William Shakespeare is a world famous playwright and poet that lived during the renaissance period and thrived off of influences from the renaissance. The renaissance period was built on the idea of new birth and was a time when many talented writers, artist, and song writers developed and produced magnificent works. There were many themes in the renaissance period that inspired the writers of the time. The elements of literary works during the renaissance period included both, the theme of revenge and the “free play of language”, and patronage, which are displayed in Hamlet and Sonnet III, respectively.
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Hamlet is a great example of how the renaissance period affected the plays that were written during that time. Hamlet is a play about the character prince Hamlet and how he wants to exact revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet. Hamlet wants to kill King Claudius for killing his father. There are many themes in “Hamlet” and none are obvious than the theme of revenge, which was very popular in the Elizabethan era. Revenge was a popular theme among plays. A critical essay by James Black states, “Hamlet is the supreme achievement of the revenge genre because Shakespeare made the issue turn on the character of the revenger.” (25). Hamlet was faced with a hard ethical decision to either kill King Claudius or not. Hamlet hesitated with the killing and was not sure that he could go through with it until the very end. Revenge was a major theme other plays written during the renaissance period. These works that focus on revenge include, “Titus Andronicus”, “The Spanish Tragedy”, and “The Tempes”. Revenge is a very popular theme in the Elizabethan theatre. A crime is committed in most of the revenge tragedies, and for some reason the person who committed the crime cannot be persecuted. In the case of the play Hamlet, Hamlet was not found to be the one who killed king Hamlet. This type of event happened in the everyday lives of the people living during the renaissance period. Shakespeare wanted the audience to make it aware that these issues are also in the lives of royalty. Even thou Claudius has killed Hamlet’s father, “Finding Claudius apparently at prayer, Hamlet shows he has not the will to revenge in cold blood” (Black 86), Hamlet shows us that he cannot act on revenge to kill King Claudius. Revenge is an action that people perform when they are desperate to obtain vengeance. Some could argue that revenge has been taken by humans throughout our history and that it will continue to be performed for the remainder of our existence. This argument proves my point wrong and that the renaissance was not the influence on “Hamlet”. To back up my statement I will define the Word revenge, which is a theme throughout plays in the Renaissance. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “revenge” as, “To exact vengeance, obtain retribution”. People who have something bad happen to them feel the need to take back something that they have lost. This is why people exact vengeance to obtain some sort of retribution. Retribution was very common in the renaissance period because the common person gained more importance and felt they could act on their raw emotions. Revenge has been brought up multiple times in the Elizabethan theatre and it was heavily used in plays throughout the renaissance just like the element of, “free play of language”.
Shakespeare’s works were partly influenced by the humanistic movement during the renaissance period, which more specifically was the “free play of language. Hamlet was written in part to celebrate the “free play of language”. Shakespeare wants the audience to see that he is not afraid of showing us more about the play with words, than with actions. In the critical essay on Hamlet and humanism it is stated that, “Language at times is even a way of protecting himself from himself, as, for instance, when he plays at verbal games and riddles to temper his nerves after seeing the ghost” (Grant 147). An example of Hamlet playing word games is, “Hic et ubique: Then we’ll shift our ground” (I, v, 156). Hamlet is playing word games with himself and it is very common for people to create games for themselves during the renaissance period. The fact that people did not have the type of entertainment that we currently have in our generation, means they had to entertain themselves in other ways. “Free play of language” along with patronage influenced many of Shakespeare’s works.
Another major theme in the renaissance period is a form of support or financial aid called patronage. Patronage is one of the major pushing factors in the renaissance and allowed the period to prosper and eventually create what we know it as today. In Shakespeare’s “Sonnet III”, the speaker suggests that the woman in the poem should have a child while she is young to continue her bloodline. Patrons paid playwrights like Shakespeare to incorporate them into a literary work so they can have a way of keeping their name living. In the line, “But if thou live remembered not to be / Die single and the line image dies with thee” (13-14), the speaker is trying to state that the woman will die alone and there will be no lasting image of her. The ironic thing about this is that the patrons were not always smart enough to know that the playwrights sometimes painted a bad light on the patron. The speaker wants us to understand how important it is to keep our name living and to keep our thoughts, and beliefs living long past the time we die.
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William Shakespeare’s works are partly influenced by various aspects of the renaissance period. In his play “Hamlet”, Shakespeare was influenced by many themes the renaissance period, such as revenge and the “free play of language”. Shakespeare was influenced in his work “Sonnet III”, by the theme of patronage in the renaissance period. The themes in Shakespeare’s works prove that the time period he was living in (the renaissance), influenced his work.
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