Dinner is at half past seven, she called over her shoulder. The screen door banged shut and she was gone. Jackie stood at the door long enough to see the red Chevrolet roll out of the driveway, bearing Judith down a sun-drenched street lined with freshly painted, white picket fences.The talk had been unfruitful, completely unfruitful. She shouldn’t have sought out her sister. But what did she expect? Judith was of another world. She would just have to leave without saying goodbye, and send a letter back home when she got there.‘Honey, do you know what they’re saying about you? They’re saying you’re uncouth, uncouth’. Judith spat the word out like a seed in a cherry, her red lips forming a perfect circle. Jackie had a sudden thought of leaning forward and kissing them, just to see her sister’s reaction. She imagined the outrage in Judith’s eyes and snickered to herself. But she merely sat there and drew on her cigarette, waiting for her to finish.‘When are you going to get married, darling?’ Judith had a habit of stressing particular words in her sentences, so that they left indelible marks on the listener’s impression of the conversation.‘When I find someone to marry. That seems sensible enough doesn’t it?’‘Ha!’ Judith exclaimed, crossing one leg over the other and tossing her head back in that regal fashion she did things in, as though she was not sitting in a kitchen talking to her baby sister, but dining with the Duchess of York under a painted ceiling.‘Darling, I’ve told you so many times. Why won’t you listen? Husbands don’t simply fall into a girl’s lap – you have to seek them out. You’ll have to go to parties, dinners, meet people, meet friends of those people. Of course it’s too late for you to have a debut, god knows you’re almost twenty-five. But you have to do something, before it’s too late –‘You make it seem as though I don’t socialise. I go out, I meet men –‘Oh you meet men, sure you do!’ Judith’s voice shot through the air like a stream from a disturbed wellspring. ‘I’m well sure of that. Oh the stories people tell me about you and those men you meet. Well, where are they all? Have any of them so much as hinted at a proposal?’
‘No they haven’t. And I wouldn’t necessarily want one either. The truth is we don’t want anything from each other. Charlie and me for example, we’re perfectly happy seeing each other when we want to, and being apart when we want to be’.
Judith rolled her eyes. She had met Charlie and dismissed him as an arrogant Bolshevik.
‘Charlie, that Russian? Didn’t he go to China or somewhere like that?’
‘Half-Russian. And he did, but he’s back. He says there’s more he can do here-’
‘That man is dangerous’, said Judith almost in a whisper. ‘One day they’ll go to his house when he least expects it, and they’ll take him away. Let’s just hope you’re not in it when they do. Is he still writing for that awful paper? I heard it got banned’.
‘It did. It’s still circulating though,’ Jackie smiled, ‘you just won’t see it handed out on the streets anymore’.
‘Thank god for that. That man is full of codswallop. You know why he makes all those noises don’t you? He’s jealous, jealous of what other men have achieved –
‘Jealous of Richard?’ Jackie asked. Sometimes she found it easier to indulge Judith.
Judith sighed an almost conciliatory sigh, ‘Oh honey, if I could find another Richard for you I would. I’m just lucky, I suppose. Oh but Jackie you have to try. Sometimes I just don’t understand you darling. This is the single most important thing in your life and you don’t seem like you give a damn half the time!’
‘To tell you the truth, I don’t.’ Jackie paused as Judith’s eyes widened in indignation.
‘Judith, I called you here to tell you something’.
But Jackie had touched a nerve in Judith, and she realised soon after that nothing she said from that point onwards would matter.
‘If this is about wanting to go into politics, I don’t want to hear it. It was all fun and charming in your student days Jackie, but now it’s time to sit down and think about your future. Open your eyes and look around you! Your best friend had her second child last month, and all your other friends from Wellesley are married. All my friends have children! That is the way of things, darling. Women just don’t go meddling in the affairs of men. That has always been the way of things and there’s not much you or I or anyone else can do about it.’
Jackie waited for her to finish, and Judith’s voice fell into a hushed whisper.
‘They’re saying you’re uncouth’. She said again.
Jackie couldn’t believe she said it again. She stood up and stared hard at Judith. A flicker of alarm passed through the perfectly sculpted face and it lowered its gaze onto the kitchen table.
‘You really think I care about what they’re saying, don’t you?’ Jackie said, ‘Well let me tell you something Judith, I don’t care. I actually couldn’t give a toss what you or any of your friends think’.
Judith lifted her face. ‘But you will someday Jackie. You’ll care when people start closing their doors in your face, when you can’t get up any further in that newspaper office, when you’re a forty-five year-old typist living with her parents – then you’ll regret it. You think I didn’t have desires? You think I never think about leaving Richard and going – oh god, I don’t know, to France or somewhere, anywhere! But those are fantasies Jackie, stories our minds make up to distract us’.
She paused, realising the effect her words had had on Jackie, and felt encouraged to go on.
‘I just don’t want you to end up alone, husbandless, penniless, childless. I don’t want that for my baby sister’.
Jackie searched for something to say but she knew that argument would be futile.
‘Sit down, honey.’ Judith said, taking her by the arm, ‘you deserve to be happy. Now, I’m having Karen and her brother Marcus over for dinner at seven-thirty. Marcus has just come down from New York. He’s recently been promoted to Head Risk Analyst and they’ve given him a company car! Isn’t that wonderful? And the best thing is, he’s not married, hasn’t even had a steady one for years! Karen says he’s had a bad case of commitment phobia, something to do with a girl in college – I can’t remember. I suppose it makes sense, I mean how could a man like that still be single? But she’s convinced him that it’s time to move on, and he’s agreed to let her introduce him to some of her friends. Now, how does it sound? Good! I think the two of you will get on perfectly. Oh, look at the time! I’ll have to get back to start preparing, Richard will be home in an hour
and he likes a freshly brewed coffee before dinner.’
She snapped her clutch closed and stood up, smoothing the front of her lilac dress. She gave Jackie two pecks on the cheek and turned to walk out of the kitchen.
‘Dinner is at half-past seven,’ she called over her shoulder. The screen door banged shut and she was gone.
Here is an example of a band 6 Hamlet essay. You may notice some imperfections as you read it, but remember that you are not expected to write a ‘perfect’ essay during the exam. As you read it, consider whether you think it contains a clear thesis and directly answers the question.
2012 HSC Question:
An inherent tension between confrontation and resolution is revealed through characterisation in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
To what extent does your interpretation align with this view?
A philosophical rendering of the everyday leads to a tension between reflection and action. In Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy play Hamlet, this is highlighted through the characterisation of Hamlet himself, and his engagement with the philosophical and academic concerns of Elizabethan England through his interactions with Horatio. By drawing on elements of this, and contrasting them with contextual concerns about religion and spirituality, Hamlet is constructed as a deeply meditative play, which finds itself continuously delayed and stunted in its attempts to reach fruition.
The use of delay to create a play which happens outside of ‘reality’ and thus remains internalised and wrought with anaphasia is most evident in the characterisation of Hamlet. Hamlet’s diction is littered with binary oppositions, such as in his opening line “a little more than kin and less than kind”, indicating that he inhabits and speaks within a space where the constant state of flux has rendered ideas without opposition unpalatable. Hamlet’s inability to speak without binary oppositions is directly related to his inability to act, and this is shown in his soliloquy, “to be or not to be, that is the question”, where the binary oppositions of existence and selfhood are placed in the sphere of movement, only to cause further inaction, adding to the overall delay of the play. It is this delay in the action which causes Act 5 Scene 2 to erupt with such bloodshed, as shown through the repetitious stage directions: “He dies”, and “dies” are repeated four times in the scene. And yet, even in the single scene of action in this play, these deaths, too, are delayed.
Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet all speak between receiving their final wounds and dying, indicating that it is the loss of speech, rather than loss of life, that is the most crucial part of mankind, and will be lost in death. In addition to this, despite the question of whether or not to kill Claudius functioning within the play as a metaphor for the question of whether or not existence is worthwhile, it is Claudius who is the last to die (barring Hamlet), delaying resolution even in a moment of confrontation. This delay and its cause has been widely attributed to the Elizabethan guilt complex, and obsession with “the functions of conscience and especially its morbid preoccupation with past sins and omissions” (Reed, 1958). By obsessing over the dangers of inaction, Hamlet creates further delay for himself, ultimately halting any action or resolution that the play could come to.
See also: Literary Techniques – Techniques for Analysing a Written Text.
The power of academic and philosophical engagement with issues of morality and political structure is an undeniable force in the conclusion of Hamlet. The relationship between Hamlet and Horatio is one of academic engagement, as shown through Horatio’s continual allusions to the rendering of Caesar’s death in the Shakespearian version of the story, which was written concurrently with Hamlet, such as in his description of the ghost’s appearance “in the most high and palmy state of Rome/a little ere the mightiest Julius fell”. This dialogue with history and politics is emphasised through the vehicle of this friendship, and, in using this, Shakespeare questions the virility of the Danish political system and the role of the monarchy. This parallel between Rome after the assassination of Caesar and the rapidly-declining political system of Denmark is furthered by Horatio’s return to this metaphor in the final scene “I am more antique Roman than a Dane”. Through this juxtaposition the audience is forced to call into question Hamlet’s role in the Julius Caesar parallel, creating yet another layer of separation between Hamlet and the audience.
It is in Hamlet’s conversations with Horatio that his philosophical musings are most prominent, and through this we can see Horatio as an agent both of Hamlet’s conscience, and of the play’s delay. In John Quincy Adam’s analysis of the play, he points at the friendship between Hamlet and Horatio as being crucial to the development of Hamlet’s moral code which is only the result of “a mind cultivated by the learning acquirable at a university, combining intelligence and sensibility” (Adams, 1839). By characterising Horatio as the intellectual force within the play, and subsequently the source of socio-political commentary, Shakespeare adds to the moral and cultural instability of the play in a manner which results in further delay of confrontation or resolution.
Fatalism plays an important role in understanding the tension between action and inaction in Hamlet. From the appearance of the ghost, Hamlet’s course of action is inevitable within the tropes of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy and the Greek tragedy roots that it is drawn from. However, he resists this role by delaying taking action, and as a result, the play can be read as being in perpetual tension between the restoration of natural order and the resistance of that restoration.
The apostrophe of “out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune!” shows Hamlet’s resistance of what he perceives to be the only path available to him. In Act 5 Scene 2, when Hamlet finally takes action, he begins to refer to himself in the third person, a bizarre subversion of a play which previously obsessed with the use of “I”. This switching of mode of speech indicates that it is only though the abandonment of his self-identity, and thus moral code, that he is able to complete the actions which divine providence demands of him. This is supported by Dwery’s reading of the play’s resolution, where he argues that “Hamlet recognizes the inevitability of death, accepting his father’s death and recognising his own unavoidable fate.” (Dwery, 2004) By understanding the contextual concerns with the nature and role of fate and divinity in the everyday, a deeper understanding of the character of Hamlet emerges.
The tension between action and inaction in Hamlet stem from the contextual role of fate, which forces Hamlet into a position where he repeatedly delays himself, until his self-identity is erased, and he performs the actions which fate requires of him. My interpretation of the delay highlights the contribution of socio-political forces to the delay, and ultimately the tension which permeates the play, which is depicted through the characterisation of Hamlet and Horatio.
Want to learn how to write a Band Shakespeare 6 essay for Module B?
© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Found this article interesting or useful? Share the knowledge!