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Prince Hamlet is depressed. Having been summoned home to Denmark from school in Germany to attend his father's funeral, he is shocked to find his mother Gertrude already remarried. The Queen has wed Hamlet's Uncle Claudius, the dead king's brother. To Hamlet, the marriage is "foul incest." Worse still, Claudius has had himself crowned King despite the fact that Hamlet was his father's heir to the throne. Hamlet suspects foul play.
When his father's ghost visits the castle, Hamlet's suspicions are confirmed. The Ghost complains that he is unable to rest in peace because he was murdered. Claudius, says the Ghost, poured poison in King Hamlet's ear while the old king napped. Unable to confess and find salvation, King Hamlet is now consigned, for a time, to spend his days in Purgatory and walk the earth by night. He entreats Hamlet to avenge his death, but to spare Gertrude, to let Heaven decide her fate.
Hamlet vows to affect madness — puts "an antic disposition on" — to wear a mask that will enable him to observe the interactions in the castle, but finds himself more confused than ever. In his persistent confusion, he questions the Ghost's trustworthiness. What if the Ghost is not a true spirit, but rather an agent of the devil sent to tempt him? What if killing Claudius results in Hamlet's having to relive his memories for all eternity? Hamlet agonizes over what he perceives as his cowardice because he cannot stop himself from thinking. Words immobilize Hamlet, but the world he lives in prizes action.
In order to test the Ghost's sincerity, Hamlet enlists the help of a troupe of players who perform a play called The Murder of Gonzago to which Hamlet has added scenes that recreate the murder the Ghost described. Hamlet calls the revised play The Mousetrap, and the ploy proves a success. As Hamlet had hoped, Claudius' reaction to the staged murder reveals the King to be conscience-stricken. Claudius leaves the room because he cannot breathe, and his vision is dimmed for want of light. Convinced now that Claudius is a villain, Hamlet resolves to kill him. But, as Hamlet observes, "conscience doth make cowards of us all."
In his continued reluctance to dispatch Claudius, Hamlet actually causes six ancillary deaths. The first death belongs to Polonius, whom Hamlet stabs through a wallhanging as the old man spies on Hamlet and Gertrude in the Queen's private chamber. Claudius punishes Hamlet for Polonius' death by exiling him to England. He has brought Hamlet's school chums Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Denmark from Germany to spy on his nephew, and now he instructs them to deliver Hamlet into the English king's hands for execution. Hamlet discovers the plot and arranges for the hanging of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. Ophelia, distraught over her father's death and Hamlet's behavior, drowns while singing sad love songs bemoaning the fate of a spurned lover. Her brother, Laertes, falls next.
Laertes, returned to Denmark from France to avenge his father's death, witnesses Ophelia's descent into madness. After her funeral, where he and Hamlet come to blows over which of them loved Ophelia best, Laertes vows to punish Hamlet for her death as well.
Unencumbered by words, Laertes plots with Claudius to kill Hamlet. In the midst of the sword fight, however, Laertes drops his poisoned sword. Hamlet retrieves the sword and cuts Laertes. The lethal poison kills Laertes. Before he dies, Laertes tells Hamlet that because Hamlet has already been cut with the same sword, he too will shortly die. Horatio diverts Hamlet's attention from Laertes for a moment by pointing out that "The Queen falls."
Gertrude, believing that Hamlet's hitting Laertes means her son is winning the fencing match, has drunk a toast to her son from the poisoned cup Claudius had intended for Hamlet. The Queen dies.
As Laertes lies dying, he confesses to Hamlet his part in the plot and explains that Gertrude's death lies on Claudius' head. Finally enraged, Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword and then pours the last of the poisoned wine down the King's throat. Before he dies, Hamlet declares that the throne should now pass to Prince Fortinbras of Norway, and he implores his true friend Horatio to accurately explain the events that have led to the bloodbath at Elsinore. With his last breath, he releases himself from the prison of his words: "The rest is silence."
The play ends as Prince Fortinbras, in his first act as King of Denmark, orders a funeral with full military honors for slain Prince Hamlet.v
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Plato was born around the year 428 BCE in Athens. His father died while Plato was young, and his mother remarried to Pyrilampes, in whose house Plato would grow up. Plato's birth name was Aristocles, and he gained the nickname Platon, meaning broad, because of his broad build. His family had a history in politics, and Plato was destined to a life in keeping with this history. He studied at a gymnasium owned by Dionysios, and at the palaistra of Ariston of Argos. When he was young he studied music and poetry. According to Aristotle, Plato developed the foundations of his metaphysics and epistemology by studying the doctrines of Cratylus, and the work of Pythagoras and Parmenides. When Plato met Socrates, however, he had met his definitive teacher. As Socrates' disciple, Plato adopted his philosophy and style of debate, and directed his studies toward the question of virtue and the formation of a noble character.
Plato was in military service from 409 BC to 404 BC. When the Peloponnesian War ended in 404 BC he joined the Athenian oligarchy of the Thirty Tyrants, one of whose leaders was his uncle Charmides. The violence of this group quickly prompted Plato to leave it. In 403 BC, when democracy was restored in Athens, he had hopes of pursuing his original goal of a political career. Socrates' execution in 399 BC had a profound effect on Plato, and was perhaps the final event that would convince him to leave Athenian politics forever.
Plato left Attica along with other friends of Socrates and traveled for the next twelve years. To all accounts it appears that he left Athens with Euclides for Megara, then went to visit Theodorus in Cyrene, moved on to study with the Pythagoreans in Italy, and finally to Egypt. During this period he studied the philosophy of his contemporaries, geometry, geology, astronomy and religion.
After 399 BC Plato began to write extensively. It is still up for debate whether he was writing before Socrates' death, and the order in which he wrote his major texts is also uncertain. However, most scholars agree to divide Plato's major work into three distinct groups. The first of these is known as the Socratic Dialogues because of how close he stays within the text to Socrates' teachings. They were probably written during the years of his travels between 399 and 387 BC. One of the texts in this group called the Apology seems to have been written shortly after Socrates' death. Other texts relegated to this group include the Crito, Laches, Lysis, Charmides, Euthyphro, and Hippias Minor and Major.
Plato returned to Athens in 387 BC and, on land that had once belonged to Academos, he founded a school of learning which he called the Academy. Plato's school is often described at the first European university. Its curriculum offered subjects including astronomy, biology, mathematics, political theory, and philosophy. Plato hoped the Academy would provide a place where thinkers could work toward better government in the Grecian cities. He would preside over the Academy until his death.
The period from 387 to 361 BC is often called Plato's "middle" or transitional period. It is thought that he may have written the Meno, Euthydemus, Menexenus, Cratylus, Repuglic, Phaedrus, Syposium and Phaedo during this time. The major difference between these texts and his earlier works is that he tends toward grander metaphysical themes and begins to establish his own voice in philosophy. Socrates still has a presence, however, sometimes as a fictional character. In the Meno for example Plato writes of the Socratic idea that no one knowingly does wrong, and adds the new doctrine of recollection questioning whether virtue can be taught. In the Phaedo we are introduced to the Platonic doctrine of the Forms, in which Plato makes claims as to the immortality of the human soul. The middle dialogues also reveal Plato's method of hypothesis.
Plato's most influential work, The Republic, is also a part of his middle dialogues. It is a discussion of the virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, and moderation, of the individual and in society. It works with the central question of how to live a good life, asking what an ideal State would be like, and what defines a just individual. These lead to more questions regarding the education of citizens, how government should be formed, the nature of the soul, and the afterlife. The dialogue finishes by reviewing various forms of government and describing the ideal state, where only philosophers are fit to rule. The Republic covers almost every aspect of Plato's thought.
In 367 BC Plato was invited to be the personal tutor to Dionysus II, the new ruler of Syracuse. Plato accepted the invitation, but found on his arrival that the situation was not conducive for philosophy. He continued to teach the young ruler until 365 BC when Syracuse entered into war. Plato returned to Athens, and it was around this time that Plato's famous pupil Aristotle began to study at the Academy. In 361 BC Plato returned to Syracuse in response to a letter from Dion, the uncle and guardian of Dionysus II, begging him to come back. However, finding the situation even more unpleasant than his first visit, he returned to Athens almost as fast as he had come.
Back at the Academy, Plato probably spent the rest of his life writing and conversing. The way he ran the Academy and his ideas of what constitutes an educated individual have been a major influence to education theory. His work has also been influential in the areas of logic and legal philosophy. His beliefs on the importance of mathematics in education has had a lasting influence on the subject, and his insistence on accurate definitions and clear hypotheses formed the foundations for Euclid's system of mathematics.
His final years at the Academy may be the years when he wrote the "Later" dialogues, including the Parmenides, Theatetus, Sophist,Statesmas,Timaeus,Critias,Philebus, and Laws. Socrates has been delegated a minor role in these texts. Plato uses these dialogues to take a closer look at his earlier metaphysical speculations. He discusses art, including dance, music, poetry, architecture and drama, and ethics in regards to immortality, the mind, and Realism. He also works with the philosophy of mathematics, politics and religion, covering such specifics as censorship, atheism, and pantheism. In the area of epistemology he discusses a priori knowledge and Rationalism. In his theory of Forms, Plato suggests that the world of ideas is constant and true, opposing it to the world we perceive through our senses, which is deceptive and changeable.
In 347 Plato died, leaving the Academy to his sister's son Speusippus. The Academy remained a model for institutions of higher learning until it was closed, in 529 CE, by the Emperor Justinian.
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