Relationship in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, King Lear and Hamlet
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest and King Lear, the relationship between the father and his children affects the progression and outcome of events. Goneril and Regan oppose Lear after Cordelia’s untimely rebellion and disownment. In The Tempest, Caliban desires to overthrow Prospero for freedom. Similarly, the appropriative offspring also exhibit rebellious “children” challenging authority.
In Jane Smiley’s revision of King Lear and Aimé Césaire’s rewriting of The Tempest, defiance renders the children fatherless. In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel initially disregards her father but ultimately accepts his rule. In Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, the text itself becomes an orphan as the matriarchy flourishes.
Although there appear to be few similarities between these works, the familial dynamic follows a similar formula: the children disobey, but only those who eventually accept the principles of the patriarchy are able to maintain a relationship with their parents; the children who reject the authority become orphans.
From the standpoint of his role as the father of three daughters, Lear’s division of his kingdom into three equal parts seems fair. Yet, this division is actually a recipe for discord. What strikes us though is how little insight Lear has into the basic character of his daughters.
Having lived with Goneril and Regan for two decades or more, Lear is completely unaware of their capacity for deceit; he seems genuinely shocked when they begin to undermine his status as regent emeritus.
The threefold dignity of a king, an old man, and a father, is dishonored by the cruel ingratitude of his unnatural daughters; the old king, who out of a foolish tenderness has given away everything, is driven out into the world a homeless beggar; the childish imbecility to which he was fast advancing changes into the wildest insanity, and when he is rescued from the destitution to which he was abandoned, it is too late.
The kind consolations of filial care and attention and of true friendship are now lost on him; his bodily and mental powers are destroyed beyond hope of recovery, and all that now remains to him of life is the capability of loving and suffering beyond measure. What a picture we have in the meeting of Lear and Edgar in a tempestuous night and in a wretched hovel!
The youthful Edgar has, by the wicked arts of his brother, and through his father’s blindness, fallen, as did Lear, from the rank to which his birth entitled him; and, as the only means of escaping further persecution, is reduced to the disguise of a beggar tormented by evil spirits. The king’s fool, notwithstanding the voluntary degradation which is implied in his condition, is, after Kent, Lear’s most faithful associate, the wisest counselor.
This good-hearted fool clothes reason with the livery of his motley garb; the high-born beggar acts the part of insanity; and both, were they even in reality what they seem, would still be enviable in comparison with the king, who feels that the violence of his grief threatens to overpower his reason.
The meeting of Edgar with the blinded Gloucester is equally pathetic; nothing could be more affecting than to see the ejected son become the father’s guide, and the good angel, who, under the disguise of insanity, saves him by an ingenious and pious fraud from the horror and despair of self-murder.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet discloses his true feelings, in Act 4, scene 4. In this soliloquy, Hamlet illustrates his mental instability by contrasting himself and Fortinbras. He illustrates himself as being a coward who does not has the will to initiate plans to revenge his father’s death.
Hamlet finds himself grasping for an answer as whether to kill his uncle who has done his family and great injustice by killing his father and sleeping with the mother. This outrages Hamlet and creates an inner struggle and it is in this stage where Hamlet idealizes Fortinbras in his words and actions.
In Hamlet’s soliloquy, He contrasts the differences between Fortinbras and himself, and implying his desire to be more like Fortinbras in action. Hamlet admires Fortinbras for the mere fact that he is the head of state and he is control of a powerful army, while Hamlet can barely control himself. Fortinbras holds a position that Hamlet was destined for, yet Claudius intervened and took Hamlet’s rightful position. This fact may imply that Hamlet sees his father’s actions personified in Fortinbras.
Although Hamlet seems to admire the dominance and will power that Fortinbras displays, he also criticizes him and his unattainable dream. ” The imminent death of twenty thousand men that for fantasy and trick of fame.” In this statement Hamlet is declaring that he thinks Fortinbras quest is meaningless and therefore deems it foolish.
He is also compromising Fortinbras basic ability to reason. Throughout the play, Hamlets wishes that he could take actions and avenge his father’s death, but in this soliloquy he also states that he believes Fortinbras reasoning to be skewed. He believes that the actions of Fortinbras are incredibly simplistic and thus feels superior in this manner.
Hamlet admires those who ca use their intelligence to its capacity and then act upon it, yet he sees those actions of Fortinbras as primal urges to survive. While he ridicules Fortinbras for the lack of judgement he also realizes that by his power to reason stems his suffering. Hamlet is tormented by the fact that he completely takes into account all aspects of the situation before acting upon his urge to avenge his father’s death. This is why he believes that he cannot go through with the murder of his uncle, Claudius.
As many other soliloquies do, this soliloquy portrays Hamlet as the coward who cannot act for the revenge of his father and his family honor. Though his convictions against Claudius and his misdeeds towards his family are vented through irate outbursts and seem to be firmly rooted, there still is a battle within Hamlet.
This self-devaluation of opinion continues throughout the play and eventually leads to his mother’s death. It is only at this moment where Hamlet has no inner struggle and sees the actions that he must take to bring inner peace. Even when Hamlet had an opportunity to kill Claudius while he is praying he suppresses his rage with an excuse that he wishes for Claudius to acknowledge his wrongdoing.
Fortinbras is a catalyst of this play and that is illustrated through Hamlet’s soliloquy. Hamlet sees his decisive actions and comes to believe that the situation with Claudius must be terminated immediately. I believe that without the ever present Fortinbras Hamlet would have mulled over his decision and taken no action at all.
1. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller. New York: Penguin, 2002.
2. Greenblatt, Stephen. Introduction. The Tempest. Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. New York: Norton, 1997. 3047-53.
3. R.A. Foakes, ed. King Lear. London: Arden, 1997), 89-90.
4. The Role of Fortinbras in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” 123HelpMe.com. 20 Dec 2007