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The Parallelism In Hamlet English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1068 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Prefer to be true to yourself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur your own abhorrence. This quote relates to all the main characters in the play Hamlet who are untrue to themselves. In the play, William Shakespeare uses parallelism as a means to reveal truth about the main characters. Hamlet contrasted with Fortinbras and Laertes to highlight the qualities in them that he does not possess. Parallelism is also shown between Polonius and King Claudius in regards to the similar advice they give to Laertes. Moreover, Hamlet’s suicidal contemplations in his soliloquies show that he feels unworthy to live. Parallelism can be shown in the characters Laertes and Fortinbras who act as foils to Hamlet.

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There are two main characters that have many similarities with Hamlet but react in different ways. Hamlet wishes that he could be more like Fortinbras, a natural soldier, but instead he contemplates his morals and what is right and wrong. Hamlet is spending too much time contemplating revenge, whereas Fortinbras is gathering up an army. Hamlet says, “Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honour’s at the stake” (IV.iv.56-68). Hamlet finally realizes that it’s better to act upon his thinking rather than debate it. Fortinbras, acting as Hamlet’s foil, gives him the motivation to move ahead with his plans. Laertes, who rushes back to Denmark from France when he hears about the death of his father, is Hamlet’s other foil. The author states, “I’ll be your foil, Laertes: in mine ignorance you skill shall, like a star I’ the darkest night stick fiery off indeed” (V.ii.5-7). Hamlet knows that he will one day be compared with Laertes for their similarities, however Laertes will be considered greater for his audacity. Hamlet’s contrast with Laertes and Fortinbras show that he thinks of them as being much better than himself. Unlike Hamlet, they are able to react to the deaths of their fathers with bravery and tenacity. Another example of parallelism throughout the play is the advice given to Laertes by Polonius and King Claudius.

Despite the conflict between Polonius and King Claudius, Shakespeare uses parallelism to show their resemblances. Polonius gives really good advice to Laertes before he departs and tells him to be true to himself. Polonius says to Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day”. (I.iii.78-79) Polonius isn’t just telling Laertes to be himself, but telling him to be aware of whom he tells himself he is. By telling him not to believe his own misleading nature, he is telling Laertes to wisely observe and make sure that he is not dishonest to himself about the person whom he really is. King Claudius’ advice to Laertes is similar to Polonius’. The author writes, “Make choice of whom your wisest friends you will. And they shall hear and judge ‘twixt you and me. If by direct or by collateral hand .They find us touched, we will our kingdom give, our crown, our life, and all that we can ours”(IV.v.200-204). King Claudius is telling Laertes to go and choose his wisest friends and have them decide who is right. If they find him involved in the murder of Polonius, he will give up everything he calls his own and hand it over to Laertes as recompense. However, on the other hand if his friends find King Claudius innocent, then he will do everything to fulfil Laertes need for revenge. The author uses parallelism to show the connections in their morals and what is and is not acceptable for Laertes. This device can also be shown in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy as he contemplates death.

Hamlet’s suicidal thoughts in his soliloquies show that he feels unworthy to live. Hamlet is in a catch twenty-two situation because he can either kill himself, or he can kill King Claudius. Either way, Hamlet has to kill someone, he cannot just run away, or hide. Hamlet, full of frustration goes on to say, “To be or not to be, that is the question: Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles” (III.i.56-59). Hamlet contemplates with himself whether patient endurance of wrong is more admirable than audacious opposition. After we put the suffering of life behind us, what dreams may come from absolution? Hamlet then says, “To sleep, perchance to dream-ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come. When we have shuffled off this mortal coil?” (III.i.66-68).This is the rationalization that makes Hamlet stretch out his sufferings and continue to be untrue to himself. His soliloquy reveals the truths about his character, how he feels unworthy to live, and how he wishes he could be more like Fortinbras and Laertes and act upon his anger rather than procrastinate it. The parallelism is how the contemplating of suicide corresponds with the underlying nature of who Hamlet really is. It is not until faced with a predicament that it becomes evident Hamlet is unloyal to himself.

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William Shakespeare uses the device of parallelism in the play “Hamlet” to unveil truths about the main characters. With the evidence provided Laertes and Fortinbras are very similar to Hamlet, in a sense that they are all sons whose fathers have been killed. Instead of contemplating like Hamlet, they take immediate action and try to avenge their father’s deaths. Parallels are shown between King Claudius and Polonius by the advice they give to Laertes. They are connected by having the similar morals and values. The suicidal thoughts Hamlet contemplates in her soliloquy, reveal his true character, and what he thinks of himself. He wants to kill himself but he is scared of what would come when reaching the point of absolution. What types of dreams would he have? This worries Hamlet and motivates him to stretch out his sufferings and avenge his father’s death, while continuing to be untrue to himself. “The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are. The second greatest is beings happy with what you find.” – Tanya Bianco


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