The existence of man in Renaissance philosophy and its influence on Shakespeare‘s "Hamlet"

Term Paper, 2011

7 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Renaissance world-picture
2.1. Definition of the term ''world-picture''
2.2. Renaissance world-picture

3. Hamlet – a tragic hero of his time.
3.1. The appearance of the ghost
3.2. Hamlet´s place in court

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography
5.1. Primary Literature
5.2. Secondary literature

1. Introduction

Since the publication of William Shakespeare‘s play ‘Hamlet' there have been many different interpretations to approach the text. The following paper focuses on the historical context of the play. Shakespeare lived in a time full of change and rearrangement of perspectives and beliefs. The drama is a genre that was the main source of entertainment in Shakespeare‘s time. Shakespeare´s plays can be divided into three groups: the historical plays that focus on the narration of events in the English monarchy, his comedies and his tragedies. The last two, as they are fictive, are the direct outcome of Shakespeare´s personal perception of his time. One of the characteristics of tragedies is the rise and downfall of a tragic hero, who can either have good intentions as Hamlet or who can be the evil part of the play right from the beginning like Richard III or Macbeth. A tragic hero with good intentions, however, becomes even more tragic: Hamlet tries to set all the things right that seem wrong in his kingdom, but he fails and becomes the victim of his own actions. A hero that seems to look for his place in court, as it has been actively rearranged by his uncle Claudius. In his great mourning for his father, who has recently died, a ghost appears and tells him to revenge his murder. Hamlet finds himself in a situation full of insecurity and uncertainty, as he can not even be sure about the ghost‘s identity.

Shakespeare lived from 1564-1616, a time that we call the Renaissance Age. Even though art and music seemed to focus on the values of the ancient world, we can find many major discoveries in philosophy and science that changed the whole perspective people had on the world and on humanity. With this paper I want to try to reveal what influence this new world-picture had on Shakespeare‘s writing, especially on his longest play ‘Hamlet‘.

2. Renaissance world-picture

2.1. Definition of the term ''world-picture''

Before I start to give a brief introduction of the world-picture that was common in the Renaissance Age, it is helpful to define this term first:

Weltbild nennen wir das Wissen, das wir haben über die Welt, über den Menschen und über den Platz des Menschen in dieser Welt. Dieses Wissen wird meistens ergänzt durch Wertungen, also durch Urteile über Hoch und Niedrig, Gut und Schlecht, Nützlich und Schädlich. Deshalb beschränken sich auch Änderungen unseres Weltbildes nicht auf bloßen Erkenntnisfortschritt. Vielmehr erfolgt gelegentlich auch eine Neubewertung des Menschen und seiner Stellung in der Welt. Das markanteste Beispiel für eine solche Neubewertung ist verbunden mit dem Namen Kopernikus. (Brockhaus multimedia 2010)

As stated here the ''world-picture'' of a certain time refers to the knowledge we have about the world and man´s position in this world. The Renaissance Age marks a threshold between the medieval, geocentrical perspective and the new heliocentrical description of the universe as introduced by Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543.

2.2. Renaissance world-picture

Until this time the world had been seen as a flat disc in the center of the universe, surrounded by the sun, the moon and the stars. All men were said to live in the center of this disc, so that nobody could ever have seen the edges. The sun and the moon only exist to serve humanity; they are constantly circulating around the earth. The stars are said to be holes in a ceiling that covers the earth and that protects it from the fire in the sky. Nicolaus Copernicus, however, revolutionized this idea and introduced a new heliocentrical perspective. He had discovered a strong inconsistency between the calculations by Claudius Ptolemäus and the facts that he had measured about the circulations of celestial bodies.

In der Mitte aber von allen steht die Sonne. Denn wer möchte in diesem schönsten Tempel diese Leuchte an einen andern oder bessern Ort setzen, als von wo aus sie das Ganze zugleich erleuchten kann?[...] So lenkt in der Tat die Sonne, auf dem königlichen Throne sitzend, die sie umkreisende Familie der Gestirne. (Brockhaus multimedia 2010)

His new approach revolutionized the world-picture and all sciences, leaving people in uncertainty and anxiety about their existence and their place in the new world. This new concept had shattered man´s belief to be the center of the universe.

Copernicus' work can be seen as part of a tradition that was introduced by Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464), a German cleric, whose work is strongly influenced by his theological perspective. However, he had a similar approach to the ''structure'' of this world as Copernicus. For Nicolaus Cusanus the world can only have a center, but no edges. This center is God, who is everywhere and nowhere, thus creating a hierarchical order between every being. This order consists of a system of relations, linking every thought to a specific position in this system.

[...]in diesem Verfahren der comparatio kann ein 'größer und kleiner' (maius et minus), mangels eines absoluten Bezugspunktes aber nicht ein maximum und minimum überhaupt festgestellt werden. Eben deswegen muß das Denken subjektive Maßpunkte setzen, die hypothetisch gewählt sind; Erkenntnis muß standpunktgebunden, nicht dinggebunden sein.[...] Zwingend kann ebenso auch nicht mehr Einzelnes für sich sinnvoll in dieser Welt gedacht werden, sondern sein unendlicher Bezug auf anderes: die Relation wird Denkhorizont des Dings, so wie die ganze relational verschränkte Welt Horizont aller Dinge wird. (Gerl 1989:47)


Excerpt out of 7 pages


The existence of man in Renaissance philosophy and its influence on Shakespeare‘s "Hamlet"
University of Bonn  (Anglistisches Seminar)
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ISBN (eBook)
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renaissance, shakespeare‘s, hamlet
Quote paper
Antonia Lilie (Author), 2011, The existence of man in Renaissance philosophy and its influence on Shakespeare‘s "Hamlet", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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