Analysis of Shakespeare
During Elizabethan times, the survival and longevity of the king or queen was essential for the subjects of the kingdom. The monarchy unified the kingdom, saw to its prosperity, and protected its subjects from foreign invasion. The king was the most important person within the kingdom and without him the kingdom would collapse.
Shakespeare echoes this thought back to his audience in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 3, Scene3, lines 11 through 23 through a passage recited by Rosencrantz. In lines 1 through 7, King Claudius is ordering Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to take the now-deemed-mad Hamlet to England. King Claudius fears for his kingdom and his own life having viewed the re-enactment of Claudis’s actions in murdering Prince Hamlet’s father, depicting how Claudius came to occupy the throne by marrying Queen Gertrude, his brother’s wife in the play “The Mousetrap.” King Claudius is requesting that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern remove Prince Hamlet from the castle and the kingdom to keep Claudius out of harm’s way.
In lines 11-23, Rosencrantz replies to King Claudius’s statement, affirming the King’s reasoning as to why Prince Hamlet should be removed from the kingdom. This is the passage in its entirety.
The single and peculiar life is boundWith all the strength and armour of the mindTo keep itself from noyance; but much moreThat spirit upon whose weal depends and restsThe lives of many. The cease of majestyDies not alone, but like a gulf doth drawWhat’s near it with it. It is a massy wheelFixed on the summit of the highest mount,To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser thing…
…speare has written the play in such a way that the immediate successors to the throne, Queen Gertrude and Prince Hamlet are both murdered leaving no rightful heir for Denmark. Shakespeare provides no further explanation about the outcome of the kingdom beyond Hamlet’s death other than that of Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, takes the throne. As an audience we are left with questions. Do Rosencrantz’s prophecies come to pass? Does the Kingdom of Denmark fall apart with the sound of a groan or does the kingdom sigh in response to the simple matter of power exchanging hands? The answers are as silent as the ghosts of Denmark.
Shakespear, William. “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” The Norton Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition. Eds. Greenblatt, Stephen, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus. New York: W. W. Norton, (1997).