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Hamlet

Hamlet

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. Set in the Kingdom of Denmark, the play dramatizes the revenge Prince Hamlet exacts on his uncle Claudius for murdering King Hamlet, Claudius's brother and Prince Hamlet's father, and then succeeding to the throne and taking as his wife Gertrude, the old king's widow.

 

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Alex Ruth

Alex Ruth

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"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1.4.98). In fact, many things are rotten in the state of Denmark, and images of decay, corruption, and disease are common throughout the play. Following the conventions of tragedy, many of the characters become corrupted in some way, and, by the end of the play, all of the corrupt characters must be eliminated so that Denmark can once again be set right. Many characters in Hamlet die.

Article: LIT 2001: Ideas and Theme...
Source: LIT 2001: Ideas and Theme...

Hamlet has been called a "claustrophobic" play because of the ways the different characters spy on one another, but "spying" is only one form of deception in the play. There is also Claudius, the incestuous fratricide, playing the part of the good king, and Hamlet himself decides to "put an antic disposition on" (1.5.189). In a way, it is Hamlet's job to see through all of this deception and to discover the truth, although, to discover the truth, Hamlet himself must use deception.

Article: LIT 2001: Ideas and Theme...
Source: LIT 2001: Ideas and Theme...

Hamlet is often called an "Elizabethan revenge play", the theme of revenge against an evil usurper driving the plot forward as in earlier stage works by Shakespeare's contemporaries, Kyd and Marlowe, as well as by the French writer Belleforest (Histoires Tragiques, 1576). As in those works, 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 disposed.

Article: Hamlet Themes
Source: eNotes.com

Elsinore is full of political intrigue. The murder of Old 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.

Article: Hamlet Themes
Source: GradeSaver

The dangers of indecision is the narrative's primary theme and the issue at the core of both the main narrative line and the journey of transformation undertaken by the central character, Hamlet, a journey that simultaneously both motivates and defines that narrative. The thoughtful and introspective prince is given a mission by the Ghost of his murdered father and, at first, fully intends to complete it. But as time passes and circumstances conspire to trigger in Hamlet more thought (his natural inclination) than action, his inability to follow through on his purpose leads to moral self-corruption, to the point where, as previously discussed, he behaves as badly and destructively as those whose behavior he initially condemns.

Article: Hamlet Themes
Source: BookRags.com
Alex Ruth

Alex Ruth

33 Knowledge Cards 

Hamlet is a good man who ends up corrupted by the evil doings the people around him. Due to the devastating loss of his father, Hamlet is hell bent on receiving revenge against his uncle and mother. This obsession with revenge morphs Hamlet into a destructive person who causes bloodshed at the conclusion of the play.

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Harold Bloom, speaking about Hamlet at the Library of Congress, said, "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." He added, "Hamlet discovers that his life has been a quest with no object except his own endlessly burgeoning subjectivity." Bloom is not the only reader of Hamlet to see such an emphasis on the self.

Article: Hamlet Themes
Source: GradeSaver

There are two important issues regarding women in Hamlet: how Hamlet sees women and women’s social position. Hamlet’s view of women is decidedly dark. In fact, the few times that Hamlet’s pretend madness seems to veer into actual madness occur when he gets furious at women. Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius has convinced Hamlet that women are untrustworthy, that their beauty is a cover for deceit and sexual desire. For Hamlet, women are living embodiments of appearance’s corrupt effort to eclipse reality.

As for women’s social position, its defining characteristic is powerlessness. Gertrude’s quick marriage to Claudius, though immoral, is also her only way to maintain her status. Ophelia has even fewer options. While Hamlet waits to seek revenge for his father’s death, Ophelia, as a woman, can’t act—all she can do is wait for Laertes to return and take his revenge. Ophelia’s predicament is symbolic of women’s position in general in Hamlet: they are completely dependent on men.

Article: Hamlet: Themes
Source: LitCharts.com
Alex Ruth

Alex Ruth

33 Knowledge Cards 

In this play, women are seen as problematic throughout. Hamlet's mother is seen as a gold-digger figure, who shows barely any grief over her husband's death and proceeds to marry his brother with no questions asked. Ophelia eventually proves insane and commits suicide, making women appear as dependent, insignificant characters of that time period.

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Hamlet gears up to be a traditional bloody revenge play – and then it stops. The bulk of the play deals not with Hamlet's ultimately successful vengeance on his father's murderer, but with Hamlet's inner struggle to take action. The play concludes with a bloodbath that's typical of revenge tragedy, but Hamlet's infamous delay sets it apart from anything that's come before it. Hamlet is also notable for the way it weaves together three revenge plots, all of which involve sons seeking vengeance for their fathers' murders. Ultimately, the play calls into question the validity and usefulness of revenge.

Article: Hamlet Theme of Revenge
Source: Shmoop University, Inc.
Alex Ruth

Alex Ruth

33 Knowledge Cards 

At the end of the play written by Shakespeare, there is terrible tragedy, resulting in many deaths. These deaths occured due to Hamlet's plan to seek revenge for his father's murder and his mother's infedelity. Due to this revenge, his family and friends end up dead. Yes, he did avenge his father's death, but at what cost?

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Hamlet fits in a literary tradition called the revenge play, in which a man must take revenge against those who have in some way wronged him. Yet Hamlet turns the revenge play on its head in an ingenious way: Hamlet, the man seeking revenge, can’t actually bring himself to take revenge. For reason after reason, some clear to the audience, some not, he delays. Hamlet’s delay has been a subject of debate from the day the play was first performed, and he is often held up as an example of the classic “indecisive” person, who thinks to much and acts too little. But Hamlet is more complicated and interesting than such simplistic analysis would indicate. Because while it’s true that Hamlet fails to act while many other people do act, it’s not as if the actions of the other characters in the play work out. Claudius’s plots backfire, Gertrude marries her husband’s murderer and dies for it, Laertes is manipulated and killed by his own treachery, and on, and on, and on. In the end, Hamlet does not provide a conclusion about the merits of action versus inaction. Instead, the play makes the deeply cynical suggestion that there is only one result of both action and inaction—death.

Article: Hamlet: Themes
Source: LitCharts.com

Madness – both real and feigned – is at the heart of the play. Hamlet's "antic disposition" has famously sparked a scholarly debate: Does Hamlet truly go "mad" or is it all an act? An impossible mystery, it's one of many unanswered questions raised by the play. Nevertheless, the complexity and sheer ambiguity of Hamlet's mental state and erratic behavior is compelling and seems to speak to the play's overall atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt. Ophelia's clear descent into madness (and subsequent drowning) is somewhat of a different issue. Critics tend to agree that Ophelia seemingly cracks under the strain of Hamlet's abuse and the weight of patriarchal forces, which has important implications for the play's portrayal of "Gender" and "Sex."

Article: Hamlet Theme of Madness
Source: Shmoop University, Inc.
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