Honor And Heroism In Hamlet

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In Act two of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, honor and heroism plays a big role. Obviously because Shakespeare was writing in the Elizabethan era, a time where there were different ideas about what honor was and how it plays into the lives of royalty. In this act there’s a bit less of traditional “heroic” action (like, jousting and saving maidens in distress or something) and a lot of talk that could be less than heroic and honorable (hello medieval espionage!).

In most classical traditions, Hamlet would occupy the role of the hero. In Shakespeare’s play, at first he’s initially just the protagonist. By the end of act one scene five, King Hamlet’s ghost gives him a task, to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” (1.5.25) These instructions are traditionally heroic, for real, Hamlet has to avenge the death of his father. But Hamlet is going to act insane instead (or is he…?), which leads to honor coming in at the beginning of act two scene one.

By the end of act 1, we know that Polonius wants Ophelia to protect her “honor” (or what was considered honor way back when) by rejecting Hamlet’s advances. In trying to occupy the role of the hero, Hamlet freaks and scares Ophelia by acting super awkward. Ophelia tells her dad, who thinks she must have done something to make Hamlet act really creepy. Ophelia says she “did repel his letters and denied his access [to her]” (2.1.110-111). Honor can meet lots of things, but in act two of Hamlet it’s mainly about Ophelia’s
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