Hamlet Themes

Hamlet & Mortality – Hamlet believes life is meaningless and the living world is made of death and decay. – His philosophy: if we all die eventually, does it matter who kills us? – The fact that Hamlet still contemplates suicide even after he promises to avenge his father show that his problems go deeper than simply grief.- Hamlet fears someone’s life can be so easily forgotten after death and an example is his jester, Yorick’s, skull. – Hamlet did not want to commit suicide and risk going to hell.
Ghost & Mortality – Sets the note of the play: death.
Mortality theme in general – Death comes as an un-welcomed guest that never cares to leave- Numerous characters die on their quest for revenge and by the end of the play almost all significant character die- Although we all die there is a change of an afterlife- Death is closely tied to the themes of spirituality, truth, and uncertainty
Hamlet & Action – Hamlet, the man seeking revenge, can’t actually bring himself to take revenge- He constantly delays taking action- Hamlet doesn’t believe it is possible to act in a controlled, purposeful way- When Hamlet does act, he prefers to do it blindly, recklessly, and violently
Action theme in general – While it’s true that Hamlet fails to act while many other characters do act, it’s not as if the actions of the other characters in the play ever work out (Ex: Laertes’s idea for a duel or Claudius poisoning Hamlet’s drink)- The play suggests the only result of action or inaction is all the same: death- The question of how to act is affected by rational considerations, but more importantly: emotional, ethical, and psychological factors- Other than Hamlet, the characters think much less about action and are less troubled by the possibility of acting effectively
Claudius & Mortality – Claudius’s murder of King Hamlet initiates Hamlet’s quest for revenge and Claudius’ death is the end of that quest
Claudius & Action – When Claudius sent Hamlet to England he was never killed; however, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern were- When Claudius poisoned Hamlet’s drink the Queen drank it instead- His actions led to the death of someone else
Leartes & Action – Laertes challenged Hamlet to a duel, but they switched swords and he ended up being poisioned- His actions backfired, but at least he acts, unlike Hamlet
Fortinbras & Action – He actually acted in order to avenge his father’s life unlike Hamlet
Hamlet & Uncertainty – Hamlet postpones actions in order to obtain more certain knowledge about what he is doing- Our uncertainty about Hamlet’s mental state is supposed to mirror the play’s general ambiguity and doubt
Ghost & Uncertainty – The ghost’s purpose is uncertain –> Is it a sign of Denmark’s sociopolicial instability? A manifestation of Hamlet’s own conscience? An evil spirit provoking him to murder? His father’s spirit unable to rest?- Can we have certain knowledge about ghosts?- Is the ghost what it appears to be, or is it really a misleading fiend?- Does the Ghost have reliable knowledge about its own death, or is the ghost itself deluded?
Uncertainty theme in general – Our lives are built on uncertainties- The uncertainties of the plot are what drive the actions of each character and keep the audience engaged.- At the end of the play the audience is left with a feeling of uncertainty when Hamlet bequeaths the throne to Fortinbras. So in the closing moments, Denmark’s future looks less certain than it did at the beginning. – How can we know for certain the facts about a crime that has no witnesses?- Can Hamlet know the state of Claudius’s soul by watching his behavior?- Can Hamlet know the facts of what Claudius did by observing the state of his soul?- Can we know whether our actions will have the consequences we want them to have?- Can we know anything about the afterlife?
Hamlet & Madness – Does Hamlet truly go “mad,” or is it all an act?- Maybe Hamlet begins acting mad, but ends up legitimately insane- Wants to avenge his fathers death and kills Polonius- Hamlet blames many of his deeds as symptoms of his madness- Uses madness to avoid the King’s suspicion
Claudius & Madness – 1st act of madness: Claudius kills his own brother for power and to marry his sister-in-law- Claudius furthers Hamlet’s rage/madness by chastising him for mourning over his father’s death.
Ophelia & Madness – Her father is killed by her lover which triggers her insanity.- Act 4 Scene 5 she is singing and dancing in riddles- Her mental instability led her to suicide
Laertes & Madness – Laertes is mad with revenge for his father and sister’s death.- He knows he did nothing to stop the deaths in his family.
Madness theme in general – Cause of the plot- Plays a domino effect in most characters always leading ot death and revenge
Women theme in general – Women are powerless without the status of a man- Women are completely dependent on men
Hamlet & Women – View on women is decidedly dark- Seems to go mad especially when he is furious with women- Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius convinced Hamlet that women are untrustworthy and their beauty covers for their deceit & sexual desires
Gertrude & Women – Gertrude’s quick marriage to Claudius, though immoral, is her only way to maintain her status
Ophelia & Women – While Hamlet seeks revenge Ophelia, as a woman, can’t act- She must wait for Laertes to take his revenge
Hamlet & Revenge – They play begins as a traditional revenge play; however, it isn’t about Hamlet’s successful vengeance for his father’s murder at all- This revenge takes place during the final scene of Act 5- Hamlet’s desire to avenge his father’s murder drives the play- Hamlet is blinded by his lust for revenge which steers him down a path of evil. He becomes a cruel, indifferent person in order to achieve it
Corruption theme in general – Denmark is often described as corrupt under Claudius’ leadership- “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”- Greed and the thirst for power are the invitation of corruption – Corruption is further developed through manipulation- Corruption manifests itself as tragic revenge- Corruption is represented as a chain of events string with greed, spreading by manipulation through unquestioned loyalty and concluding with a mad act of revenge. (Ex: Claudius’s thirst for power led to a loss in Gertrude’s morals)
Appearance vs. Reality – Every character is constantly trying to figure out what the other characters think, as opposed to what those characters are pretending to think- The characters try to figure each other out by using deception of their own, such as spying and plotting- All characters appear to be sincere and trustworthy; however, in the end, Hamlet sees through their appearances to the reality of their true nature
Morality – Hamlet’s own personal moral dilemmas in this case- “What is the right thing to do?”- The play deals with crime and punishment, with complex questions of right and wrong, moral decisions, and questions of conscience- The acceptance of the task of vengeance
Political action/ambition (regicide) – The country is in political unrest- King Hamlet is dead- Claudius is now at the head of the political system even though he is an unjust murderer- The country is in the hands of a man who is untrustworthy- The men yield the power and exert it over not only each other, but the women as well
Revenge theme in general – The play calls into question the validity and usefulness of revenge- The resolution of each revenge plot highlights the inadequacy of revenge- Revenge is a bittersweet affair attained at a high price- Revenge is a vicious cycle which can lead to more revenge (Ex: When Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius because of his revenge which leads to Laertes wanting revenge as well.)
Hamlet & Corruption – Hamlet describes the world as an “unweeded garden”- Hamlet talks about life in disgusting images and only seems comfortable with things that are dead
Hamlet & Appearance vs. Reality – Hamlet not only investigates other people, but he also peers into his own soul to ask philisophical and religious questions about life and death- Hamlet’s obsession with what’s real has 3 main effects 1) he becomes so caught up in the search for reality he does not act 2) in order to prove what’s real, Hamlet hides his “reality” behind his madness 3) the deeper Hamlet looks, the less real and coherant everything seems to be- The play is another good example of this- Hamlet’s love for Ophelia
Polonius & Appearance vs. Reality – Obsessed with appearance- Wants people to think he is a caring and loving person- Only wants to look like an upstanding person rather than actually being one- The appearance he tries to play off is not his true nature
Claudius & Appearance vs. Reality – Not the heroic brother of the deceased king who took over the throne to save the people- He speaks to the people and convinces them not to be afraid that their King has died- He pretends to grieve in order to encourage the people to move on with their lives- Does not care about Hamlet- Appearance of an honorable man even though he is a murderer (Ex: the scene where he tells Hamlet to stop grieving)
Rosencrantz & Guildenstein & Appearance vs. Reality – Hamlet’s childhood friends who are manipulated by Claudius to help kill him- They pretend to be his friend even though they were sent with an order
Hamlet & Morality – Hamlet deals with the concept of revenge which goes against his Christian morals- If Hamlet kills Claudius then he may go to hell, but if he doesn’t his father might go to hell- Is life worth it when there is so much tribulation, and what is the right thing to do?- Suicide went against his Christian morals as well- Ex: Claudius prayer scene
Queen & Morality – Marries her brother in law to maintain her status –> rids of her morals