Oxymorons and Paradoxes

An oxymoron is a form of paradox that combines a pair of contrary terms into a single expression. This combination usually serves the purpose of shocking the reader into awareness.  Examples include “wise fool,” “sad joy,” and “eloquent silence.” During my reading in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I’ve noticed a few oxymoron examples popping up within King Claudius’ dialogue. The first I noted happened to be the most obvious, “Have we, as ’twere with a defeated joy, / With an auspicious and dropping eye, / With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage.(Act 1.ii.10-12)

As you may notice, there are several statements that contradict themselves that I have underlined for your easier viewing. The words ‘defeated’, ‘funeral’, and ‘dirge’ are all examples of mourning while ‘joy’, ‘mirth’, and ‘marriage’ would be seen by those who are encountering a joyous occasion. King Claudius (as you may or may not know) is extremely pleased with his position that has been taken over from the late King Hamlet. It’s almost as if he’s taunting young Hamlet with his speech.

A paradox, however, is a situation or action or feeling that appears to be contradictory but on inspection turns out to be true or at least to make sense. Following with my analyzing of Act 1.ii, I noticed a few paradoxes within Hamlet’s words from a quote that I’ve heard quite a few times now. “A little more than kin, a little less than kind.” (Act 1.ii.65) Hamlet’s uncle, King Claudius, has now married his mother and become something more to him than just kin. Now, he is his uncle-father while his mother become his aunt-mother. Now both of them are twice related to Hamlet, as he bitterly speaks of Claudius’ new position. Not only that, but he also makes the joke that “the funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” (Act 1.ii.180-181).

As I have noticed on through, into my reading of Act 2, Hamlet is a master of words and quite the witty card when it comes to bitter humor in a manner such as this. He brings about many paradoxes in his humor, when applied with a bit of meaning to his words.

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