Essay about The Profound Irony of Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Profound Irony of Hamlet

Irony, or the “hiding what is actually the case” in order to “achieve special rhetorical or artistic effects” (Abrams 135), is amply demonstrated in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet.

In his essay, “Reforming the Role,” Mark Rose discusses the irony involved with the ghost’s appearance:

The ghost binds Hamlet to vengeance, but there is another and more subtle way in which the spirit of his father haunts the prince. It is one of the radical ironies of the tragedy that the same nightmarish figure who takes from Hamlet his freedom should also embody the ideal of man noble in reason and infinite in faculties – the ideal of man, in other words, as free. The ghost of King Hamlet, stalking his
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Right at the outset of the drama, there is irony exhibited in the manner in which Shakespeare characterizes King Claudius – he is simply stupendous – and yet, shortly hereafter, he is revealed as a truly evil, thoroughly diabolical sort. George Lyman Kittredge, in his book, Five Plays of Shakespeare, describes the Bard’s excellent characterization of Claudius:

King Claudius is a superb figure – almost as great a dramatic creation as Hamlet himself. His intellectual powers are of the highest order. He is eloquent – formal when formality is appropriate (as in the speech from the throne), graciously familiar when familiarity is in place (as is his treatment of the family of Polonius), persuasive to an almost superhuman degree (as in his manipulation of the insurgent Laertes) – always and everywhere a model of royal dignity. His courage is manifested, under the most terrifying circumstances, when the mob breaks into the palace. His self-control when the dumb show enacts his secret crime before his eyes is nothing less than marvelous. (xviii)

The irony found in the characterization of the antagonist is balanced by an equal irony in the presentation of the protagonist. Hamlet is present at the court gathering -- dressed in black, the color of mourning, for his deceased father. He is not a man of the world, but rather

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