Themes and Motifs in Hamlet

Motif: Misogyny “Get thee to a nunnery… why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners” (Hamlet)”Frailty thy name is woman” (Hamlet)”I have a daughter – have while she is mine” (Polonius)”That in obedience hath my daughter shown me” (Polonius)”I shall obey you.” (Ophelia)”The Lady doth protest too much methinks.” (Gertrude)”Lose your heart, or your chase treasure open.” (Laertes)
Motif: Ears and Hearing “If with to credent ear you list his songs (…) Fear it, Ophelia.” (Laertes)”Give every man they ear, but few thy voice.” (Polonius) “I’ll loose my daughter to him (…) Be you and I behind an arras then.” (Polonius)”So the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged process of my death Rankly abused.” (King Hamlet)”I have words to speak in thine ear that will make thee dumb.” (Hamlet)
Theme: Complexity of Action 1. (End of Scene 2.2) – Hamlet’s soliloquy about his father’s death and revenge, Hamlet doesn’t know if he should do the moral thing (no revenge) or should follow his heart (revenge),2. (Scene 3.1) – To be or not to be soliloquy, Hamlet deals with the question about killing himself (taking action) or enduring through life,3. (Scene 3.2) – Hamlet tells the player how to deliver the play (proper motivations for taking action?)
Theme: Impossibility of Certainty or Appearance vs. Reality “Than is my deed to my most painted word” (Claudius)”The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” (Hamlet)”One may smile, and smile, and still be a villain” (Hamlet)”As perchance hereafter, shall think meet to put an antic disposition on’t” (Hamlet)”To be honest as this world goes, is to one man picked out of ten thousand” (Hamlet)”God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another” (Ophelia)
Theme: Mystery of Death “To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end; The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks” (Hamlet)”To die, to sleep – To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, For in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”(Hamlet)”Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death; The memory be green, and that it us befitted; to bear our hearts in grief.” (Claudius)”Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,Passing through nature to eternity.” (Gertrude)
Theme: Effects of Madness “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” (Claudius)”Though this be madness, there is method in’t.” (Polonius)”That I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft” (Hamlet)”How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable to me seem all the uses of the land.” (Hamlet)”All’s ill here around my heart.” (Hamlet)”To put an antic disposition on.” (Hamlet)
Motif: Disease and Decay “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” (Hamlet)For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion.” (Hamlet)”Make you a wholesome answer; my wit’s diseased.” (Hamlet)”And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” (Hamlet)”Look you now, what follows: Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear, Blasting his wholesome brother.” (Hamlet)
Motif: Lies and Deceit “These indeed ‘seem,’ For they are actions that a man might play.” (Hamlet)”Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Polonius)”Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts.” (King Hamlet)”Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers; Not of that dye which their investments show.” (Polonius)”A bloody deed? Almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king and marry his brother.” (Hamlet)
Theme: Consequences of Revenge “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder… murder most foul, strange and unnatural.” (King Hamlet)”Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest.” (King Hamlet)”Oh from this moment forth, My thoughts be bloody or nothing worth.” (Hamlet)”Only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father” (Laertes)”I am justly killed with mine own treachery.” (Laertes)