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Hamletby William Shakespeare Themes, Topics, and Quotations

Dr. Humble

As you read Hamlet(and as you read Hamlet), you notice that various concretions--quotations, character traits, settings, actions, and events--point up the Abstract-Concrete Continuum to topics (words or phrases) and, ultimately, to themes (sentences that convey quite abstract ideas, that is, abstractions that may occur in other works of art). As you read, play up and down the A-C Continuum: that’s called Learning to Read (LTR). What does this word or line or passage mean or signify? What is its significance?

Reading comprehension comprises both the literal, concrete meaning of a passage and the passage’s significance--an abstract understanding grounded in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and, ultimately, an application to your understanding of life. Reading is fundamental. Reading is

Themes in Hamlet

Appearances can deceive.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. --Lord Acton

When a ruler is corrupt, the entire country is corrupted.

Poisoned language that enters the ear is as deadly to the listener as poison that enters the ear.

Love that is unhealthily affected by destructive external pressures--family, politics, imbalance, or madness--fails.

Revenge can destroy the avenger and the avenged (the target of the vengeance).

Drama enlightens.

Reality cannot (really or ultimately) be disguised by a thin veneer of deception.

Thematic Topics



Political corruption Poisoned relationships Deception Action and inaction Cruelty Madness (real or feigned) Anger The true self Spying Friendship (true or false [feigned]) The spiritual world Women’s roles Geopolitics Poisoning Corruption: Personal (moral) and Political Honor Medieval warrior Modern thinker (ratiocinator) Disguising reality Life and death--and the meanings thereof Metadrama: Life is a drama and all the world’s a stage (Where does reality lie?) Parent-child relationships Disillusionment Personal internal conflicts Detection, certainty, and uncertainty Rhetoric: The manipulation of language Self-consciousness: How conscious is Hamlet of his own consciousness?

Quotations In some cases, I am quoting only the opening words of the selected lines. Of course, you should understand the larger context of each quotation below--for example, the surrounding lines, the audience, the place, and the significance.


Who’s there?

1.2.67, 69

A little more than kin I am too much in the sun.


Marcellus. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.


There are more things in heaven and earth….


O cursed spite / ….


Inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris


Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz


Upon our first, he sent out to suppress….


… brevity is the soul of wit


More matter with less art.


Be you and I behind an arras then.


Guildenstern. My lord, we were sent for.




You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines….


586:What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba / That he should weep for her?


The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscious of the King.


Polonius. We are oft to blame in this / … that with devotion’s visage / And pious action we do sugar o’er / The devil himself.

King [aside] O, ’tis too true! / … The harlot’s cheek beautied with plast’ring art /


more ugly to the thin that helps it / Than is my deed to my most painted word. /


heavy burden!


To be or not to be--that is the question….


Get thee to a nunnery.


… he shall with speed to England / For the demand of our neglected tribute.


Dumb show follows.


“The Mousetrap”


Give me some light. Away!


I will speak daggers to her, but use none. [Compare 3.4.108.]


Behind the arras I’ll convey myself / To hear the process.


Hamlet. This physic but prolongs thy sickly days. King [rising]. My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. / Words without thoughts never to heaven go.


Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell. / I took thee for thy better….