Chinese Features on Hamlet By Xia Chen Student Number: 3070313019 Supervisor: Lu Junyan A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts in the School of Foreign Language Studies, Ningbo Institute of Technology, Zhejiang University May 10, 2011 Abstract Hamlet is considered as one of the greatest works of Shakespeare, since the play Hamlet is a magnificent example of western classic tragedies and the hero Hamlet is a combination of various personalities and contradictive human values.
It becomes valuable as an important source material of study for not only literature but also sociology and anthropology. This paper is composed of four parts including introduction, main body and conclusion. The main body could be divided into two parts, which are Hamlet’s Chinese features as a human and Hamlet’s Chinese features as a tragedy. In the first part, Hamlet’s characters will be compared with Chinese traditional culture: filial piety, the concept of family, morality and sexual discrimination. Filial piety is considered as one of the most important Chinese traditional criterions.
In the play Hamlet, when the ghost of the died king, who was Hamlet’s father, asks Hamlet to revenge for him, it seems that the revenging becomes the most important thing of Hamlet, even more important than his love with Ophelia, it shows that Hamlet has a strong sense of filial piety. What’s more, to Chinese people, family is as important as one’s life. Hamlet also tries his best to protect his family in the play. In addition, Hamlet has the sense of sexual discrimination. He thinks women are petty and low, and he does not think men and women are equal, which is also a feudal character in acient China.
In the second part, the play Hamlet is compared with Chinese tragedy the Orphan of Chao’s on theme and the enjoyment of tragedy. By this way, the relationship between Hamlet and Chinese culture will be clearly expressed. Keywords: revenge; love; family; Chinese culture Contents 1 Introduction1 1. 1 Research Background1 1. 3 Research Purpose2 2 Hamlet’s Chinese Fetures as a Human3 2. 1 Hamlet’s Character3 2. 2 Hamlet’s Chinese Fetures6 2. 2. 1 Hamlet’s Filial Piety8 2. 2. 2 Hamlet’s Concept of Family4 2. 2. 3 Hamlet’s Sense of Sexual Discrimination4 . 2. 2 Hamlet and Golden Mean4 3 Hamlet’s Chinese Fetures As a Tragedy5 3. 1 The Orphan of Chao’s4 3. 2. A Chinese Topic: Revenge4 3. 3 A Chinese Way To Enjoy The Tragedy4 4 Conclusion10 References12 Acknowledgements13 1 Introduction 1. 1 Research Background The play Hamlet, written by Shakespeare, is considered as one of the most magnificent art works in the world, and it has been long studied by scholars all around the world. Hamlet is a story about the princess of Denmark, Hamlet, whose father was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle.
Hamlet’s uncle married Hamlet’s mother, the queen, and became the new king, which made Hamlet so despaired and angry that he was eager to revenge for his died father. However, Hamlet was a contradictive young man and he was always hesitating, which made him feel painful in his mental world and he almost committed suicide. By the leading of a ghost, which was Hamlet’s died father, Hamlet found out the truth of his father’s death, then he began to pretend as he was mad so that he might have a chance to kill his uncle, the new king.
Hamlet tried to show the truth to the public by a play, which made the new king angry and he decided to banish Hamlet. Fortunately, Hamlet was so clever that he made a stratagem to get rid of the punishment, and he went back to Denmark. Then, Hamlet killed his fiancee’s father as a manslaughter, which made Hamlet’s fiancee Ophelia lose her mind. Ophelia’s brother asked him to duel with him in front of the new king and queen. The queen drank a bottle of poisonous wine which was for Hamlet when she was watching the duel and she died.
Hamlet was stabbed by a poisonous sword in the duel, before he died, Hamlet killed the new king by that poisonous sword. Hamlet is an epitome of human being. His personality is complicated and everyone might find some similarities with Hamlet. This makes Hamlet a symbolic character, and the studies on Hamlet could not only help people to know western classic literature better but also make people think deeper about their life. In this essay, the author would like to make a comparison between Hamlet and Chinese culture. 1. 2 Research Purpose
Many authors emphasize on certain aspects of literature study on Hamlet or Chinese culture, like the tradition of filial piety, the comparison of Hamlet and Chinese classic literature, Hamlet’s personality and Hamlet’s value system. The author thinks that many studies on this thesis have already been done but there is not anyone who has done a general study on the topic of Hamlet’s Chinese feature, so there is the possibility for the author to do some research on it. The weakness of recent study is that most of the studies are isolated from each other.
For instance, “Tradition of filial piety in China and Western culture”  is talking about what is common that the Chinese people tend to extremely value such filial duties as serving, respecting, filially obeying the aged parents, and worshiping their ancestors whereas such acts of filial piety are not taken so seriously in the Western culture. It could be a point that supports what mentioned in “The family relationship in Shakespeare’s plays” , and it can help readers to go deeper into each of these two essays. However, few authors have done any study on the filial piety in Shakespeare’s plays, which makes this field blank.
What’s more, when Chinese readers are reading the play Hamlet, what might help them to understand the literal meaning is a dictionary or a translation work, but they may always get confused about the story’s culture background and Hamlet’s thoughts about love, family and life. Bacause there was not many literature which can help Chinese readers to understand Hamlet from comparing Chinese culture with Hamlet, it is necessary for the author to do some research on it so that more Chinese readers can understand Hamlet easier. 2 Hamlet’s Chinese Features as a human 2. 1 Hamlet’s character
The Tragedy of Hamlet is one of the four most famous tragedies written by Shakespeare, and Hamlet is the protagonist in it. Throughout the whole play, the contradictory sides of his character could be seen easily. On one hand, Hamlet is a wise, brave, and kind-hearted young man; on the other hand, he is sometimes timid, careless, and even a little bit cruel. Hamlet enjoys a high social position and has a good reputation among his people. But once he is called back from the university to Danmark by his father’s sudden death, he is involved in misery and the arduous task of avenging.
Life suddenly becomes so complicated and challenging for Hamlet because of his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle, the new king and also the one who killed his father. Hamlet is young and inexperienced, and his strong character enables him to stand firm under such a difficulty. Although he feels isolated and lonely, he remains calm, contend with his uncle’s repeated persecutions by using his intelligence, and carrying out the revenge finally, though at the cost of his own life.
Through the whole play, “we can see that Hamlet is neither a frail and weak minded youth nor a thought sick dreamer, on the contrary, he is fearless and impetuous in action”  His rushing after the ghost, killing Polonius, dealing with the King’s commission on the ship, jumping into the grave of Ophelia out of honest love and executing his final revenge during the duel with Laertes make him appears insensible to the fear of any ordinary kind. In the play, Hamlet’s delay and hesitations in carrying out his task of revenge is also obvious.
Hamlet even appears to be slow and shrinking sometimes. There are several good chances for him to kill Claudius bu everytime he just lets them slip by. Sometimes, when he fails to make good use of a chance, he will find some excuses for his inaction to comfort himself. For instance, when Hamlet is on his way to his mother’s chambe, he finds the new king is praying, he could kill the new king on the spot by his sword, but he give up the chance and he tells himself it will send someone to the heaven if kill him when he is praying.
If his delay is due to the lack of evidence of the new king’s crime, now he has got evidence and he should have taken immediate action, but he still fails. Hamlet often reproaches himself bitterly for the neglect of his duty. He even asks himself in genuine hesitation, “What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? Do I linger? Can the cause be cowardice? What is it that makes me sit idle when I feel it is shameful to do so, and when I have cause, and will, and strength, and means to act ? Why in the world did not Hamlet obey the Ghost at once, and save seven of those eight lives? If he had been Laertes or Fortinbras, he would have accomplished his task in wears mourning dress and appears depressed at his mother’s marriage. ”  When Hamlet’s mother asks him to exchange his clothing and “look like a friend on Denmark”, he says, “together with all forms, moods and shapes of grief that can demote me truly. These indeed seem, for they are actions that a man play, But I have that within which passeth show; these but the trappings and the suits of woe. The words of “play, and trappings and suits of woe” indicates that he suspects the cause of his father’s death. Knowing clearly that he is under the close watch by the new king and his followers, “he speaks out the King’s crime in his mother chamber, A murderer and a villain, A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe of your precedent lord, a vice of kings, a cutpurse of the empire and the rule, that from a shelf the precious diadem stole And put it in his pocket. ” Fortunately, the eavesdropper Plonius is killed by mistake.
But Hamlet has made a big mistake. Though his mother promises to keep what he says a secret, his rush act leads to the death of Ophelia, and the King has another reason to kill him, that is, the duel with Laertes at the end of the play. 2. 2 Chinese fetures 2. 2. 1 Hamlet’s filial piety In Chinese traditional culture, filial piety is as important as one’s life. One will get a bad reputation if he or she is considered as doing things against his or her parents. Young people are supposed to obey their parents and take good care of their parents.
Especially for the well educated people, filial piety is one of the most important criterions. In acient China, people even could get an official position by treating their parents well enough. Confucius once said “Filial duty is the foundation of other duties. ” From this, we can see that filial piety is almost the core of Chinese social structure. However, in the western culture, people are more likely to be independent rather than always do what their parents ask them to do, and the concept of filial piety is quite different from Chinese’s view.
For example, in western countries, going abroad and living far away from parents means being independent and competent, while living away from parents in acient China means being selfish and irresponsible. In the play Hamlet, when the ghost of the died king, who was Hamlet’s father, asks Hamlet to revenge for him, it seems that the revenging becomes the most important thing of Hamlet, even more important than his love with Ophelia. It is unusual that father’s order becomes the most important thing to a western young man, and Hamlet even lost his life for his father.
There was a saying in China “It is the father’s fault if a son doesn’t do right. ” It reflects that in China, the most important part of the relationship between father and son is succession. On one hand, it is father’s responsibility to teach his son, and on the other hand, the son should always obey his father. In the play Hamlet, the old king is not only his son’s father but also the idol of his son, when Hamlet said “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew Or that the Everlasting had no fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on’t, ah fie, ’tis an unweeded garden That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely. That it should come to this! But two months dead—nay not so much, not two—So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr. ” It is obviously that Hamlet respects his father, the old king very much. Hamlet’s duty in the whole story is to revenge for his died father, meanwhile, ancient Chinese people thought the most shameful thing to a man is being unable to revenge for his father.
Chinese story The orphan of the Chao’s is also about revenging for one’s father. So, Hamlet has Chinese futures of revenging, too. 2. 1. 2 Hamlet’s Concept of Family An important Chinese feature that Hamlet has is the concept of family. From my point of view, Shakespeare’s idea of family is a kind of humanism thought. It affects the characters’ behavior directly and it puts forward the plots from developing or it even influences the end of a play. “Shakespeare advocates for pure love, for instance, the love between
Hamlet and Ophelia; he demotes carnal love like the love between Hamlet’s mother and Hamlet’s uncle. Shakespeare also promotes the harmonious conjugal relation which is based on love; he demotes the conjugal relation which is based on ambitions or benefits, for example, Macbeth and Mrs. Macbeth. ”  Another thing that Shakespeare promotes is the fairness and trust between family members. He believes what breaks the love between family members is the power and influence, what’s more, power and influence also deprive the fairness between different people and lead people to guilty.
In Hamlet, Hamlet demotes the love between his mother and his uncle, because it is a kind of incest, and Hamlet thinks it is sick. Chinese people think what prevent the society from collapsing are morality and ethics. Ethics means the relationship between family members should be regular and normal. Fornication must be forbidden. In China, if one’s uncle married with his or her mother, he or she will be a joke of other people. 2. 1. 3 Hamlet’s Sense of Sexual Discrimination
Another traditional Chinese feature that can be found on Hamlet is the sense of sexual discrimination, which has influenced Chinese society for thousands of years. In ancient China, women were forbided to go to school, and they had no right to choose their husband. Women were considered as timid and inability, they had to stay home and look after their children, always obey their husband. In the play Hamlet, Hamlet says “Frailty, thy name is woman! ” and “O God, a heast that want discourse of reason would have mourned longer. It shows that Hamlet looks down upon woman because his mother married his uncle soon after his father’s death and he doesn’t think man and woman are equal, women are more like heast than human. What’s more, when Hamlet says “Ay truly, for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd, than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometimes a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once. ” Hamlet seems look down upon his lover, Ophelia, too. Hamlet praises human being as the gift by god, while he thinks women are petty and low. . 1. 4 Hamlet and Golden Mean It is obvious that Hamlet is a character with hesitation, in the play, Shakespeare includes a number of other characters capable of taking resolute and headstrong revenge as required to highlight Hamlet’s inability to take action,. Fortinbras travels thousands of miles to take his revenge and finally succeeds in conquering Denmark; the plot that Laertes kills Hamlet to revenge for the death of his father, Polonius. Compared to these characters, Hamlet’s revenge is ineffectual. Once Hamlet decides to take action, he delays any action until the end of the play.
What makes Hamlet a great unique piece of writing is the remarkable way in which Shakespeare uses the delay to build Hamlet’s emotional and psychological complexity. Hamlet’s revenge is delayed in three significant ways: 1. Hamlet must first find out Claudius’ guilt and tell it to the public, which he does in Act 3, Scene 2 by representing the murder of his father in a play. When Claudius went out during the performance, Hamlet becomes convinced about Clausius’s guilt. 2. Then, Hamlet intellectualizes his revenge, to contrast with the rash actions of Fortinbras and Laertes.
For instance, Hamlet has the opportunity to kill Claudius in Act 3, Scene 3. He already draws his sword, but is concerned that Claudius will be sent to heaven if he is killed while praying. 3. After killing Polonius, Hamlet is sent to England and it becomes impossible for him to gain access to Claudius and do his revenge. During his trip, he decides to be more headstrong in his desire for revenge. Although he does kill Claudius in the final scene of the play, we cannot credit Hamlet will kill Claudius if Claudius does not ask him to have a duel with others.
Hamlet’s inability to take action might reflect a characteristic that Chinese traditional culture has, that is the sense of “golden mean”, which is an important rule of Confucian school. “Golden mean”means that one should not do things in a radical way and never go to the extreme, there is no absolute good or bad. Hamlet’s behavior shows that he is always struggling for right and wrong, do and undo, he does not make a decision until he has no way to go. 3 Hamlet’s Chinese Features as a Tragedy 3. 1 The Orphan of the Zhao’s
The Orphan of Zhao, or Orphan of the House Tcho is a Chinese play of the Yuan Dynasty, attributed to someone named Ji Junxiang, about whom almost nothing is known. Based on an episode in Shiji, the play has its full name The Great Revenge of the Orphan of Zhao Family. Loyalty is the theme of the play Zhaoshi guer (The Orphan of Zhao), written in the second half of the 13th century. In it the hero sacrifices his son to save the life of young Zhao so that Zhao can later avenge the death of his family. It is the first Chinese play that known in Europe.
Joseph Henri Marie de Premare translated the play into French as Tchao-chi-cou-eulh, ou L’orphelin de la maison de Tchao, tragedie chinoise, which was collected in Jean Baptiste Du Halde’s Description geographique, historique, chronologique, politique et physique de l’empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise, published in 1735 (the play was published separately in 1755). Thomas Hatchett (active 1721-1741) published an adaptation of the play in English, “The Orphan of China” (1741) that changes the ending significantly so that the play conforms to classical conventions of the three unities 3. A Chinese Topic : Revenge Revenge is a common topic of Chinese traditional drama, since there was a saying in acient China “An eye to an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ” Which means that if any other people hurts one, one should revenge in the same way. “The orphan of the zhao’s is considered as the Hamlet of China, because the mean character, Zhao Wu, whose destiny is similar to Hamlet’s, and they both have the duty to revenge for their father. Zhao Wu’s father is killed by his god-father, and he lives with his god-father to bear patiently for twenty years until finally he kills his god-father.  Hamlet’s father is killed by Hamlet’s uncle, and Hamlet pretends to be crazy to cheat others so that he has the chance to stay with his uncle and finally he kills his uncle and revenges for his father successfully. In addition, it is full of meaning that both tragedies share the same theme: revenge. The play Hamlet describes the story of Hamlet, the Danmark prince, who takes revenge for his father. The prince Hamlet learns from his father’s ghost that his uncle Claudius poisons the king, takes the power, and marries the queen. The ghost asks Hamlet to avenge him.
After several trials and struggles between evil and good, Hamlet and his uncle, the fraud whose crime is finally exposed, perish together. Zhao the Orphan describes the story of the Zhao’s suffer from slaughter because the treacherous court official named Tu An’gu frames up Zhao Dun, the official loyal to his sovereign. The disciple, Cheng Ying, in Zhao’s place sacrifices his own son to save the infant of Zhao’s family and bring him up. After the orphan acquires his life experience, he takes the revenge for his family by killing Tu An’gu.
As can be seen, the two tragedies share the common topic that the evil may succeed for a while, however, destines to receive the punishment of justice. 3. 3 A Chinese Way to Enjoy the Tragedy The main idea of the Confucians is “Ren”, which can be understood as sympathy. It is said that only people who have a heart of sympathy can be considered as a person of noble character and integrity. The tragedy of Hamlet and the tragedy of the Orphan of Chao’s are very popular among people all around the world.
An important factor that contributes to the enjoyment of these tragedies is sympathy. It is neither the sympathy in the ethical or moral sense, nor the feeling of pity and sorrow for somebody. It is aesthetic sympathy, which means the identification of ourselves without persons or things with the result that we participate in their feelings, emotions and sentiments. In actual life, we have only one life and most of us are living a very ordinary and calm life, which sometimes seems a little monotonous.
One of the charms of dramas is that in them we can live a great number of different lives, experience what we cannot experience in real life , laugh and cry with the characters as long as we substitute ourselves in their places in imagination. For example, in Hamlet, we may identify ourselves with Hamlet. With Hamlet we mourn over the death of the old king, complain of the hasty marriage of Gertrude, feel friendly towards Horatio, despise Polonius, love and suspect Ophelia and fightt heduel with Laertes.
In The Orphan of Zhao, we can imagine ourselves to be the hero Cheng Ying and feel his hesitation at the princess’ request of taking the orphan out of the court, his hatred for Tuan Ku when he declared to kill all the babies in the country to search for the orphan of Zhao, his agony to see his own son being killed and his final joy at Tuan Ku’s punishment. In one word , sympathy plays a great part in the enjoyment of tragedy, both the Shakespearean tragedy and the classical Chinese tragedy. 4. Conclusion
Hamlet has been studied by scholars from different countries with various ethnics in almost every possible aspects for a long time, so many people might hold the idea that Hamlet is a play which has been studied throughly. However, when Chinese students and readers study on Hamlet, they always find that it is difficult to understand because of the lack of culture background and language skill. If they were told that Hamlet has some similarities with Chinese culture, the study of Hamlet might be much easier. This is one reason for the author to study on Hamlet’s Chinese features.
Another reason is that few scholars have studied on the Chinese features of Hamlet. On one hand, China has a 5000 years’ history which is profound and diversified, and the Chinese values have greatly influenced the world, so the importance of Chinese culture could not be ignored; on the other hand, China has its specific traditional thoughts of ethics and human natures, so some western scholars thought there were few similarities between Chinese traditional culture and western culture. Nevertheless, Chinese culture, just like the other cultures of the world, has many assosiations with western culture, including the classic literatures.
The essay has concluded some Chinese fetures on Hamlet. It provides readers to have a more distinctive mind on the relationship between Shakespeare’s works and Chinese traditional culture, and more study on this topic will be done in the future. References ???. ?? “? ”?????? [J]. ????????? ,2010(3):83-86. ???. ??????????? [J]. ??????? ,2009(4):119-121. ???. ??????????????? [J]. ?????? , 2008(6):80-82. ???. ?????????????????? [J]. ?????? , 2009(3):52-55. ??. The Personality Determines Destiny——The Image Building Quesitions About Hamlet [J]. ????? ,2010(1):199-201. ???.
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I am especially indebted to Mrs Lu Junyan, my supervisor, who has provided me with information, advice, criticism and encouragement. My thesis couldn’t have come out without the countless instruction and patient guidance from my supervisor. His invaluable insights and hearty encouragement have enabled me to fulfill and improve the quality of my paper. Meanwhile, my appreciation also goes to my classmates and friends. They were always willing to give me assistance and encouragement whenever I sought help from them. Finally, I wish to thank my family for their unconditional support and encouragement through my undergraduate study.