Compare the ways in which Shakespeare and Plath explore the theme of mortality in Hamlet and Lady Lazarus. In both Lady Lazarus and Hamlet the semantic field of mortality and death can be clearly seen. Hamlet’s second soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be’ can be found in act three, when Polonius and Claudius are hiding behind a wall listening to how Hamlet responds to Ophelia. Although there is a huge time difference between when they were written it is surprisingly similar in its semantic field of vocabulary to Lady Lazarus written in the 1950s by Sylvia Plath.
There is also a huge difference in the type of genre that the texts are and the intended audience for them. Hamlet was intended to be performed and so has many more emotions expressed and the need to be listened to and watched, but Lady Lazarus, is a dramatic monologue of how the persona feels, and so can be read individually. Hamlet and Lady Lazarus are similar because they both deal with the issue of mortality. In Hamlet this is most clearly expressed through Hamlet’s second soliloquy where be begins to wonder what the point of life is as he is not succeeding in keeping his dead father’s wish, of revenging and murdering Claudius.
For this reason it has many lexical fields of pain, suffering, conflict, death and suicide. This can be related to Lady Lazarus as the persona in that poem feels that there is no point in life. In the first few lines of the soliloquy, we have the semantic field of weaponry, as it says: “The slings and arrows or outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing them? ” This extended metaphor shows that Hamlet views life as a real battle that needs to be overcome if he is to continue with life and the ability to revenge his father’s death.
When Hamlet uses the verbal phrase ‘to take arms against a sea of troubles’ he is describing the fact that he needs to murder Claudius, no matter what the consequences are for himself, as in the Tudor times it would have been considered as murder to the king and so the result for the murderer would be to be executed. However, Hamlet does not see this as a negative thing as that is what he wants, as he expresses an emotion that is similar to his first soliloquy. The poem Lady Lazarus is similar to this as the persona views death as the final place and where she will eventually die as she says: “Flesh, bone, there is nothing there-”.
This shows that she views it as final and the fact that there is nothing beyond. However, there are also some differences between Hamlet and Lady Lazarus. In the poem, the persona keeps referring to her body as individual parts and so has connotations of the fact that the persona is not one person, but many objects because the persona expresses it this way; “The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth? The sour breathe Will vanish in a day. ” This shows that she is also dehumanising herself and using a metaphor to make her appear as an object rather than as a person.
She also knows that she can transform into something different and achieve her mission of suicide if she wishes as she uses the simile “And like the cat I have nine times to die. ” This shows that she can die more than once, whereas in Hamlet, Hamlet wants to die and never come back as he says that he could kill himself with a dagger, through the saying “When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin?… ” He continues to say something and it seems as if for a minute he has forgotten about the ghost as he thinks that death is the end as he says “The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns. ” Another difference is that Lady Lazarus seems to be confident with death as she has the confidence to say to the people with the ultimate authority; “Herr God, Herr Lucifer Beware Beware. ” The persona is telling God and the Devil that she is on her way, and nothing will stop her this time. However, Hamlet seems to display the opposite feelings as he says: “To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn… ” This shows that he is scared about death and what it will hold for him.
Another similarity is that both see life as a cause for their sufferings. One way that this is expressed in Lady Lazarus is through the fact that the second time that the persona tried to commit suicide; the doctors prevented her from succeeding as they found her before she had died completely. Hamlet expresses the fact that he sees life as a cause of his suffering through the fact that he shows his dissatisfaction with life when he says: “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit if the unworthy takes,” But he also says that he does not want to die as he does not know what would lie ahead and because of the fact that he uses the extended metaphor of sleeping and dreaming to demonstrate the uncertainty of death and what it holds in the future. In conclusion, despite the fact that they were written for different audiences and at different times there are many similarities and differences between the two of them. The main similarity is that they both refer to the persona using the first person pronoun and this makes it more personal and real.
They also show that they are unhappy with the life that they are living and would like to have something different. However, the persona in Lady Lazarus sees death as a show as the persona calls it “the big strip tease” whilst; Hamlet is very uncertain about death and feels that he is not ready to go there yet. Lady Lazarus is a dramatic monologue throughout, and whilst hamlet’s soliloquy starts off like that, towards the end he realises that Ophelia is there listening and then he guesses that Claudius and Polonius are listening to and so he stops being so dramatic and becomes a real person.