Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Masterpiece of Combined Efforts Shakespeare’s timeless work of literature, and one of the most popular plays to this day, Hamlet, was not just a tale Shakespeare himself thought up on his own with no inspiration from outside sources. Shakespeare’s wonderful writing stems from not only his natural talent, but from his influence pulled from the great writers who came before him. Literature builds upon itself; every work of literature in existence has some inspiration from another work.
Excluding any outside influence from a work of literature is something that is just not possible. Shakespeare took inspiration from some of the best works in literature, and it resulted in one of the most known and loved plays to this days. Works that truly seemed to influence Shakespeare’s Hamlet heavily included Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno (from his larger work: the Divine Comedy), and Homer’s Odyssey. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character of Ophelia is introduced. Ophelia is the sister of Laertes and daughter of Polonius.
In Virgil’s Aeneid, the character of Dido meets the same fate that Ophelia ultimately meets and they both meet this fate due the pain of loss and the cruelty of rejection. Though their fates are the same, their paths in life that lead them to the fate have contrast. In the Aeneid, Dido, the widowed queen had made an oath of fidelity to her first husband, but violates this vow with Aeneas. In contrast, the virgin Ophelia’s “fair and unpolluted flesh” spoken by Laertes beside while standing over her grace (5. 1. 232), but with Dido, dare I say “too, too sullied flesh”?
Ophelia is last seen in a very dramatic and unbalanced state of mind. Ophelia death occurred because she literally lost herself in the water and died from drowning, which was very different from Dido’s death, other than the fact that both women were scorned, implying a reflection of the Aeneid in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The death of Ophelia by drowning alone in natural surrounding through no fault of her own, other than the disappointment she faced from the prince she loved reject her as well as her father’s death; all these things mentioned resulting in her madness.
In the case of Dido, her suicide was one of a fallen queen ridden with guilt and abandoned by her second lover, using his sword and by fire amidst other onecherished regal memorabilia attended a sister in a royal palace. Ophelia had returned letters to Hamlets, but passages that poetically connect the death are the theme of pity of the happiness one has lost and the loss of what could have been. In Hamlet, the theme of death is very prevalent in different ways. After his own father’s death, Hamlet seems to be constantly think about and obsessing over the idea of death.
Hamlet begins to ponder the concept of life after death when he first sees the ghost of his dead father. Shakespeare also introduces this theme with Hamlet’s thoughts of suicide. Hamlet wonders if it is better to simply die and forget all the tortuous pain of life or to live and endure the pain. (insert quote). He longs for death, but has fears of what the life after death holds, if any life at all. According to Dante’s Inferno, if Hamlet would have decided to take his own life, he would have been doomed to an eternity of being rooted to the ground and eaten away by Harpies (insert quote).
This physical feature of death also comes up often as Hamlet ponders death. When in the graveyard, while holding Yorick’s skull, and also in the case of Polonius’ death, he expresses the thoughts he has about the inevitability of death no matter who a person is in this life. He talks of the decay of the body and how men are reduced to mere food (insert quote); another connection to Dante’s Inferno, specifically the Woods of Suicides as the souls are food for the Harpies (insert quote).
Just as Dante’s Inferno, Shakespeare’s Hamlet focuses on people getting wrapped up in getting so far in life but in the end all men will die and fade away, and death will have the final say. The heroes in the Odyssey and Hamlet both use deception to achieve their goal of revenge against the people who have wronged them. Revenge has a huge influence in both of these works of literature. In Hamlet, he uses deception as a means to get revenge on his uncle, Claudius, for his father’s murder.
The form of deception that Hamlet chooses is madness, which can be obviously seen when he says: But come. Here as before, never, so help you mercy, How strange or odd some er I bear myself (As I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on) (25. 167-171). The facade of madness which Hamlet attempts to project would have likely protected hi if he had ever gone through with his plans of revenge and killed his uncle. Unfortunately, Hamlet’s indecisiveness in the situation leads to his ruination.
On the other hand, in the Odyssey, Odysseus uses physical disguises rather than an act of madness to deceive his enemies and achieve his end goal. When Odysseus first returns home, he is disguised as a beggar. “At no long interval, Odysseus came Through his own doorway as a mendicant, Humped like a bundle of rags over his stick. He settled on the inner ash wood sill, Leaning against the door jamb (321. 434-438). Though Odysseus is successful in his deception, and Hamlet met a cruel fate, one defining trait they had in their deceptive abilities was their great cunningness.
As seen, Shakespeare was highly influenced by other great works of literature. He seemed to take the very best part of these works, make them his own but let the obvious inspiration remain, almost as to pay tribute to those who inspired him. I think Shakespeare would have still made it in the world of literature without such great influences on his work, but with the inspiration drawn from so many works to create the play of Hamlet, Shakespeare truly made a huge impact on the world of literature; an impact that will almost certainly remain timeless.