presents himself before her in an unusual manner, “No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled”, These deliberate acts of madness by Hamlet and Nicholas are so effective towards their target audience and in Hamlets case it even presents a domino effect towards his target as she becomes mad herself later on in the play.

Chaucer’s text is interesting as it has a very vague outlook on the “love” that the characters had for one another. John’s “love” is much closer to obsession for the younger Alisoun “which that he lovede moore than his lyf” such a relationship is shown by Chaucer to be detrimental. Nicholas and Alisoun’s “love” for one another is in fact pure lust between the two characters. “And heeld hire harde by the haunchbones” this lustrous affair by Nicholas and Alisoun is also shown to be detrimental as both characters did not stay together afterwards. Chaucer’s inclusion of Absolon adds another potential type of love towards Alisoun. Absolon is neither as obsessed with Alisoun as John nor is he as lustrous as Nicholas. He is driven by admiration for Alisoun and his “love” revolves around this, Chaucer shows this by making Absolon the only lover to use the courtly love traditions to try and ensnare Alisoun whom he regards as “My faire bryd, my sweete cynamome”. However, Absolon is also the only character to not have succeeded with Alisoun. Chaucer may be suggesting that the courtly love traditions where not the key to love.

This self-imposed madness of Hamlet’s is also alike to that of April Wheeler in ‘Revolutionary Road’; the impact is also similar towards the relationship between April and Frank’s relationship. Like Hamlet, April starts to act in a different way towards Frank mentioning how she felt ensnared by him, ‘Just because you’ve got me safely in a trap you think you--’, this is the first argument between April and Frank where both characters are as equally frustrated with one another and it sets the plane for such future encounters between them. Amidst this, another similarity between Shakespeare and Yates texts is the concept of lust not being very symbolic in terms of marriage length in comparison to ‘true love’ as such. April mentions,’...your cowardly self-delusions about “love” when you know as well as I do that there’s never been anything between us’, which shows how much she thinks of her husband, “a cowardly self delusion”. In ‘Hamlet’, such a relationship is shown to exist between Gertrude and Claudius as Gertrude does not truly love Claudius but yet pretends to love him for other reasons not fully justified to the reader. This is verified by how quickly she agrees to leave Claudius when she is reprimanded by Hamlet about the “incestuous marriage” she is in, “Be thou assured”...“I have no life to breathe. What thou hast said to me”.

Aprils dialogue with Frank in the play at the beginning might also be a hint as to what she as a character will actually do in real life; “...and I want to go out and do something that’s absolutely crazy, and marvellous...” What April did in fact do at the end of her life was indeed marvellous and crazy as she both expressed a different ideology about the treatment of females as a whole, however her methods for doing so were albeit crazy. This is similar to Ophelia’s plot to try and act against the general assumptions that females must abide to rules and regulations. “insert some quote jazz” “blah” “blah” ......

Para-> Discuss a theme of mendacity(lying) between the characters: Claudius and Gertrude; Nicholas and John/Absolon; Frank and April

Edit this to school version.

Sexual relationships are discovered in ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Revolutionary Road’. However, such relationships when mentioned in detail are mostly on the basis of them being adulterous whereby either one or both of the partners are acting on lust rather than love. It is uncertain the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude because Shakespeare does not include any romantic dialogue between the pair and the only reference to them sharing any sexual relations come from Hamlet himself, “Let not the royal bed of Denmark be/A couch for luxury and damned incest/But, howsoever thou pursuest this act”. Furthermore, most critics tend to take a negative view towards Gertrude because of the speed at which she got over her husband. L.L. Schűcking states “The Queen, her peace of mind and untroubled conscience ruthlessly assailed, becomes uneasy, even bitter”. This is very similar to the relationship between Frank and April whereby sexual interactions are very rare and if they do arise they are either adulterous or April trying to make Frank do what she wants him too.

John Giving’s in ‘Revolutionary Road’ tells Frank, “You want to play house, you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, then you got to have a job you don't like. This is the way ninety-eight-point-nine per cent of the people work things out, so believe me, buddy, you've got nothing to apologize for.” John Giving’s is known to be a mentally ill person in the novel but the mere fact that April also sees things in his light justifies why Frank thought that she was also mentally ill to a certain degree and he offered to get her a shrink.

A theme of dependency is explored by Yates whereby April depends entirely upon Frank’s decision so that she can move to Paris and leave the suburban “unrealistic” lifestyle that she feels ensnared by. April tells Frank, “How did we ever get into this strange dream world”, this goes to show how she had no regard whatsoever of the environment she was in and believed herself to be in a dreamlike state when living in the place. Shakespeare uses a similar effect in ‘Hamlet’ where he included the dialogue between Hamlet and his Father’s ghost where Hamlet shouts out “Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned”. This further proves that Hamlet and April are conscious about feeling in such an “unrealistic” state but they are also the characters who are shown to do the most unrealistic things.

Both Shakespeare and Yates chose Death, as the medium to part the main love figures in their respective texts. Such a strong parting adds more emphasis to the emotions felt by the lover that is left behind to mourn the death of his beloved. In ‘Hamlet’, Hamlet actually provokes Laertes. “Let thy wisdom fear. Hold off thy hand.” Such a bold outburst is unlike Hamlet as he contrived a whole plot to accuse Claudius of killing his father instead of confronting him head on. In ‘Revolutionary Road’, Frank is shown to also suffer from losing April; “he’d lost a lot of weight” which could show that he was not eating as much as he should have been as he was in mourning for April.

In Conclusion, Shakespeare, Chaucer and Yates all present male and female sexual and romantic language through narrations, double entendres and dependencies for one another. Chaucer’s descriptions of Nicholas and Alisoun through the character of “The Miller” justify to the reader the adulterous act between the pair, Shakespeare’s use of hendiadys throughout Hamlet endorses his message as the main character is under one big lie from the beginning of the play. Finally, Yates uses the fact that females were dependent upon males in the 1950s but his message was to show that strong willed women like April still had control over their partner’s decisions.

Word Count: 2576


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