Word Play in Hamlet

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Word Play in Hamlet

 

 

A principal theme in Shakespeare's Hamlet is the strength and flexibility of language. Words are used to communicate ideas, but can also be used to distort or conceal the truth and manipulate. Throughout the play characters comment on the properties of language and exploit these for their own advantage.

 

Claudius, the shrewd politician is the most obvious example of a man who manipulates words to enhance his own power, possessing a professional grasp of the language. Using this he can oppress people and assert his authority, as we see him doing when delivering a polished speech to the council. He cleverly justifies the ill-viewed situation of his marriage to Gertrude, reminding
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What wouldst thou beg, Laertes?'

 

The comment above is ridiculous in its context, since Laertes has so far not been permitted to speak, never mind `lose' his voice. The King oppresses him to a great extend, through the constant questioning, through the unnerving repetition of his name and finally through reducing verbs like `beg', referring to the manner of speech Laertes uses to request his leave, one that the King has not yet heard. Claudius adopts entirely different manners of speech, depending on to whom he is speaking. On this occasion he controls in a way he would not, when conversing with others.

 

So, we have seen how Claudius exploits language to evade, oppress and assert his power. Yet, we also see how he uses language to advance his political situation and the view of the people. Upon seeing Hamlet he greets him slightly strangely:

 

    `But now, my cousin Hamlet and my son -'     

In public he stresses to the court that Hamlet is now his son, and throughout the discussion makes references to he, himself being the father. He adopts a friendly tone when advising `Good Hamlet', to give his mourning duties to his new father, and this desire to `eliminate' memories