By: ray letter

Literature of the Renaissance was far different from that of the previous eras.
Man was now thought of as the center of life, as opposed to God being the
center in earlier times. Also, man was thought to have free will over his life,
not being simply a pawn of the Gods. These new ideals were presented in the
theaters as well as written literature. The esteemed William Shakespeare
incorporated many of these components into some of the greatest performed
classics in the history of theater. Shakespeare’s Hamlet contains elements that
are derived from the Renaissance way of thinking and influenced from it’s
earlier writers. The play continuously incorporates themes of free will of man
in controlling his destiny. This is ever present throughout the play as Hamlet
contemplates each of his actions. Some look at this as cowardice or
procrastination, but his deliberation is clearly recognized as his choosing of his
own fate. In previous eras, man came across as being locked into one action,
without a choice of what to do. In Act I Scene IV, Hamlet provides three
possible answers to the cause of evil. The first is an inherited fault: “As, in
their birth- wherein they are not guilty”, which does not involve human
responsibility. Another claims the individual as being a victim of fate:
“Fortune’s Star.” If that were the answer in Hamlet, then the play could not
be classified as a Renaissance tragedy, but one based on the Medieval theory
that individuals have no choice in their life. The second offering includes “the
o’ergrowth of some complexion, oft breaking down the pales and forts of
reason. . .” Here human responsibility is obvious, defining the moral theory of
the Renaissance. Act II Scene II contains a speech by Hamlet to Rosencrantz
and Guidenstern that outlines the way man was viewed in Renaissance
thinking. “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in
faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an
angel, in apprehension how like a god- the beauty of the world, the paragon
of animals!” Even though Hamlet goes on to say that “man delights not me”,
the speech still shows the Renaissance view on life. This ideal was evident in
the work of earlier Renaissance writers such as Pico della Mirandola. In
Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, the “great miracle” of humanity was
discussed. “There is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man. . .man is
the intermediary between creatures, the intimate of the gods, the king of the
lower beings, by the acuteness of his senses, by the discernment of his
reason, and by the light of his intelligence. . .” Also in Act II Scene II, the
loveletter of Hamlet to Ophelia is being discussed by Claudius, Gertrude, and
Polonious. Although thought of as a ploy by Hamlet to make everyone think
he is mad, the first few lines may have some distinctive significance: “Doubt
thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move. . . .” Doubts to the stars
and the sun in the universe came about in the Renaissance and represented a
challenge to the traditional view of the universe. Here Shakespeare
incorporates the current learning of the time period in the theater. This can
also be interpreted that Hamlet lost faith in traditional values after
experiencing evil and heartbreak. Also in Act II Scene II, Hamlet is spurned
by his two friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and comes to the conclusion
that man has a terrifying capacity to reject reason and descend to the bestial
level: Brother may kill brother, friends may betray the sacred principles of
friendship. This is the case as Rosencrantz and Guidenstern allow themselves
to be used as spies of Hamlet by Claudius. The idea of descending to lower
levels of humanism was also derived from Pico’s Oration. “With freedom of
choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou
mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have
the power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are brutish.”
Another symbol of the Renaissance idealism is the nature of Claudius, who,
although showing guilt over his