explain the piece of literature that might tell us about society as a whole

in the hamlet story

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Class Issues

Hamlet gives a portrayal of ‘life at court', the elite of society at that time in history. William Shakespeare portrayed these people as he was well acquainted with them and could thus, comment upon such behaviours (ever-so-carefully!). Hamlet sees the downfall of characters Hamlet and Ophelia, partially as a result of the expectations of their social class. Polonius is present in the Queen's room discussing Hamlet's indecorous behaviour (seen to be mad, according to their social group) when Hamlet accidentally slays him. In turn this sees Laertes come after Hamlet, in a bid to avenge his father's death. This was essentially brought about by his original mission – to discuss Hamlet's failure to meet social standards.

Ophelia becomes victim to her class in several ways, firstly being forced by her father Polonius into love for Hamlet as a means of gaining the throne. Her failure to achieve this partially leads her to the riverbank, where she will commit suicide. The second influence of her social class is more symbolic, but does in essence kill her. Women of the times were expected to wear layer-upon-layer of heavily weighted fabric to cover themselves in a bid for aesthetic beauty. As Ophelia hurls herself into the river below, it is the heavy weight of her garments (expectations of her class) that drag her down and drowns her. In this way, she too becomes a victim to the social class standards of her time.