Comparison of Setting in Hamlet and Trifles
William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet written in 1600 is about the protagonist Hamlet, prince of Denmark who is grieving after the loss of his father, King Hamlet. The ghost of his father visits young Hamlet and orders him to seek revenge on his uncle Claudius, the man who seized his throne and married his widowed wife. Trifles, a play by Susan Glaspell written in 1916, is a play about the search for evidence of the murder of Mr.
Wright. The entire play takes place in the Wright’s kitchen in which two women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discover that the murderer was none other than his wife Minnie Wright. Both of these plays consist of similar themes such as grief, memory of loved ones, death and murder.
This paper will argue that how the setting of the graveyard in Hamlet and the setting of the kitchen in Trifles contribute to the characters and themes in each play. Specifically, it will look at examples from Hamlet and Trifles and show how memory and grief pertain to both Hamlet and Mrs. Wright with contribution from each of the settings. Although Mrs. Wright may be the protagonist of the play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are almost as significant. All three women had dominating husbands who expected their women to carry out house chores, take care of the farm and raise their children; what was expected of a woman in that era. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters accepted their roles as women, and carried out their duties as expected.
Mrs. Wright on the other hand was unhappy in her home and with her life, and from Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters comments about her dreariness we learn that it is more likely she murdered her husband. For example, Mrs. Hale talks about how she was 30 years ago, “She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir” (791). However, once she became Minnie Wright and was expected to be a wife, keep her house clean and do chores, she did not enjoy it and hence did not make an effort in it. This is all evident in the state her kitchen is in, as at that time a woman’s main pride was in the way she kept her kitchen. From the setting of the kitchen, we notice how grief is significantly present in the surroundings, which cause memories from Mrs. Wright’s past to be brought up. Due to the fact that the entire play takes place in this specific setting shows that even though Mrs. Wright is not present, she is still the protagonist. The kitchen is cold, dirty, and very still which shows that a death has just occurred in this house. It adds to the tense atmosphere of the play. Evidence to support the fact that she murdered her husband is discovered by the two women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters in this very kitchen. This shows that Mrs. Wright spent most of her time in the kitchen, as she was expected to as a housewife, and evidently did not enjoy it.
Likewise, from the play we discover that the kitchen was dirty, messy and not taken care of. For example, the county attorney points this out by exclaiming “Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies? ” (790). As the play goes on the women then discover Mrs. Wright’s most recent disheveled knitting. Both these examples from the setting of the kitchen show us that Mrs. Wright was in a nervous state of mind, and significantly distracted in the days leading up to the murder of her husband.
Finally, the most prominent event in the play is the discovery of the dead bird amongst her sewing things, which is the main evidence that Mrs. Wright did murder her husband. Upon discovering this evidence however, both the women choose to keep it to themselves, in order to protect one of their own. The narration of the memory of Minnie Foster creates a sense of grief for the women towards Mrs. Wright and what she was going through. It is tragic because Mrs. Wright transformed from a happy, choir singing, jolly independent woman, to a quiet housewife who knits and keeps to herself most of the time.
For example, Mrs. Hale compares her to a bird to describe her character thirty years ago when she says “- come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself – real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and – fluttery. How – she – did – change” (795). All this talk of who Mrs. Wright used to before she got married shows the audience what kind of woman she used to be, to what she had become. They also discuss how Mr. Wright was a hard man, and the thought of spending the day with him was horrifying. These memories of the Wright couple as individuals result in the women grieving for Mrs. Wright. This is a possible reason why they kept the evidence a secret from the sheriff and county attorney. They understand Mrs. Wright’s state of mind, and what she was going through and hence wanted to protect her as she had enough courage to act upon her misery. Although there has been a death, their grieving is for a different reason: one that only a woman can understand. Similarly, the setting of the graveyard in Hamlet represents the idea of death, sorrow, and grief. It is a cold place, dark at night and very quiet and one is surrounded by death.
It is a prominent setting in Hamlet as it is the place in which Hamlet discovers through the ghost that it was his uncle who murdered his father. In addition it is where he finds out that his one true love Ophelia has committed suicide. He has discovered that he has lost two of the most loved people in his life. For example, in Act 1 Scene 5 the ghost says, “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life, Now wears his crown” (968). Also, when Hamlet discovers that it is Ophelia who has died, he comes forward and confesses how much he had loved her “I lov’d Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers Could not with all their quantity love make up my sum” (1043). All this contributes to Hamlet’s distressed, suicidal character. He suffered significantly after the loss of important people in his life and became depressed due to this. Shakespeare’s plays main themes are revenge, grief, depression and death. The setting of the graveyard incorporates all these themes, more specifically memory and grief, hence the reason why it is a significant setting. As mentioned earlier, throughout the play Hamlet is grieving for numerous reasons.
From the beginning of the play, it was for the loss of his father, and then in his first soliloquy he talks of how fast time is moving and how his mother has wedded so fast. As the play progresses, Hamlet learns from the ghost that his very own uncle murdered his father, and that the love of his life, Ophelia has committed suicide. Due to the fact that unfortunate events are recurring so close together, Hamlet’s state of mind is evident through his words, that he is suicidal. For example, in his first soliloquy in Act one scene two, he expresses “O that this too too sallied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself in a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d His canon ‘gainst [self-]slaughter! ” (956). In this line, he wishes for his flesh to melt and that God had not made suicide a sin. His thoughts recur in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Hamlet discovers the skull of the Yorick, the old court jester from Hamlet’s childhood. Upon discovery of this skull, he is reminded of a fond memory from his childhood that is from so long ago, that he has forgotten how it feels. However, the discovery of this skull also makes Hamlet realize that no matter who you are, we will all die one day and return to dust.
This memory makes Hamlet realize that he needs to come to terms with losses in his life, and take revenge for his father’s death. We have seen throughout this paper how the setting of the graveyard in Hamlet and the setting of the kitchen in Trifles have contributed to the characters and themes of each play. It specifically looked at how memory and grief pertain to the characters and themes. Examples from Hamlet have shown the theme of grief, and depression of the play due to the loss of loved ones. The graveyard emphasizes these themes, as well as Hamlet’s character and his actions due to his unsettled state of mind.
The memory of his father causes him to grieve to a further extent, however with the memory of Yorick he realizes that even Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar all returned to dust eventually. The kitchen in cold, dirty kitchen of Trifles represents Mrs. Wright’s state of mind leading up to the murder of her husband. Also, the memory of Minnie Foster narrated by Mrs. Hale shows how drastically her character transitioned. The women grieve for the fact that she had to take such drastic measures to claim her freedom, and hence hide their discovery of the bird.