Hamlet and Dante self-knowledge

Hamlet and Dante self-knowledge - ENG 220H Grimwood What...

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ENG 220H Grimwood What Makes A Man An examination of Hamlet and Dante’s quest for self-knowledge in Hamlet and The Divine Comedy In their respective works, Hamlet and Dante each go through a journey of self- discovery. In The Divine Comedy , Dante’s journey through the three parts of the afterlife shapes him into the ideal Catholic, while Hamlet’s quest for revenge in Hamlet exposes his deep insecurities. The authors’ experiences with religion, the characters’ ages and life experiences, and the severity of the acts they commit can explain the differences in how they handle their life-changing events and decide how successful they were in completing their journey. Both Hamlet’s and Dante’s journeys begin with a visit by an esteemed ghost. Dante’s lifelong guide in poetry, Virgil, appears to Dante as three animals converge on Dante. After a short exchange, Virgil convinces Dante to follow him through the supernatural realm in order to get home safely. In the first act of Hamlet , the night watch informs Hamlet of a ghost that appears every night, and when Hamlet confronts it, the ghost reveals that he is his father. Hamlet the elder tells his son about his murder and commands the younger Hamlet to exact vengeance. During this exchange, Hamlet seems very receptive to his task, but as soon as the ghost leaves he turns his attention from his uncle to his mother, “a most pernicious woman … smiling, damned villain.” (Shakespeare 31)
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The two characters’ reaction to a supernatural visit reflects heavily upon the authors’ understanding of the supernatural. The author Dante lived in a time and place that was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. His depiction of the character Dante willingly following Virgil and trusting him as a guide through the afterlife is a product of the way the Roman Catholic Church handles the sacred. Just as a priest must explain the Bible and guide his flock’s faith, Dante is comforted and encouraged to have a guide through the underworld. Hamlet, on the other hand, strays immediately from his supernatural edict. A combination of his age and insecurity lead him to shift his focus to his mother, who the ghost of his father specifically commanded him to forgive. He reflects the form of individualistic religious devotion advocated by Protestantism, which was the official religion in Shakespeare’s England when he questions his purpose in the politics of Denmark. Dante and Hamlet keep with their original approach to trials in their close relationships. Dante confides completely in Virgil and trusts him unconditionally. Upon reaching the first vestibule of Hell, Dante sees Virgil turn white and asks “how shall I come, if you are so afraid, you who give comfort to me when I waver?” (Dante 60) Similarly, Hamlet sticks his individuality and decides not to confide in his friends. While
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This note was uploaded on 03/27/2008 for the course ENG 220 taught by Professor Grimwood during the Fall '07 term at N.C. State.

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Hamlet and Dante self-knowledge - ENG 220H Grimwood What...

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