The Man Of Action, The Man Of Reason And Somewhere In Between: A Comparison Of Protagonist Portrayal In Literature Over Time One of the major changes in from the Anglo-Saxon period to the time of Shakespeare is the way in which a protagonist is portrayed. The shift was made from portraying a man of action to showing us a man of thought. In the time of the Anglo Saxon epic poem Beowulf , the protagonist of the same name, is a man of action. Hamlet however, is a man of thought. We will explore how these men are shown to us as an audience. How they are different as charters and how this change in portrayed is a symptom of cultural change.
Beowulf is a quintessential man of action. In the epic he is faced with a very concrete problem. He must slay the monster Grendel, who keeps attacking his relatives castle. Without any hesitation he moves into action. Never once does he stop to consider an alternate plan, nor does he have any moral ambiguity about killing Grendel. Another interesting thing is that never once do we as readers gain access to Beowulfs thoughts or feelings. We are simply on the outside watching what he does.
Hamlet in comparison shows us a world of difference. During most of the play we see into Hamlets mind. We see his moral struggles and even his thoughts regarding suicide. We often know what hamlet is going todo before he does it, thanks tothis insight into his mind. More importantly we know why he chooses to do the things he does, a critical change from Beowulfs motives. Hamlets dilemma is also in and of itself not a concrete problem. He has no monster to slay. He must decide what is right and wrong in an ambiguous situation.
Hamlet's Tragic Flaw It is better not to put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Many consequences can arise when one procrastinates. An example of this is found in Shakespeare's Hamlet through the depiction of the central character. Although Hamlet is characterized as daring, brave, loyal, and intelligent, he is overwhelmed by his own conscience. The tragic hero is defined as one whose ...
Even the tings that brings to his attention the problem is not concrete, it is an insubstantial ghost This change is symptomatic of the change in the cultures that brought the stories into being. The nature and expectations of the audiences have changed. The audience for Beowulf, when it was first being told, was a group of warriors and possibly their families all gathered in Meade hall. The meal was over and they were looking to be entertained. They may have been tried from a long days work, or in-between battles. They were looking to be entertained.
The audience of the Shakespeares play is a very different one. Patrons commissioned the plays in that time. These were wealthy people with lots of leisure time. They entertained themselves by reading and writing (most of he patrons were noble people, who were literate) they wanted charters that they could relate to. Hamlet, a Nobel man, with the time on his hands to think through a problem was someone that they could see a little bit of themselves in. This change did not happen overnight.
There were protagonists who lived in the land in between the man of action and the man of thought. The knight in The Canterbury Tales is a prime example of a man who is in between. His very role as a knight classifies him as a man of action. He is experienced in combat. However, he is also a member of the nobility, which means that he could read and write. The story he tells is one that hinges both on action and on a moral issue. Tow men fight for the love of a woman, but in the end both are regretful for having fought the other.
In the end this change takes nothing away from either charter. They are both interesting and unique in their own ways, with something of value to offer the reader. How ever we can not deny that they are two very different protagonists who are the product of two very different time periods..