Texts & Traditions

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Let four captains
Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage,
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royal
(Act 5, Scene 2, l. 369-372)
At the end of Hamlet, Fortinbras claims that had Hamlet been alive to rule as King of Denmark, he would have been a good king. Oedipus is King of Thebes in Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus, and Hamlet is (for most of the play) heir to the Danish throne in Hamlet. With reference to their royal positions in Thebes and Denmark, compare and contrast the characters of Hamlet and Oedipus.
CONTEXT: In answering this question, think about one of the issues over Hamlet?s seeming effeminacy and how, if we take this as a starting point, we can begin to compare Hamlet with, arguably, a more masculine Oedipus. Think about how Oedipus is represented at the start of Sophocles play (Norton Oedipus, pp. 3-9) and what we learn about him with relation to his role as King of Thebes. How does this compare with what we learn about Hamlet? How do other characters represent Hamlet, like the King on p. 14, or Ophelia on p. 60? And, how does Hamlet think of himself in comparison to Fortinbras in his soliloquy at the end of Act 4, Scene 4? These might prove useful starting points in the texts for thinking about this question. Consider how Hamlet and Oedipus are similar, as well as different, and may need to take into account the different socio-historical contexts of the royal courts of which they are a part; Oedipus in Ancient Greece, Hamlet in eleventh-century Denmark.
The following essays might be useful in terms of researching these ideas and this question:
? Howard, Women as Hamlet (Norton Hamlet, pp. 328-339);
? De Grazia Empires of World History (Norton Hamlet, pp. 339-353)
? Jebb, The Characters of the Oedipus Tyrannus (Norton Oedipus, pp. 106-108;
? Waldock, Drama of Dramas: The Oedipus Tyrannus? (Norton Oedipus, pp. 113-128.

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