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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Do Actions Speak Louder Than Words?

      Throughout the play Hamlet by Shakespeare, Hamlet is expected to take action based upon his words, but is compelled by others and fails to carry out his promise until the end of the play.  The term performative utterance suggests that there is a division between what is said and what is done and that "certain language doesn't merely describe action but acts in being spoken." (deBoer 1) Based on a dry cut understanding of this term and its use in the play, it would be expected that Hamlet would kill Claudius much sooner.  The use of performative utterance in this play rather shows how Hamlet finds himself through self overhearing; he gains knowledge of himself by overhearing what he speaks.   There are three main forces of performative utterance that are evident throughout the play and show how Hamlet is able to find himself through his words.

     In act I when Hamlet says, "So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word; it is 'Adieu, adieu! remember me.' I have sworn 't," to the ghost of his father; Shakespeare is using the locutionary force.  Hamlet doesn't just speak, he delivers a message.  Through his words his  entire audience has a similar idea of what he means and what his purpose is.

     Early in the play Hamlet establishes his intensions.  By saying, "I have sworn 't," Hamlet is making a pact that he will kill his uncle Claudius and avenge his father's murder.  This is the illocutionary force; what is done in being said.  By swearing, Hamlet is telling his audience what his intensions are.  An example would be, "I now pronounce you man and wife."  Simply by the utter of these words it is known that the couple is now married.  Based on performative utterance, it is expected that Hamlet will now go and kill Claudius without hesitation, but it's only through self overhearing that his pact is fulfilled.  He is constantly compelled by other characters such as Horatio, Gertrude, and Ophilia, but through his internal and external conflicts he realizes his own utterance and in doing so realizes himself.  This is when he can finally get his revenge.

     By swearing that he will kill Claudius, Hamlet is achieving half of the battle.  Based on performative utterance, his words will "change the reality that they are describing."  This is the perlocutionary force; the result of what is being said. Even though it took five acts to get the job done and everyone died except Horatio, Hamlet carried out his promise.  Until this point, Hamlet was finding himself through self over hearing. In this process he learned who he could and couldn't trust and also learned of his love for Ophilia.  Once Hamlet successfully killed king Claudius, the use of performative utterance was complete.

     Once Hamlet was able to hear himself speak, the use of performative utterance in Hamlet became apparent. By breaking down Hamlet's promise to avenge his father into the three main forces it was clear that the action of words created a reaction. "Language does not only describe but does." (deBoer 3)

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