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Archetypes in Hamlet

There are many variations on what an archetype is. Some say that is shapes the form and function of a literary piece, also discerning the meaning of its text as shaped by cultural and psychological myths. Others say that it can be a pattern of behavior, or statement which others copy or emulate. Whichever you chose to side with, there are several which can be found in the work of Hamlet. Some of these are considered biblical, while the others are merely holding importance to the seasons and changes during the human experience.

The Garden of Eden is a somewhat untouched archetype, though there is mountains of supporting evidence. While in the unweeded garden (or his orchard), Hamlet refers to his uncle Claudius as the snake that stole his father’s life away. He then also references how this same snake worked its way into his mother, Gertrude’s, heart. This can easily be seen as a reference to Eve, and how the words of the serpent cursed led her to cursing herself and Adam, and later, their deaths. Furthermore, Denmark is at first Hamlet’s Eden—his place of peace and solace—but, as the story progresses, begins referring to it as a prison due to Claudius’s tyranny.

The seasons (and their cultural meanings) are also explored in the play. In the beginning, with the death of Hamlet’s father, this can be compared to the beginning of death as many attribute to the beginning of the season of autumn. As the story continues and more death arrives—comparable to the shift from autumn to winter—the season changes as well, until a snowy winter arrives. The harshness of the winter corresponds to the poor quality of life in Denmark under the rule of King Claudius.

Death, itself, is also a very strong archetype in the story. Throughout the play, Hamlet seems to become obsessed with death, its consequences, and its inevitability. This becomes somewhat of a staple for Hamlet throughout the play, as he often references it—multiple times throughout the play—and that how all people are equivalent in death, though they may not be equals in life.

There are plenty of other archetypes throughout the play; these are only three. It uses them and a handful of themes to enrich the material for the reader, allowing them to critically think on and see the play more deeply.