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How does humor factor into a tragedy? Shakespeare knew the answer to this question and acted upon it quite frequently. Shakespeare has been known to write comedies and tragedies both but this does not qualify him at to not incorporate a little of each into each other. In the work of Hamlet there are many occasions where Shakespeare uses it for different effects. The main reason for the presence of humor within a tragedy is to keep the reader interested. Shakespeare uses many forms of humor including but not limiting wit, pun s, and casual jokes. In the work of Hamlet, Hamlet is usually the character that Shakespeare chooses to bring out the humor in anything. He becomes a very diverse character in this sense considering he can make a joke out of dead people and even people he kills. Rather a charming person in the face of unpleasant events.
To be able to understand humor, we must accept that we cannot understand all of it. Why something is funny is only determined by the reader and him or herself alone. The smile is the natural expression of the satisfaction that attends the success of any striving. Hamlet often finds humorous occasions especially after he has done something that affects another character. He takes the inside joke to the limits and smiles upon the defeat of his enemies. This is especially true with the relationship between him and his father-by-marriage. Hamlet puts on the play so that he may have a reassurance that his true father was wrongfully killed by his uncle Claudius. Once the play had ended so abruptly Hamlet smiles upon the dismay of Claudius knowing that he has finally found the source of revenge. This is not so much humor in a good since but rather a cynical wit of Hamlet. Because of this sort of wit, Hamlet is considered to be a mentally sick person but Hamlet is however sane in his actions.
Hamlet is one to be labeled as a quite witty person. He is rather quick with his words and able to manipulate them is such a fashion to motivate the reader to seek more of this character. Wit becomes a part of him that shows itself more than ever. In a book by the name of The Psychology of Laughter and Comedy, it gives a description of two main species of wit. These are listed as harmless wit and tendency wit and are both used in the work or Hamlet (Greig 199). An example of harmless wit is the time that Hamlet has just come out of hiding after the slaying of Polonius. Hamlet then is questioned of the whereabouts of the corpse of Polonius and Hamlet then replies, At supper. Then Hamlet refers to the decomposition of the human body proving what he said was true in a comic sense. To prove the existence of tendency wit we have a scenario in which Hamlet and Polonius are judging the clouds. Hamlet shifts his view of the cloud from a camel to a weasel is a form of exaggerated comic accommodation, the opposite of tragic integrity (Snyder 112).
Two of the most odd and certainly comic people in the work of Hamlet, are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Both of these people are considered to be friends of Hamlet by the Queen when in actuality they are not at all. Irony being another form of humor takes roll with these two as they are sent with a death warrant for Hamlet while Hamlet some how knows this he replaces the warrant with one for the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They call the play of Hamlet the tragedy of multiplicity for a good reason considering the state of friendship that also changes very often.
There is then the ever so absent minded Queen Gertrude who likes to claim she knows her son while she, at the same time, professes that she knows nothing through the incorrect portrayal of her own son. Between her and her husband there are so many misconceptions of their son Hamlet that they could never in their right mind consider that they know the source of Hamlet s madness let alone that Hamlet has knowledge of the circumstances of the death of his true father . Claudius never knew that Hamlet knew about the murder until the very end in which he dies which adds irony to the whole situation of Claudius believing that it is his own sin or soul reminding himself of his deed.
Of all the people in the play of Hamlet Polonius seems to be one of the most ignorant persons in the play. He is, however, rather an innocent idiot. He sometimes gives just cause for his actions but most of the time he is just an annoying nag of a person. A justifiable incident in which Polonius is being not just a brown noser but also being tedious and repetitive is when he try s to approach the king and queen about the matter between Ophelia and Hamlet. However, in this same scene, Polonius gradually gets to the point of his approach upon the king and queen. Like I have already stated, this is in regard for the love affair between the now seemingly mad Hamlet and the love-struck, beautiful Ophelia. He was obviously trying as hard as he could to become part of the royal social class by using his daughter and stating that she is the cause of the madness of hamlet. The funny thing is that almost as soon as he had made himself friends to the royalty he dies by the royalty. In actuality many of these characters live lives of misconception and beliefs rooted by fallacy.
It is still a held tradition of our culture that tragedy is nobler than comedy and tears more characteristic of mankind than laughter (Horrace preface). Ophelia is one who is emotionally unstable and sheds tears upon her own tragedy with her relationship with Hamlet. Is Hamlet really mad at Ophelia? No, Hamlet is not even in a state of madness. As you remember at the beginning of the book, after the ghost appeared to Hamlet, Hamlet told his friends to watch out for his actions because they may become strange. Unfortunately, Ophelia was not told this information. Ophelia becomes a pit of sadness for no reason at all because Hamlet still does love her. But rather ironically, Ophelia dies while in a state of melancholy due to the belief that Hamlet doesn t love her.
Sick humor is a kind of comedy that allows the character to become more comfortable with his company. Before the play had started, there is a moment when Hamlet is particularly nasty to Ophelia. He asks her if he could lay in her lap and during the Elizabethan time, this most commonly meant to have some sort of sexual encounter with another woman. This causes Ophelia to reply no my lord. Hamlet is just trying to make things better with this play of words. She thinks him to be mad and Hamlet is really trying to convince her that he is not. He knew what he was saying he just meant for Hamlet to lie his head in her lap during the play.
Hamlet is a book that allows the mind to wander and come back again in time to laugh at the frequent moments of humor. Laughter is only as good as the joke being told and Hamlet along with all the other players hold a very important role in keeping the storyline important and alive. There is only one character that seems not to have any humor involved at all. This would be the ghost of Hamlet s true father. He is very intent with his meanings and has only one mindset. This is to revenge his murder. This kind of an omnipresent being is almost impossible to portray as humorous because it is the one person or thing that contains the entire plot of the book. Hamlet is yet a tragedy but Shakespeare successfully brings humor through the grim walls of a tragedy and allows the reader to manipulate the scene any way he or she wishes. Humor can be manipulated as well with double meanings and different viewpoints upon what is funny and what is not.