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There are many themes found in William Shakespeare's tragic play "Hamlet." The first theme

found in the play is revenge.

● The theme of revenge is made apparent through the movement of the characters' actions.

Many of the characters' actions are completed based upon one, singular idea: enacting

revenge upon another. At the same time, the themes of death and fate are woven

together with revenge. The themes play off of each other in order to highlight how

revenge typically ends in death while speaking to the fate of the character at the

same time.

● Revenge is central to the plot of Hamlet. Hamlet's quest to uncover the truth of his

father's death is fueled by his desire to seek revenge on Claudius, who poisoned his

brother, King Hamlet, in order to assume the throne. In the end, Hamlet gets his revenge,

but at a terrible price.

● Hamlet is often called an "Elizabethan revenge play", the theme of revenge against an

evil usurper driving the plot forward. A hero plays minister and scourge in avenging a

moral injustice, an affront to both man and God. In this case, regicide (killing a king) is a

particularly monstrous crime, and there is no doubt as to whose side our sympathies are



Madness emerges as one of the most important themes of the play. Scholars have long debated

whether Prince Hamlet is just pretending to be mad to deflect suspicion or if, in the process of

feigning madness, Hamlet actually becomes mad himself. This is open to interpretation.
● Hamlet's originally acts mad to fool people into think he is harmless while probing his

father's death and Claudius's involvement. Early on, the bumbling Polonius says "though this

be madness, yet there is method in't" (Act II, Scene II). Polonius's assertion is ironic because he is

right and wrong. Polonius falsely believes Hamlet's madness stems from Hamlet's love of

Ophelia. To notice a method behind the crazy talk was impressive of Polonius.

● As the play progresses, Hamlet's behavior become more erratic. His acting mad seems to cause

Hamlet to lose his grip on reality. The circumstances he has to manage emotionally are difficult,

to say the least. Succumbing to physical violence when under extreme stress shows that Hamlet

has deeper-set issues than merely acting mad.

● In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet feigns madness in order to avoid the suspicion of the

fratricidal king as he plots his revenge. But Hamlet's feigned madness is not so simple as this.

His performance of madness, rather than aiding his revenge, almost distracts him from it, as

he spends the great majority of the play exhibiting very little interest in pursuing the ghost's

mission even after he has proven, via "The Mouse Trap," that Claudius is indeed guilty as sin.

● The traditional question is perhaps the least interesting one to ask of his madness - is he really

insane or is he faking it? It seems clear from the text that he is, indeed, playing the role of the

madman (he says he will do just that) and using his veneer of lunacy to have a great deal of fun

with the many fools who populate Elsinore, especially Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Perhaps this feigned madness does at times edge into actual madness, in the same way that all

acted emotions come very close to their genuine models, but, as he says, he is but mad north-

nothwest, and knows a hawk from a handsaw. When he is alone, or with Horatio, and free

from the need to act the lunatic, Hamlet is incredibly lucid and self-aware, perhaps a bit

manic but hardly insane.

● Hamlet is not the only person who goes insane in the play. Ophelia's madness serves as a clear

foil to his own strange antics. She is truly, unambiguously, innocently, simply mad. Whereas
Hamlet's madness seems to increase his self-awareness, Ophelia loses every vestige of

composure and self-knowledge, just as the truly insane tend to do.


Like madness, suicide is a theme that links Hamlet and Ophelia, and shapes the concerns of the

play more generally. Hamlet thinks deeply about it, and perhaps "contemplates" it in the more popular

sense; Ophelia perhaps commits it. In both cases, the major upshot of suicide is religious.

● In his two "suicide soliloquies," Hamlet segues into meditations on religious laws and mysteries -

"that the Everlasting had not fixed / His canon 'gainst self-slaughter"; "For in that sleep of death

what dreams may come." And Ophelia's burial is greatly limited by the clergy's suspicions that

she might have taken her own life.

● Hamlet appears to suggest that were it not for, first, the social stigma attached to suicide by

religious authorities, and second, the legitimately "unknown" nature of whatever happens

after death, there would be a lot more self-slaughter in this difficult and bitter world. In a

play so obsessed with the self, and the nature of the self, it's only natural to see this emphasis on


● According to Gertrude's narration of the event, Ophelia's drowning was entirely accidental.

However, some have suggested that Gertrude's long story may be a fabrication invented to protect

the young woman from the social stigma of suicide.

● In Act Five the priest and the gravediggers are fairly certain that Ophelia took her own life. One

might ask oneself - why does it make such a difference to us whether she died by her own hand or

not? Shakespeare seems, in fact, to inspire this very sort of self-interrogation.


The weight of one's mortality and the complexities of life and death are introduced from the

beginning of Hamlet.
● In the wake of his father's death, Hamlet can't stop pondering and considering the meaning of

life — and its eventual ending. Many questions emerge as the text progresses. What happens

when you die? If you're murdered, then will you go to heaven? Do kings truly have a free pass to


● In Hamlet's mind the idea of dying isn't so bad. It's the uncertainty of the afterlife that

frightens Hamlet away from suicide, even though he's obsessed with the notion.

● A turning point for Hamlet occurs in the graveyard scene in Act V. Before, Hamlet has been

appalled and revolted by the moral corruption of the living. Seeing Yorick's skull (someone

Hamlet loved and respected) propels Hamlet's realization that death eliminates the differences

between people.

● The sheer number of bodies at the end of Hamlet can be misleading. Even though eight of the

nine primary characters die, the question of mortality is not fully answered. The questions about

death, suicide, and what comes after are left unanswered. What Hamlet presents in an exploration

and discussion without a true resolution.


Death has been considered the primary theme of Hamlet by many eminent critics through the


● The play is really death-obsessed, as is Hamlet himself. In his very first long speech of the

play, "Oh that this too solid flesh," Hamlet seems on the verge of total despair, kept from suicide

by the simple fact of spiritual awe. He is in the strange position of both wishing for death and

fearing it intensely, and this double pressure gives the play much of its drama.
● One of the aspects of death which Hamlet finds most fascinating is its bodily facticity. We are, in

the end, so much meat and bone. This strange intellectual being, which Hamlet values so highly

and possesses so mightily, is but tenuously connected to an unruly and decomposing machine. In

the graveyard scene, especially, we can see Hamlet's fascination with dead bodies.

● Hamlet is unprecedented for the depth and variety of its meditations on death. Mortality is the

shadow that darkens every scene of the play. Not that the play resolves anything, or settles any

of our species-old doubts and anxieties.


The presence of only two named female characters says something about the role of women

within Hamlet. The death of both women also indicates a social commentary.

● Hamlet is at his most agitated state when talking to either female character. Although he cares for

both, he's suspicious, as well. In the case of his mother, Gertrude, Hamlet feels she remarried too

quickly and that her remarriage means she didn't love her first husband all that much. The idea

freaks Hamlet out.

● Then there's Ophelia. From the way the characters talk, we know Hamlet has been wooing

Ophelia for some time. But after Hamlet starts to act mad, it doesn't take long for him to

assume that Ophelia is in cahoots with Gertrude, Claudius, and Polonius. In reality,

Ophelia obeyed her father and her monarch.

● In both cases, Hamlet feels as if each woman has let him down, respectively. He's critical and

quick to point out flaws though puns and backhanded comments. Ophelia is usually viewed

as a true victim, while Gertrude's role is interpreted with more flexibility. In either case, the role

and treatment of women in Hamlet is essential to discuss with an open mind

● Shakespeare introduces the theme of corruption, both physical and spiritual, with the line,
"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." This is evident in the fact that a murderer sits

on the throne.

Political Livelihood

The state of the nation in Denmark is deteriorating. The death of a king throws any nation into

political turmoil. With a new king on the throne and the deceased king's son acting erratically,

something's clearly off.

● When the guard Marcellus famously says "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (Act I,

Scene IV), he's not being ironic about Hamlet's bathing habits. Marcellus's words refer to how

something evil and vile is afoot. This moment could be interpreted as foreshadowing of the

impending deaths of most of the principle characters. But it also refers to the political unrest

Denmark is feeling as a nation.

● The political livelihood of Denmark can be directly linked back to the mental state of Hamlet at

many points throughout the play.


Elsinore is full of political intrigue. The murder of King Hamlet, of course, is the primary

instance of such sinister workings, but it is hardly the only one.

● Polonius, especially, spends nearly every waking moment (it seems) spying on this or that person,

checking up on his son in Paris, instructing Ophelia in every detail of her behavior, hiding behind

tapestries to eavesdrop. He is the parody of a politician, convinced that the truth can only be

known through the most roundabout and sneaking ways. This is never clearer than in his

appearances in Act Two. First, he instructs Reynaldo in the most incredibly convoluted espionage
methods; second, he hatches and pursues his misguided theory that Hamlet is mad because

his heart has been broken by Ophelia.

● Claudius, too, is quite the inept Machiavellian. He naively invites Fortinbras to march across his

country with a full army; he stupidly enlists Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as his chief spies; his

attempt to poison Hamlet ends in total tragedy. He is little better than Polonius. This political

ineptitude goes a long way toward revealing how weak Denmark has become under Claudius'

rule. He is not a natural king, to be sure; he is more interested in drinking and sex than in war,

reconnaissance, or political plotting. This is partly why his one successful political move, the

murder of his brother, is so ironic and foul. He has somehow done away with much the

better ruler, the Hyperion to his satyr (as Hamlet puts it).

● It's worth noting that there is one extremely capable politician in the play - Hamlet himself. He is

always on top of everyone's motives, everyone's doings and goings. He plays Polonius like a pipe

and evades every effort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to do the same to him. He sniffs out

Claudius' plot to have him killed in England and sends his erstwhile friends off to die instead.

Hamlet is a true Machiavellian when he wants to be. He certainly wouldn't have been as warlike

as his father, but had he gotten the chance he might have been his father's equal as a ruler, simply

due to his penetration and acumen.


(the quality of being based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions)

The play's subject massively is neither mourning for the dead or revenge on the living. All

that matters is Hamlet's consciousness of his own consciousness, infinite, unlimited, and at war with

itself. Hamlet discovers that his life has been a quest with no object except his own endlessly burgeoning


● Hamlet's soliloquies, to take only the most obvious feature, are strong and sustained

investigations of the self - not only as a thinking being, but as emotional, bodily, and
paradoxically multiple. Hamlet, fascinated by his own character, his turmoil, his

inconsistency, spends line after line wondering at himself. Why can't I carry out revenge?

Why can't I carry out suicide? He questions himself, and in so doing questions the nature of

the self.

● Aside from these massive speeches, Hamlet shows a sustained interest in philosophical problems

of the subject. Among these problems is the mediating role of thought in all human life. "For

there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so," he says. We can never know the truth,

he suggests, nor the good, nor the evil of the world, except through the means of our

thoughts. Certainty is not an option. And the great realm of uncertainty, the realm of

dreams, fears, thoughts, is the realm of subjectivity.


● Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet (1603) explores the theme of conflict and its repercussions.

● Elizabethan dramatists, influenced as they were by Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, generally

included some of his ideas; catharsis, hamartia and peripetiea, the most popular of the time,

are all used in Hamlet.

● These devices could be said either to cause or to result from conflict, affecting either the

characters or the audience. Aristotle’s view of the comedy genre is that it focuses on the lives

of ordinary people, not aristocrats, while Dante states that comedy begins with problems

but ends with happiness – a formula that most Elizabethan comedies followed.

● The play contains many different shades of conflict; however, one could broadly speak of

internal and external conflict.

● Elizabethan audiences revelled in shocking drama and conflict. Some of Shakespeare’s most

violent plays were by far his most popular during his lifetime; although modern audiences are

often repulsed by its gore and brutality.

● The outer and inner conflict groupings each contain numerous sections of more specific struggles.

Conflict in Hamlet is roughly made up of political and familial disputes as well as of

ideological divergence between religious sects.

● Conflict is central to the play in terms of structure. Hamlet begins with the line “Who’s there”,

introducing a tone of suspicion and uncertainty to the play. This mood is maintained

through the introduction of the ghost to Hamlet, his madness, Ophelia’s suicide and then

Hamlet’s eventual death – all of which have the common denominator of death. During

scenes that contain overt references to death, Shakespeare uses very hyperbolic language, such as:

“Woul’t drink up easel, eat a crocodile?” (5.1.265).

● characters employ hyperbolic language to communicate their intense emotions to the audience.

As the tension in the plays grow, it looks for an outlet – it cannot continue contained as it is

so it resolves itself whichever way it can – either through a comic solution or through tragic


● One could draw a parallel, then, between comedy and tragedy; tragedy comprises the Tragic

Individual, the Tragic Action and the Resolution. The Individuals cause the conflict, which in

turn causes the Action, which finally leads to the Solution, which ultimately determines the

genre of the play.

● This conflict between Individuals, or characters, makes up a very large portion of the overall

controversy of the play; as stated before, it is the characters themselves who actually create

the conflict.

● In Hamlet it is Claudius who is the root of the conflict, as the ghost of the late king

commands Hamlet to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.25). This
introduces the theme that is prevalent in many of Shakespeare’s plays: murder cannot be


● Hamlet, as the son of the late King, naturally feels tension between himself and King Claudius,

whom he views as having usurped his father’s place even prior to the ghost’s revelation (1.5.7-

91). Claudius admits that “the general gender” bear a “great love” (4.7.19) for Hamlet, something

that may rankle with him, as Hamlet’s strong claim to the throne coupled with an affection from

the populace could turn into a possible rebellion against Claudius’s regime.

● Claudius’s rather overt snub of Hamlet (1.2.42) – by hearing Laertes’ request before addressing

Hamlet – could be an example of Claudius’s fear of Hamlet’s power. This shows that from both

side of the Claudius – Hamlet struggle there is distrust and antagonism, which creates a

significant political tension due to their positions in the royal family, as well as familial


● Love is portrayed by Shakespeare as a force capable of producing either severe conflict or

sublime happiness.

● In Hamlet, the characters of Hamlet and Ophelia conflict when they are finally seen on stage

together in Act three, Scene one. The delay Shakespeare inserted before their meeting

suggests a dysfunctional relationship, supporting the actual conflict in their conversation.

Ophelia claims that Hamlet courted her, which he vehemently disavows, stating, “I never gave

you aught” (3.1.95).

● Hamlet is also undecided who the sinner is. The parallel he draws between the powers of beauty

and honesty: “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty…to a bawd, than the force of

honesty can translate beauty into his likeness” (3.1.110-112) suggests that the beautiful Ophelia

cannot be honest as well as she is fair, and that she must therefore be false.

● On the other hand, he then declares “get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of

sinners?” (3.1.120-121) and that “it were better my mother had not borne me” (3.1.122-123).

These two statements give the opposing view that Hamlet is the sinner, and he only wishes to
protect Ophelia from his corruptive influences. Hamlet is struggling between his love for

Ophelia and his abhorrence for himself and his indecision.

● In Hamlet there is a rupture between cultures that relates to the plays’ context, as the conflict is

between tradition and progress.

● In Hamlet the Catholic Ghost of King Hamlet, who believes in the Catholic claim that freedom

from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money, represents the traditional views.

The very fact that he appears as a ghost suggests that Catholics believe in the supernatural;

however, the young Hamlet, educated in Wittenberg (and therefore probably influenced by

Martin Luther), embodies Protestant and Renaissance ideals, and most definitely does not want to

believe in ghosts and the supernatural.

● Hamlet is a rationalist, while his father, a representative of the Catholics, shows that the Catholic

creed is one of fantasy. Shakespeare has portrayed this through Hamlet’s clarity of language and

articulacy: “Hic et ubique?” (1.5.156) shows Hamlet’s clear grasp of Latin verse as well as the

concept of omnipresence and the power of God, which stands out radically against Horatio’s

rather prosaic “Propose the oath, my lord” – suggesting that the highest power Horatio can

comprehend can only ever be that which stands revealed in front of him.

● Hamlet is shown by these two comparisons, one of religion and one of intellect, to be deep-

thinking and progressive, conflicting with the prevalent culture of his time.

● In Hamlet, madness is the result of conflict. While conflict itself can be solved, madness is

illogical and therefore has no solution. The play contain examples of external and internal

conflict, although the conflict in Hamlet is tragic and therefore without a solution – this is

why it leads to madness and not the other way round.

Fate/ The Wheel of Fortune

● Always the dominant theme in tragedies, set in motion as a result of an “unbalanced” natural

order and unnatural acts; acts or omissions which are the “fault” of the protagonist.

Due to Hamlet feeling betrayed by the two closest women in his life (his mother and his

lover), Hamlet becomes extremely cynical about women in general. He shows a particular obsession

with what he perceives to be a connection between female sexuality and moral corruption.

● When Hamlet shouts at Gertrude, indicating his disgust at her "sexual appetite" (what he believes

to be the reason she marries Claudius with such haste), he tells her "Frailty, thy name is woman!”.

He implies through his speech, and even with his demeaning conversations with Ophelia,

that women are simply slaves to their sexual desires and thus they are frail, too weak to be


● More so, it is clear that Hamlet has profound hatred for women because he compares his

indecisiveness and cowardice to a "whore" or "scullion".

● Hamlet believes by not avenging his father's death, he is a coward, and therefore is like a woman.

● He likewise associates his inability to act out his father's revenge as betrayal and thus he

associates his betrayal with women, especially his mother.

● Furthermore, Hamlet is inexcusably cruel to Ophelia when he tells her to "marry a fool; for wise

men know well enough/ what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go,"(3.1.11).

● Hamlet claims here that women make their husbands into "monsters" which is allusion to the idea

that cuckolds (men whose wives cheated on them) grew horns. Hamlet assumes that all women

are unfaithful and all wives cheat, which is why he orders Ophelia to a "nunnery" (a

convent for unmarried women but also a slang term for "brothel").

● Hamlet delves further into his tirade by indicating that "God/ has given you one face, and you

make yourselves/ another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp". Here Hamlet demonstrates his

belief that women through an analogy of women "painting" makeup on their face as a way

to conceal their true selves.

● He mentions that by playing dumb, walking, and talking, women make themselves appear

something that she is not. In other words, Hamlet is accusing Ophelia of pretending to be

innocent when in fact she is promiscuous (like all women he believes) and he orders her again, to

a nunnery.

● His mistreatment and vile verbal abuse to Ophelia is partly in due to her acting out her father's

orders, but stems almost entirely from his feeling of betrayal from his mother.

● He is extremely bothered and disturbed by his mother's sexual affairs with Claudius and so

much so that he accuses all women of being unable to be faithful but as treacherous beings.

● This gives explanation to the "Oedipus Complex" theory and similarly is intertwined with the

motif of incest which in turn supports the themes of sex, gender, and even moral corruption.


In Act Two scene two Polonius asks Hamlet, "What do you read, my lord?" Hamlet replies,

"Words, words, words." Of course every book is made of words, every play is a world of words, so to

speak, and Hamlet is no different. Hamlet is distinguished, however, in its attentiveness to language

within the play. Not only does it contain extremely rich language, not only did the play greatly expand

the English vocabulary, Hamlet also contains several characters who show an interest in language

and meaning in themselves.

● Hamlet explores the traditional dichotomy between words and deeds. In Act Four, when talking

to Laertes, Claudius makes this distinction explicit: "what would you undertake, / To show

yourself your father's son in deed / More than in words?" Here deeds are associated with noble

acts, specifically the fulfillment of revenge, and words with empty bluffing.

● Hamlet himself is a master of language, an explorer of its possibilities; he is also a man who

has trouble performing actual deeds. For him, reality seems to exist more in thoughts and

sentences than in acts. Thus his trouble fulfilling revenge seems to stem from his overemphasis

on reasoning and formulating - a fault of over-precision that he acknowledges himself in the

speech beginning, "How all occasions do inform against me."


Shakespeare did much of his writing in a form called Iambic Pentameter, in which each line of

text contains ten alternately stressed syllables (five pairs/feet). There are five iambs in each line. A full

line of iambic pentameter has the rhythm:

da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum

For example:

● but soft what light through yonder window breaks (Romeo, Act II Scene 2, Romeo and Juliet)

● A little more than kin, and less than kind: (Hamlet, Act I Scene 2, Hamlet)
Some say this rhythm echoes the human heartbeat and is a naturally spoken rhythm in English—

usually. Actors generally do not speak it in a sing-song fashion, emphasizing the meter, but are aware of it

and allow it to influence which words are stressed in the context of a scene.

Shakespeare primarily wrote in blank verse for his tragedies and history plays. However,

blank verse, like life, is not perfect. Sometimes Shakespeare’s lines have extra syllables, or are short

some syllables. Many scholars and actors believe variation in blank verse offers insight into a

character’s state of mind, emotional state, or reaction to what is happening onstage. Does he or she

rush to get the whole line out? Does the character pause? If so, why? Hamlet is also notable because

characters often speak partial or shared lines. One character may begin a line of iambic pentameter but not

finish it, suggesting an extended pause. Or, another character may finish the line, indicating no pause at

all. Here, after Horatio describes the ghost that looks like Hamlet's father, Hamlet grills his friend for

more information:


Did you not speak to it?


My lord, I did;

But answer made it none. Yet once methought

It lifted up its head and did address

Itself to motion, like as it would speak.

But even then the morning cock crew loud,

And at the sound it shrunk in haste away

And vanished from our sight.


'Tis very strange.


LANGUAGE (CONTINUED.P2 - Shakespeare’s Language/Context)

Shakespeare is renowned for the poetic imagery of his language and for the word pictures he

creates. His reputation is well founded because while he was writing English was not the dominant

language – it was Latin. Shakespeare culminated what Chaucer had begun; to make English a

respectable language for expressing complex, personal and imaginative ideas.

There is only one reason why Shakespeare’s plays are still alive and read 400 years after they

were written; his mastery of clear, powerful visual language. As we have seen most of his plots are not

original, but it is ability to revitalise old stories and histories, shape them into compelling dramas

with syncopated plots and revitalise them with resonant forceful language that still appeals to us


Features of Shakespeare’s Language are:

1. His powerful imagery which allows us to visualise his scenes without props or concrete

2. The use of nuances, the power of suggestion, implied meanings.

3. His varied vocabulary, including the fact that he coined many new words and hundreds of new
sayings that have become part of our argot.

4. The lyricism of his verse and sometimes even his prose has a lightness and resonance or
lingering effect on us.

5. The wide range of his allusions to classical, religious and historical icons, stories and people.

6. The play on words; he likes to use puns, oxymorons, s-xual innuendo, assonance, alliteration,
ambiguity and any other tactics to engage and entertain his audiences.

His greatest contribution was coinage – neologisms (a newly coined word or expression).

There are no less than 1500 words and phrases that didn’t appear anywhere before Shakespeare had used

them. He made up words to express his ideas without losing his audience. Examples include:

antipathy, critical, frugal, hereditary, horrid, excellent, assassination, lonely, leapfrog, indistinguishable,

well-read, zany, “eyeball”, “hot-blooded” and “obscene”,….

Many of his expressions have become so well known and much used to become clichéd: the milk

of human kindness, down the primrose path, in a pickle, more sinned against than sinning, beggar all

description, cold comfort, to thine own self be true, salad days, be cruel to be kind, pomp and

circumstance, and foregone conclusion.

LANGUAGE (CONTINUED. P3 - Aristotelian forms of tragedy in Hamlet/Emphasis on structure)

Hamlet conforms to the Aristotelian forms of tragedy. It is well constructed and abides to Aristotle’s

definitions regarding a complete dramatic action which arouse pity and fear inducing Catharsis.

The play is based on the theatre of illusion where the audience experiences the predicaments of the

characters vicariously.
● By identifying emotionally and psychologically, we are drawn closer to the characters;

identify and empathise and are aroused by their terror to pity and fear (Pathos) to a state

of Catharsis, releasing our tension, soothing and purging our souls. This can be

ephemeral with no lasting consequences.

● The plot is linear, progressing from a beginning, a middle and an end with various

techniques of wholeness, unity and purpose.

● The characters are appropriate, realistic and plausible; the hero from a good family,

going through a crisis with a reversal of fortune.

● Suffering is depicted as ennobling. At the end, order is restored, god is on his throne

and all is right with the world.


Hamlet is an Aristotelian model of a classical drama - there is an overall logic to the action,

and the plot has a discernible shape: a beginning, middle, and end. By the conclusion of the play, in

other words, through the actions of the participants, something has been dealt with, resolved.

Shakespeare represents a monolithic unanimous ordered society with uniformity of

thought, religion ideology and economics. Hierarchical and socially rigid; a place for everything

and everything in its place with clockwork organisation, unquestioned religious beliefs with

certitude about purpose of life and surety of an afterlife.


Hamlet's Soliloquy: O, that this too too solid flesh would melt (1.2)

Hamlet's passionate first soliloquy provides a striking contrast to the controlled and artificial

dialogue that he exchanges with Claudius and his court. The primary function of the soliloquy is to reveal

to the audience Hamlet's profound melancholia and the reasons for his despair.

In a disjointed outpouring of disgust, anger, sorrow, and grief, Hamlet explains that, without
exception, everything in his world is either futile or contemptible. His speech is saturated with
suggestions of rot and corruption, as seen in the basic usage of words like "rank" (138) and "gross" (138),
and in the metaphor associating the world with "an unweeded garden" (137).

The nature of his grief is soon exposed, as we learn that his mother, Gertrude, has married her
own brother-in-law only two months after the death of Hamlet's father.

Hamlet is tormented by images of Gertrude's tender affections toward his father, believing that
her display of love was a pretence to satisfy her own lust and greed. Hamlet even negates Gertrude's
initial grief over the loss of her husband. She cried "unrighteous tears" (156) because the sorrow she
expressed was insincere, belied by her reprehensible conduct.
Shakespeare's uses juxtaposition and contrast to enhance Hamlet's feelings of contempt, disgust,
and inadequacy. The counterpointing between things divine and things earthly or profane is apparent from
the opening sentence of the soliloquy, in which Hamlet expresses his anguished sense of being captive to
his flesh. His desire for dissolution into dew, an impermanent substance, is expressive of his desire to
escape from the corporeality into a process suggestive of spiritual release.

Immediately juxtaposed to this notion, and standing in contrast to "flesh", is his reference to the
"Everlasting", the spiritual term for the duality. Paradoxically, in his aversion from the flesh, his body
must seem to him to possess a state of permanence, closer to something everlasting than to the ephemeral
nature of the dew he yearns to become.

Another striking juxtaposition in the soliloquy is Hamlet's use of Hyperion and a satyr to denote
his father and his uncle, respectively. Hyperion, the Titan god of light, represents honor, virtue, and
regality -- all traits belonging to Hamlet's father, the true King of Denmark.

Satyrs, the half-human and half-beast companions of the wine-god Dionysus, represent
lasciviousness and overindulgence, much like Hamlet's usurping uncle Claudius. It is no wonder, then,
that Hamlet develops a disgust for, not only Claudius the man, but all of the behaviours and excesses
associated with Claudius. In other passages from the play we see that Hamlet has begun to find revelry of
any kind unacceptable, and, in particular, he loathes drinking and sensual dancing.

A final important contrast in the soliloquy is seen in Hamlet's self-depreciating comment "but no
more like my father/Than I to Hercules" (154-55). Although Hamlet's comparison of himself to the
courageous Greek hero could be devoid of any deeper significance, it is more likely that the remark
indicates Hamlet's developing lack of self worth - a theme that will become the focus of his next

Hamlet's Soliloquy: O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! (2.2)

In addition to revealing Hamlet's plot to catch the king in his guilt, Hamlet's second soliloquy
uncovers the very essence of Hamlet's true conflict. For he is undeniably committed to seeking revenge
for his father, yet he cannot act on behalf of his father due to his revulsion toward extracting that cold and
calculating revenge.

Hamlet's sense of himself as a coward is derived from a crude, simplistic judgment turning on
whether or not he has yet taken any action against the man who murdered his father. His self-
condemnation takes several bizarre forms, including histrionic imaginings of a series of demeaning insults
that he absorbs like a coward because he feels he has done nothing to take revenge on Claudius.

Determined to convince himself to carry out the premeditated murder of his uncle, Hamlet works
himself into a frenzy (the culmination of which occurs at lines 357-8). He hopes that his passions will halt
his better judgement and he will then be able to charge forth and kill Claudius without hesitation. But
Hamlet again fails to quell his apprehensions of committing murder and cannot act immediately. So he
next tries to focus his attention on a plan to ensure Claudius admits his own guilt. He returns to an idea
that had crossed his mind earlier -- that of staging the play The Mousetrap.

Hamlet is convinced that, as Claudius watches a re-enactment of his crime, he will surely reveal
his own guilt. Hamlet cannot take the word of his father's ghost, who really might be "the devil" (573),
tricking him into damning himself. Thus, he must have more material proof before he takes Claudius's life
- he must "catch the conscience of the king."

Hamlet's Soliloquy: To be, or not to be: that is the question (3.1)

The first six words of the soliloquy establish a balance. There is a direct opposition – to be, or not
to be. Hamlet is thinking about life and death and pondering a state of being versus a state of not being –
being alive and being dead.

The balance continues with a consideration of the way one deals with life and death. Life is a lack
of power: the living are at the mercy of the blows of outrageous fortune. The only action one can take
against the things he lists among those blows is to end one’s life. That’s the only way of opposing them.

Death is therefore empowering: killing oneself is a way of taking action, taking up arms,
opposing and defeating the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Living is a passive state; dying is an
active state. But in order to reach the condition of death one has to take action in life – charge fully armed
against Fortune – so the whole proposition is circular and hopeless because one does not really have the
power of action in life.

Death is something desirable – devoutly to be wished, a consummation – a perfect closure. It’s

nothing more than a sleep. But there’s a catch, which Hamlet calls a rub. A ‘rub’ is a bowls term meaning
an obstacle on the bowls lawn that diverts the bowl, so the fear of the life hereafter is the obstacle that
makes us pause and perhaps change the direction of our thinking. We don’t control our dreams so what
dreams may come in that sleep in which we have shuffled off all the fuss and bother of life? He uses the
word ‘coil,’ which is an Elizabethan word for a big fuss, such as there may be in the preparations for a
party or a wedding – a lot of things going on and a lot of rushing about. With that thought Hamlet stops to
reconsider. What will happen when we have discarded all the hustle and bustle of life? The problem with
the proposition is that life after death is unknown and could be worse than life. It’s a very frightening
thought. That’s the obstacle on the lawn and it diverts his thoughts to another direction.

Hamlet now lets his imagination wander on the subject of the voyages of discovery and the
exploratory expeditions. Dying is like crossing the border between known and unknown geography. One
is likely to be lost in that unmapped place, from which one would never return. The implication is that
there may be unimagined horrors in that land.

Hamlet now seems to make a decision. He makes the profound judgment that ‘conscience does
make cowards of us all.’ This sentence is probably the most important one in the soliloquy. There is a
religious dimension to it as it is a sin to take one’s life. So with that added dimension the fear of the
unknown after death is intensified.

But there is more to it than that. It is not just about killing himself but also about the mission he is
on – to avenge his father’s death by killing his father’s murderer. Throughout the action of the play he
makes excuses for not killing him and turns away when he has the chance. ‘Conscience does make
cowards of us all.’ Convention demands that he kill Claudius but murder is a sin and that conflict is the
core of the play.

At the end of the soliloquy he pulls himself out of this reflective mode by deciding that too much
thinking about it is the thing that will prevent the action he has to rise to.
This is not entirely a moment of possible suicide. It’s not that he’s contemplating suicide as much
as reflecting on life, and we find that theme all through the text. In this soliloquy life is burdensome and
devoid of power. In another it is ‘weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,’ like a garden overrun with weeds.

In this soliloquy Hamlet gives a list of all the things that annoy him about life: the whips and
scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office and the spurns that patient
merit of the unworthy takes. But there’s a sense of agonised frustration in this soliloquy that however bad
life is we’re prevented from doing anything about it by fear of the unknown.

Hamlet's Soliloquy: How all occasions do inform against me (4.4)

Hamlet's last soliloquy is crucial to our understanding of his character development. By the end
of the soliloquy, Hamlet brings to a halt his solemn contemplation on the immoral act of murderous
revenge, and finally accepts it as his necessary duty. It is not that Hamlet has presented a solid and
reasonable argument to convince himself of his terrible responsibility; rather he has driven himself to the
conclusion with intense and distorted thoughts.

Hamlet accuses himself of forgetting his father in that "bestial oblivion" (43), yet, he thinks his
problem could be "thinking too precisely on the event" (44). Moreover, although Hamlet has seen
Fortinbras only for a moment earlier in the play, and knows nothing of his true motives for going to war,
Hamlet convinces himself that Fortinbras is fighting to protect his honour. Part of Hamlet relishes the idea
of such conviction, however illogical and futile, and so he focuses on the image of Fortinbras
courageously leading his troupes. Hamlet's reason, the part of him that has been dominant throughout the
play; the part of him that questions the "honour" in murder and revenge, this time cannot provide a
rebuttal. So Hamlet is overcome by his obligations to enact revenge.

Hamlet was once greatly distressed over having to exact payment for his father's murder, even
though the reason for such revenge was weighty indeed. Now, Hamlet commends the idea of the
"imminent death of twenty thousand men" for a ludicrous "fantasy and trick of fame" (63-4).
It should be noted that this soliloquy presents problems for the reader due to a corruption of
several preceding lines, when Hamlet meets the Captain in Fortinbras' army. The Captain tells Hamlet
that they are invading Poland

to gain a little patch of ground

That hath in it no profit but the name.

To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;

Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole

A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee. (4.4.18-22)

Hamlet is doubtful that Poland would even bother to defend such a useless plot of land, but when
the Captain declares "Yes, it is already garrison'd" (24), Hamlet concludes that such fighting over
something so trivial is the result of "wealth and peace" (27) and not the result of impugned honor as he
clearly states in the soliloquy.

Hamlet's Soliloquy: Tis now the very witching time of night (3.2.380-391)

Hamlet's plan to "catch the conscience of the king" has been a success, and Claudius has retired,
distraught, to his chamber. Thrilled that his scheme worked, Hamlet experiences a sudden surge of
confidence which prompts the first half of this short soliloquy.

Hamlet is now sure that he could easily complete the "bitter business" of revenge; sure that he
could murder his uncle without hesitation. However, Claudius is out of reach for the moment, and so
Hamlet turns his attention to his mother, revealing in the second half of the soliloquy his intentions to
force Gertrude to make a full confession.

Although Hamlet still loves his mother, he must be cruel to her in order to facilitate the admission
of her guilt. Hamlet says, "My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites" (389), because he knows that he
must feign violent intentions towards his mother, and that his words must express those false intentions.
Hamlet is becoming like the players who so mystified him in 2.2:
Is it not monstrous that this player here,

But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,

Could force his soul so to his own conceit

That from her working all his visage wann'd,

Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect, (560)

A broken voice, and his whole function suiting

With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!

For Hecuba! (556-563)

Hamlet once wished that he could manipulate his emotions and behaviour like a player, and now
it seems he can.

Sanity Insanity

● Hamlet faking his insanity ● Ophelia driven crazy by father’s

● Horatio’s continuous support seems to murder

keep Hamlet from falling off the brink ● Was Hamlet really faking, or did he

● Ophelia’s death brings an end to actually go mad

Hamlet’s facade, and he confronts ● Hamlet’s supposed insanity first

Claudius and Laertes shown by the remarks he makes after

● Laertes learned to think clearly during his uncle and mother’s wedding

his fight with Hamlet ● Many people betray him (his mother,

uncle, friends Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern, Polonius, etc.)

● Hamlet thinks of suicide, showing


● Shows madness when he loses track of

when his father died

● ”But two months dead: nay, not so

much, not two: / So excellent a king;

that was, to this, / Hyperion to a

satyr; so loving to my


● Hamlet’s insanity is shown again when

he plans to yell at his mother

● “This is the time of night when witches

come out, when graveyards yawn open

and the stench of hell seeps out. I

could drink hot blood and do such

terrible deeds that people would

tremble even in the daylight. But I’ve

got to go see my mother.” (III.ii.380-


● Hamlet killing Polonius led to Laertes

fall into a mad hunger for revengeAlso

led to Ophelia’s insanity and


● Claudius’ plan started messing up: “It

is the poison’d cup. It is too late.”



This is basically Hamlet’s central problem, along with philosophising, since Hamlet’s procrastination

would not be such a big deal if he was not so meditative and always going on about it.
● Hamlet’s problem involves action because he must be the avenger and kill Claudius, the

man who murdered his father, and this is presented in terms of a certain kind of world. The

ghost’s injunction for Hamlet to act becomes linked to the general character of the world in which

such actions have and must take place: its corruption, the general “unknowability,” its deception,

since things are rarely as they appear to be, the burden of being conscious of all this infection,

weakness and loss, etc.

● So even though the action of revenge (killing Claudius) is retributive justice, it is going to

implicate Hamlet in all of the evil and guilt of the world, not just because he has to murder

someone, but also because in order to penetrate the whole reality/illusion situation, he must do the

same thing – act, pretend he is crazy, kill the wrong man, help drive Ophelia insane and to her

death, and sentence two young men to death also. Though Hamlet never really means to do any of

these things, in terms of Fate, it is all inevitable from the beginning when the ghost challenges

Hamlet to act. Just as Polonius says, “man becomes a little soiled in the working of the world”


● The famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy relates Hamlet’s immediate personal problems to

the general question of what to do about the world the way it is: outrageous fortunes, an

ocean of troubles, the passage of time, nameless oppressors, people who are too proud, unfaithful

lovers, unresponsive heads of State, and basically all of the pessimistic things about the world in

general. Hamlet’s “question” is whether to face all of these evils stoically or to escape into

oblivion, into death. An ultimate nightmare for Hamlet that he expresses here is that the

burden of having to exist in such a corrupt world would continue after death, into an

eternal nightmare of consciousness.


Bold- covered in these notes Not bold- not covered in these notes

Dramatic techniques include:

•Structure (discussed above)


•Humour (discussed below)

•Language (discussed above)

•Soliloquies (discussed above)

•Imagery (discussed below)

•Metatheatrical Conventions

•Word play



•Conflict (discussed above)

Language (language discussed earlier)

Rhyming couplets may be offered at the end of speeches to give a culmination to the speech.

Characters of lower status, such as the gravediggers, speak in prose. Prose is also the language of

madness and is used by Ophelia to signal her loss of reason.

Soliloquy (soliloquies discussed earlier)

It heightens the intimacy between the protagonist and the audience.

Hamlet’s soliloquies signal his path from darkness to light. All are in verse. We are able to

empathise with Hamlet more strongly through his use of soliloquy.

Soliloquies are used to reveal to the audience the true intents of characters, inner emotions,

motives and thoughts that would otherwise be hidden.

Shakespeare often has his characters speak in soliloquies during the course of his plays.

Soliloquies are essential to the presentation of a story through the medium of a play because they provide

the opportunity the chance to tell the audience specific pieces of information which cannot be disclosed

through normal conversation. In his work, Hamlet, Shakespeare’s title character is shown to speak in

seven soliloquies. Each soliloquy advances the plot, reveals Hamlet’s inner thoughts to the audience

and helps to create an atmosphere in the play.


● Though Shakespeare consistently employs an abundance of rhetoric throughout his plays, much

grandiosity of his prose relies on imagery to reflect and reinforce the many contentious themes he

reveals within his pieces.

● Hamlet exhibits themes of madness and betrayal to which he uses imagery to paint a picture

in the readers mind as to the deepest sentiments of the characters and their situations.

While Hamlet is searching for an answer to his queries such as, “to be, or not to be,”

(Shakespeare, III, i, 58) the reader soon understands his dilemma through the extended imagery

provided by William Shakespeare.

● The reader is aware of Hamlet’s disapproval to his mother’s hasty wedding as of his first

soliloquy early on in the play. Shakespeare uses much imagery to describe Hamlet’s sadness

and suicidal thoughts, as he feels his mother has betrayed “so excellent a king” (Shakespeare,

I, ii, 139).

● Hamlet describes his mother’s new obsession: “she would hang on him/ as if increase of appetite

had grown/ by what it fed on,” (Shakespeare, I, ii, 143-145). Shakespeare uses imagery to

emphasize the importance of the theme of betrayal, rather than simply mentioning that

Hamlet feels betrayed. By doing so, the reader has a superior understanding of the magnitude of

the theme, and recognizes its significance.

● Later in the play, additional imagery is used to further the theme of betrayal, as Hamlet cries to

his mother of her poor choice to remarry. He says her choice was unwise, and compares her

injudicious selection to one chosen by “eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,/ears

without hands or eyes,/ smelling sans all,” (Shakespeare, III, iv, 80-83).

● Hamlet claims that even deprived of all but one sense, one would recognize the senselessness

to the wedding, and wonders “what devil was’t” (Shakespeare, III, iv, 78) that compelled

Gertrude to remarry such “Hyperion to a satyr” (Shakespeare, I, ii, 140).

● Through such imagery as mentioned above, Shakespeare is able to demonstrate the extent of

Hamlet’s disapproval of the marriage, which furthers the theme of betrayal that dominates

throughout the play.

● Shakespeare uses imagery to depict a theme of madness throughout the play.

● Following the murder of Polonius, Gertrude describes Hamlet’s madness by comparing it to

the sea beneath a storm. She illustrates this by declaring Hamlet is as “mad as the sea and

wind when both contend/ which is the mightier,” (Shakespeare, IV, i, 8-9).

● Shakespeare’s use of imagery allows the reader to compare the circumstances to a more

familiar situation, thus highlighting the extent of Hamlet’s madness.

● Correspondingly, Shakespeare uses imagery in Laertes speech of Ophilia’s madness. The reader

is aware of his distress, as Laertes cries, “O heat,dry up my brains! Tears seven times salt,/ burn

out the sense and virtue of mine eye!” (Shakespeare IV, v, 130-131). Shakespeare creatively

mentions the salted tears of which Laertes feels could burn his eyes out, allowing the reader

to enter the piece and connect with Laertes’ anguish and sorrow as he witnesses Ophilia’s


● The feeling of misery is developed through the imagery provided in the prose. Laertes

continues; “By heaven, thy madness shall be paid by weight,/ till our scale turn the beam,”

(Shakespeare, IV, v, 132-133). Shakespeare uses imagery once again here to allow the reader to

picture an overflowing scale of revenge for Ophilia’s madness, which will be found in heaven.

The theme of madness is portrayed through the wealth of imagery provided by Shakespeare,

which allows the reader to connect to the characters while indicating the prominence of the


● Whether it is Hamlet who imagines death to be but a sleep possibly full of disturbing and never-

ending nightmares, or Gertrude and Laertes who distinctly describe their misery with images

which illustrate the madness of Hamlet and Ophilia, Shakespeare never fails to provide the reader
with a profusion of rhetoric, namely a cornucopia of imagery to exemplify the themes of betrayal

and madness rich in significance throughout his play.

● Such descriptive language evokes sensory experience, enabling the reader to enter Shakespeare’s

Hamlet and recognize these essential themes. Providing the reader with the ability to relate to

the characters’ situations through imagery and comparisons to more familiar

circumstances, Shakespeare not only creates an excessive ornateness of language, but

persistently reflects and reinforces his themes through the appealing technique.


● One of the most outstanding characteristics of Hamlet is his subtle and persistent humor. It crops

out at every turn, and indicates the essential soundness of his mind. Madness does not lie this

way. Though his troubles were sufficient and his task difficult enough to unbalance almost any

mind, yet Hamlet retains from first to last a calm and firm grasp of the situation in both its

complexity and its incongruity. No character in all Shakespeare is more evenly balanced, and no

mind more capable of seeing things in all their bearings.

● If Hamlet does not really go mad under his unparalleled griefs and burdens it is because under all

circumstances his grim and tragic humor holds evenly the balance of his mind. In some of the

most tragic moments of his career he has the sanity to play with his tormentors and with the sad

conditions of his life. As Sir Herbert Tree has recently said: "But for humor he should go mad.

Sanity is humor."

● The first words Hamlet sighs forth are in the nature of a pun:

"A little more than kin, and less than kind."

The king proceeds: 'How is it that the clouds still hang on you?' 'Not so, my lord; I am too much in the
sun,' says Hamlet, toying with grief.
● Again, after the ghost leaves, Hamlet in a tornado of passionate verbiage, gives way to humor.

Then he proceeds to think too precisely on the event. But for his humor Hamlet would have killed

the king in the first act.

● In nearly all his references to the condition of affairs in Denmark, Hamlet indulges in a grim,

satirical humor. His first meeting with Horatio furnishes opportunity. Directly after the warm

greetings between the friends the following conversation takes place:

Hamlet: But what is your affair in Elsinore? ...

Horatio: My lord, I came to see your father's funeral.
Hamlet: I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student;
I think it was to see my mother's wedding.
Horatio: Indeed, my lord, it follow'd hard upon.
Hamlet: Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked-meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
(I. ii. 174-180.)

● Again, when Hamlet is swearing his friends to secrecy concerning the ghost, they hear the voice

of the ghost beneath, saying, "Swear," and Hamlet remarks:

"Ah, ha, boy! say'st thou so? art there, true-penny—

Come on; you hear this fellow in the cellarage;
Consent to swear."
When, after shifting their ground, the ghost's voice is again heard, saying, "Swear," Hamlet says:
"Well said, old mole! canst work i' the earth so fast? A worthy pioner!"
(I. V. 148-163)

● After his play, The Mousetrap, Hamlet feels so elated at the turn of events and his success in

getting evidence of the king's guilt that he playfully suggests to Horatio that if all else failed him

he might make a success of playing and get a share in a company:

Hamlet: Would not this, sir, and a forest of feathers, — if the

rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me, — with two Provincial
roses on my razed shoes, get me a fellowship in a cry of players,
Horatio: Half a share.
Hamlet: A whole one, I.
For thou dost know, O Damon dear.
This realm dismantled was
Of Jove himself; and now reigns here
A very, very — pajock.
Horatio: You might have rhymed.
(III. ii. 263-373).

● Even in his conversation with Ophelia there is a touch of Hamlet's ironical humor. He slanders

himself, saying: "I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne

me." Then, after Ophelia's false declaration that her father is "at home, my lord," he falls to

railing on women and marriage, and says to her:

"I heard of your paintings, too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves
another; you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nickname God's creatures, and make your wantonness your
ignorance. Go to, I'll no more marriages; those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest
shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go."
(III. i. 142-9.)

● In talking with the various spies that the king sends to catch him, Hamlet indulges in much humor

and banter. He seems to take particular delight in plaguing old Polonius with his sarcasm and

nonsense. When Polonius comes to him, asking,

"Do you know me, my lord?" Hamlet quickly retorts: "Excellent well; you are a fishmonger." Then, after
further satirical banter of the same sort, in reply to Polonius's inquiry what he is reading, he answers:
"Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled
. . . and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams. . . ." (II. ii. 173-199).

● Again, on the occasion when Polonius comes to summon him to the queen's presence, Hamlet

pokes fun at the old fellow, making him say that "yonder cloud," first, is "like a camel," then,

"like a weasel," and, finally, "like a whale." (III. ii. 359-365.) No wonder Polonius does not know

what to make of him and calls him mad, though recognizing the possibility that there may be

some "method in't."

● Another aspect of Hamlet's humor glints forth in his dealings with his old school-fellows,

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. When these unconscionable spies come to him to inquire what he

had done with the dead body of Polonius, he first answers:

"Compounded it with dust, whereto 't is kin." Then he suggests that Rosencrantz is only "a sponge . . . that
soaks up the king's countenance, his rewards, his authorities. . . . When he needs what you have gleaned,
it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you shall be dry again."

● With Osric he gives way to a bantering and jeering humor very similar to that with Polonius. He

first calls him a "water-fly," then "a chough . . . spacious in the possession of dirt." When Osric

says, as an excuse for not keeping his hat on his head, that "'tis very hot," Hamlet makes him say

that on the contrary, "It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed," and the next moment again that "it is

very sultry and hot." (V. ii. 83-99.)

● In the graveyard scene with the clowns Hamlet indulges freely in a grim and melancholy humor.

On the first skull he says:

"It might be the pate of a politician . . . one that would circumvent God, might it not?" On the next he
reflects: "There's another; why may this not be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddits now, his
quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? Why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about
the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery?"

● Of Yorick's skull he says with pathetic and tragic humor:

"Alas, poor Yorick! — I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." Then to the
skull he says: "Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that
were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your grinning? quite chop-fallen?" (V. i.)
Jecia’s high quality Symposium Notes

● Tragedy is defined by moral responsibility

● Morality in Hamlet is based on poetic justice - a dramatic story about people meeting their poetic


● Hamlet is a character who asks more than any other, but he loses his curiosity by the end. He

begins with an extraordinary amount of questioning, but by the end he loses it all by the 5th

● Hamlet doesn’t care about anything by the end, not revenge, not questions, nothing

● A 'humanist' the rejects his whole philosophy of life

● Existentialist - Hamlet becomes this

● Language imagery, body language imagery

● Truth and deceit

● There are multiple characters striving for truth in a world full of deceit

● Time and place shaping understanding of corruption

● Corruption is everywhere in Hamlet

● Political, family, all sorts man!

● Portrayal of human experience and loyalty

● Heaps of loyalty, and also disloyalty

● Dramatic use of reason and madness

● Rational thought - reason

● Madness - the central thing, Ophelia real madness and Hamlet's fake madness to real madness

● Hamlet is buried like a soldier, but was never a soldier. But he is constantly at war throughout the

whole play - with himself and the throne of Denmark

● The destruction of the family unit - you're meant to see a bunch of dead bodies on a battlefield not

a dining room
● Old Hamlet doesn’t care about anything but telling Hamlet about his murder and how Gertrude is

a hoe

● A bleak sense of catastrophe

● A world where the balance has been disturbed 'Somethings rotten in Denmark" thing

● Revenge is a big theme man! Its complex and wild!

● How things in Hamlet compare to the world today - how the themes work over

● Revenge is a fundamental addiction of human culture

● How vengeance can turn a smart young prince into a madman ready to murder (a bit exaggerated)

● Through soliloquy and action we become a part of the revenge - we begin to consider revenge

from every angle

● Just gotta know a few scenes like *really* well and cause everything is so well linked it can be

used for every single question

● How? - HSC questions are normally asking more for how not as much what or why and stuff

● It's an experience not a book!

● Not as much what is being said but How it's being said (I mean still reference to the text, no point

in making a point if you can't back it up with a reference or a quote)

● Love, humanity vs brutality, truth and deceit, morality, freedom, family, corruption

● ^all these themes and more!

● Answer the question !

● What's said, how it's said and how it can be understood

● Dick missiles. lollllll

● Reflects our modern culture, 'cold war'

● Succession!! Hamlet should've been king but he didn’t make it back in time so Claudius made it


● If Shakespeare lived today the world he lived in would directly transfer to somewhere like Nth

Korea, police state, he wouldn’t be writing in Australia or England or the US and stuff
● Context in Shakespeare - 'A world of profound uncertainty'

● It's Tudor times (Go watch the Tudor stuff in horrible histories, its wild)

● Pulls all the answers out and leaves only questions - makes it so the audience has their own voice

and almost all opinions have enough evidence behind them to back it up.

● Son carries the burdens of the debts of the father (Happens for both Fortinbras and Hamlet)

● That’s why the names are all the same!

● But then there's also Laertes avenging his father's death

● All tragedies are about spending our entire lives preparing for an external danger when the threat

is internal. (Denmark prepares so much to defend from Norway when the real threat is sitting on

their throne)

● Norway is able to then just walk in and take the place without any bloodshed from the war, but

from the internal conflict goods

● Fatal flaw!! Hamlet is mad! He talks a lot about Claudius's flaw while he struggles with his own

● Horatio is the portrait of Balance (Good Guy)

● Scene 1 Act 1 stuff

● Uncertainty in Denmark, "Who's there" first line. The first scene is set on the battlements at

midnight - something is wrong in Denmark

● "'tis bitter cold" gives the Denmark atmosphere

● "not a mouse stirring" gives the quiet atmosphere

● "I am sick at heart" - the corruption in Denmark, the king is dead and his murderer is on the


● SO corrupted even second rate extra guard guys can sense the corruption

● Lots of ear metaphors! Poison into ear, it's what killed Old Hamlet literally and Poison words sent

Hamlet mad

● The guards at the start "assail your ears that are so fortified" you won't believe us so listen again
● The witching hour - bad time in Elizabethan times, a whole heap of bad things happen at this time

during the play (Elizabethan people believed this is the time God had no power on earth) Polonius

dies, the ghost visits a whole bunch.

● The Battlements are there to protect Denmark but the corruption is inside the castle! Crazy!

● Loyalty - the guards tell Hamlet about the Ghost king rather than Claudius, the uncrowned son of

the dead king rather than the usurper (they don’t actually know Claudius did that but yeah)

● Old Fortinbras was killed by Old Hamlet on the night Hamlet was born (spooky)

● Young Hamlets entire life was the scapegoat for Old Hamlet murdering Old Fortinbras, to purge

and cleanse the crime

● Young Fortinbras takes over Denmark just as Hamlet (the scapegoat) dies

● The cycle of tragedy! Fortinbras takes over the kingdom as a cool revenge thing, he gets the debt

that is owed to him as soon as his dad died when Hamlet dies

● The Ghost of Old Hamlet is kinda the reason why all these bad things happen but ok

● Old Hamlet takes Lil Hamlets pen and replaces it with a sword that Hamlet spends the rest of the

play trying to use

● Act 1 Scene 2

● Lots o misogyny!

● Hamlet believes women are fundamentally flawed

● Loyalty!

● Hamlets loyalty to the memory of his real dad, his loyalty to his step-father (Gertrude's same

struggle but with lovers) and Claudius asking for loyalty from Hamlet and Denmark

● Hamlet reminds the two every day of his mourning and it reminds them of the memory of Old

Hamlet which stirs up a lot of conflict for both Claudius and Gertrude for different reasons

● (Jacket metaphor) You can stomp and beat up the jacket as much as you want Hamlet just uses it

as outward expression, everything real is on the inside?

● Gertrude is the glue, she links the men as they are loyal to her
● Hamlet's first line of the play is talking to the audience not to the king who had just asked him a

question (rude)

● "a little more than kin, and less than kind" I'm more than your cousin but nothing like you

● Place is the royal bed, the corruption is the incest

● "thy noble father in the dust" the entire play is about the dust and how when you die that’s where

you return to

● "it is common" Hamlet lowkey calling his Ma a whore

● Gertrude calls his grief fake, (deceit)

● "no, nor the fruitful river in the eye" Hamlet calling out Gertrude's tears (cry me a river) at Old

Hamlet's funeral and saying how quickly she has 'gotten over' his death

● The opening speech of the scene that Claudius makes speaks of the past and future(though and

yet, used to say we should look at the past but focus on the future). A bunch of oxymoron's!

"defeated joy" "mirth in funeral" etc. etc. (jumbo shrimp!)

● Antithesis is in so many of the speeches and lines of the play, contradictions!!

● (Antithesis is a contradiction)

● "to be or not to be" "I must be cruel to be kind" Antithetical statements!

● They create contradiction and ambiguity for the audience

● Claudius makes it seem like Hamlets mourning is a duty

● Your father lost his father who lost his father and the survivor bound

● Claudius attacking Hamlet's right to grieve his father's death with a crazy amount of adjectives

that get harsher and harsher until common

● "the common theme is the death of fathers until the first corpse" (loose quote, didn’t write it all)

the first corpse is Abel, killed by his brother Cain, this is symbolism for Claudius killing his

brother Old Hamlet

● Ophelia's madness is her grief, she goes to die at the only thing allowed to grieve in Elsinore, the

weeping willow, She drowns trying to climb the tree.

● None of the children are allowed to grieve

● Hamlet begins with directing his grief to suicide (ends up turning to vengeance)

● His grief is suppressed (metaphor for the context stuff, protestants not allowed to mourn that

much man)

● Hamlet is more obsessed with the sexuality of his Ma than his dad's death (but not an Oedipus


● Georgia thinks Hamlet is daddy, wot.

● Hamlet has a serpent in his language

● Hamlet swears to his dad that he is now obsessed with finding his murderer and taking him down,

no books, no studying, but then he realised that he is still obsessed with his Ma, tries to stop that

but he just cant

● Ophelia is made into a prop for Polonius and Claudius to find out the cause of his madness

● Ophelia tries to rhyme as a formal thing and Hamlet shuts her down, cause words are his thing!

● More misogyny when Ophelia and Hamlet speak while Ophelia is being a prop to discover the

reason behind Hamlet's madness

● Hamlet is really mean to Ophelia, it's kind of a harsh break up

● Makes her really sad, she is under heaps of pressure and she has just had Hamlet reject her and

call her a hoe and stuff

● Vowel sounds are emotional! Pain and earth and crazy stuff!

● Consonants are angry letters!

● Ophelia turns on herself in her speech after Hamlet is real mean to her

● A tragedy of love as much as revenge!!!

● 3 moments where Hamlet is slowly losing his mind - The moment where he goes off at Ophelia,

Ophelia's funeral and The closet scene with Gertrude (where Polonius dies)

● Closet scene

● It’s the witching hour and Hamlet is ready to kill!

● Hamlet has no interest in who he killed, he wants it to be Claudius but doesn’t really care

● Oh yeah Polonius probs shouldn’t of been there, an “oh well” sorta thing

● Hamlet compares him murdering Polonius to his Ma marrying Claudius

● (Context

● Under the protestant regime the dead are dead, no purgatory

● Shakespeare makes a play with a dead man in purgatory, sending a message to his son

● Wild!!)

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d

His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on’t! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,

That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. That it should come to this!

But two months dead!—nay, not so much, not two:

So excellent a king; that was, to this,

Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother,

That he might not beteem the winds of heaven

Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!

Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him

As if increase of appetite had grown

By what it fed on: and yet, within a month,—

Let me not think on’t,—Frailty, thy name is woman!—

A little month; or ere those shoes were old

With which she followed my poor father’s body

Like Niobe, all tears;—why she, even she,—

O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason,

Would have mourn’d longer,—married with mine uncle,

My father’s brother; but no more like my father

Than I to Hercules: within a month;

Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears

Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,

She married:— O, most wicked speed, to post

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!

It is not, nor it cannot come to good;

But break my heart,—for I must hold my tongue.

Act I, scene ii (129–158)

Hamlet thinks for the first time about suicide (desiring his flesh to “melt,” and wishing that God

had not made “self-slaughter” a sin), saying that the world is “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.”

In other words, suicide seems like a desirable alternative to life in a painful world, but Hamlet

feels that the option of suicide is closed to him because it is forbidden by religion. Hamlet then goes on to

describe the causes of his pain, specifically his intense disgust at his mother’s marriage to Claudius. He

describes the haste of their marriage, noting that the shoes his mother wore to his father’s funeral were not

worn out before her marriage to Claudius.

He compares Claudius to his father (his father was “so excellent a king” while Claudius is a

bestial “satyr”). As he runs through his description of their marriage, he touches upon the important

motifs of misogyny, crying, “Frailty, thy name is woman”; incest, commenting that his mother moved
“with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”; and the ominous omen the marriage represents for Denmark,

that “it is not nor it cannot come to good.” Each of these motifs recurs throughout the play.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Act I, scene iv (67)

This line is spoken by Marcellus as he and Horatio debate whether or not to follow Hamlet and

the ghost into the dark night.

The line refers both to the idea that the ghost is an ominous omen for Denmark and to the larger

theme of the connection between the moral legitimacy of a ruler and the health of the state as a whole.

The ghost is a visible symptom of the rottenness of Denmark created by Claudius’s crime.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?—To die,—to sleep,—

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to,—’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die,—to sleep;—

To sleep: perchance to dream:—ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause: there’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? who would these fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,—

The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns,—puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;

And enterprises of great pith and moment,

With this regard, their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.

Act III, scene i (58–90).

This soliloquy, probably the most famous speech in the English language, is spoken by Hamlet.

His most logical and powerful examination of the theme of the moral legitimacy of suicide in an

unbearably painful world, it touches on several of the other important themes of the play.

Hamlet poses the problem of whether to commit suicide as a logical question: “To be, or not to

be,” that is, to live or not to live. He then weighs the moral ramifications of living and dying. Is it nobler

to suffer life, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” passively or to actively seek to end one’s

suffering? He compares death to sleep and thinks of the end to suffering, pain, and uncertainty it might
bring, “the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to.” Based on this metaphor, he

decides that suicide is a desirable course of action, “a consummation / Devoutly to be wished.”

But, as the religious word “devoutly” signifies, there is more to the question, namely, what will

happen in the afterlife. Hamlet immediately realizes as much, and he reconfigures his metaphor of sleep

to include the possibility of dreaming; he says that the dreams that may come in the sleep of death are

daunting, that they “must give us pause.”

He then decides that the uncertainty of the afterlife, which is intimately related to the theme of the

difficulty of attaining truth in a spiritually ambiguous world, is essentially what prevents all of humanity

from committing suicide to end the pain of life

. He outlines a long list of the miseries of experience, ranging from lovesickness to hard work to

political oppression, and asks who would choose to bear those miseries if he could bring himself peace

with a knife, “when he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin?” He answers himself again,

saying no one would choose to live, except that “the dread of something after death” makes people submit

to the suffering of their lives rather than go to another state of existence which might be even more


The dread of the afterlife, Hamlet concludes, leads to excessive moral sensitivity that makes

action impossible: “conscience does make cowards of us all . . . thus the native hue of resolution / Is

sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”

In this way, this speech connects many of the play’s main themes, including the idea of suicide

and death, the difficulty of knowing the truth in a spiritually ambiguous universe, and the connection

between thought and action.

In addition to its crucial thematic content, this speech is important for what it reveals about the

quality of Hamlet’s mind. His deeply passionate nature is complemented by a relentlessly logical intellect,

which works furiously to find a solution to his misery. He has turned to religion and found it inadequate
to help him either kill himself or resolve to kill Claudius. Here, he turns to a logical philosophical inquiry

and finds it equally frustrating.

I am thy father's spirit,

Doomed for a certain term to walk the night

And for the day confined to fast in fires

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their


Thy knotted and combinèd locks to part,

And each particular hair to stand on end,

Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood.

Act I, scene v (14-28)

What's worse: dying, or being completely forgotten after death?

In Hamlet in Purgatory, literary critic Stephen Greenblatt argues that the Ghost represents a

common fear (among the living) of being completely forgotten after death.