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Hamlet

Module B deals with questions of textual integrity, significance and value. Students must engage with
the text in its entirety to develop a deep understanding and personal view of the text and to develop
their understanding of questions of textual integrity.
The syllabus describes textual integrity as: The unity of a text; its coherent use of form and language
to produce an integrated whole in terms of meaning and value.
Basically, the texts ability to sustain one message/reading and convey this throughout the text, the
consistency of motifs and principles throughout the text, and how they hold together. Individual
puzzles pieces all fit together to create play.
In your answer you will be assessed on how well you:

demonstrate an informed understanding of the ideas expressed in the text

evaluate the texts language, content and construction

organise, develop and express ideas using language appropriate to audience, purpose and form

To what extent.. = say a level of agreeing. Eg, not at all, completely or largely but not wholly.
Also focus on other readings and areas of debate you address. Ambiguity of hamlet allows for many
different interpretations

Features and elements of text:

language techniques and poetic devices


structure
hamlets soliloquys
religious symbolism and influence
Elizabethan values and context
Supernatural element vs god = contrasting images/ characters
Characterisation
Dramatic techniques (foil, metafictionalism- play within play, off side, dramatic irony)
ambiguity

How important are all these things when put together, in giving the play its
Universal and timeless relevance
Realistic and believable characters
Valid and ongoing appeal to audience
Controversiality and openness to different interpretations
Eg. Hamlet uses dramatic and language techniques to make responders develop and form
their own opinions about the true nature of..
Shakespeare skilfully uses language, motifs and characterisation to develop multi layered
ambiguity in their characters and their relationships
In question about a theme, trace the consequences of it using three example scenes.

Readings

Hamlet struggles between laying his loyalties with his own ideals, or with the desires of
his father, showing the struggle between modern renaissance individualist ideals
versus the older, medieval values conflict between society and individual
Hamlet has an overly intellectual mind, questioning everything, creating trouble for him
in the circumstance of the kingdom.
Overarching all actions is a greater destiny, an unchangeable fate that awaits us all
Revenge is in the hands of god, not humans
Desire for revenge eventually corrupts revenger
Through Hamlet, Shakespeare explores the nature and array of emotions felt by
mankind, a struggle between mortality and futility
The context can further inform our understanding of the messages being conveyed by
the playwright
Analysing themes and ideas is essential to gain true enrichment from a text and use it
to enhance our own understanding of the world
Marxist- reads literature to understand class struggle and causes of conflict between
privileged and working class. Important to relate text to social context to explore this.
Feminist reading: exploring role of females in Shakespearean times
Play is about new philosophical ideals contrasting the traditions of medieval times,
where murder and revenge were more common themes in society. Kyd and Senecan
revenge tragedy both very conventional, whereas, Hamlet contradicts this with his new
age thinking.

Themes
Loyalty

Hamlets loyalty to father


Claudiuss disloyalty to the throne and familial ties
Gertrude
Horatios loyalty to hamlet
Rosencrantz and guildenterns disloyalty to hamlet but loyalty to throne
Thus, hamlet is a play of divided loyalties, with personal, moral and political motives
Loyalty is a secondary concern. Only has symbolic importance. Significant but not as
important as other values.
Act 1 scene 5 hamlets fathers ghost commands him to revenge. Ghost evokes
notions of loyalty- loyalty of hamlet to ghost and disloyalty of Claudius
Hamlet questions if loyalty means anything. Hamlets confrontations with Gertrude and
Claudius say that hamlet is alone as a character and loyalty starts to take on a mental
and philosophical dimension
If you are loyal are you rewarded? Not necessarily, everyone dies. If you are disloyal are
you punished? To an extent
LOYALTY TO SELF

The play presents the idea that it is necessary to be honest to your personality, your
beliefs and the world around you in order to create the balance that human existence
requires. Hamlet accepts that he will die at the end of the play because he is honest to
himself about the nature of his existence. He accepts his humanity and his inability to

alter events from the past. He accepts the need for truth and honesty and identifies that
our words need to reflect our actions.
Laertes points out that "his will is not his own" - he has a part to play and is bound by it. It
is not until Hamlet chooses to act according to his heart that he is able to feel free and
accept his humanity. It is only through his humanity that Hamlet can succeed in regaining
the honour of his father.

Polonius to Laertes- to thine own self be true rings through the play as a message about
loyalty about Hamlet. Hamlets dilemma about what to do- his inaction and confusion, can be
seen to emerge from the conflict of renaissance individualism during a time where strict
Elizabethan values were still in place of following wishes of family and interests of the state.
Thus, loyalty undergoes a reinterpretation, with Hamlet representing the opposition of the
new and he old. Revenge is the desired outcome of his father, but revenge goes against
Hamlets true values and seems unacceptable, thus he loses his life, as it is a course of action
linked to a violent medieval past. Relationship of revenge to the ancient past is reinforced
through classical allusions- when discussing appartion with Marcellus, Horatio comments on
how the fall of the mightiest Julius led to the dews of blood/disasters in the sun. In saying
so, Horatio draws attention of te audience to a tradition of revenge tragedy, drawing from
Seneca. He is aware of bloody impact of revenge, but paradoxically, by using Caesar as his
example, suggests the greatness of Old Hamlet and necessity of revenge against Claudius as
act of loyalty.

Destiny/ Free will vs fate

Overarching all actions is a greater destiny, a just fate that awaits us all which one
cannot alter.
Man's intellect is powerless to understand and predict the whims of fate. Destiny is
presented as an illusive idea which is capable of confusing and causing individuals
suffering. From the beginning, Hamlet curses his destiny for casting him the role of
avenger, O cursed spite that ever he was born to set it right, as he loses the sense
of choice and control over his life. He speaks of his envy of Horatio, who receives
Fortunes buffets and rewards as he is not cast into any role and lives his life of free
will.
The juxtaposition of Hamlet and Horatio, who is a rational and logical version of
Hamlet and is not controlled by emotions, is used to heighten the visible impact of fate
on Hamlet, who expresses the burden of his emotions and contemplative nature, calling
himself passions slave. Give me that man that is not passions slave, and I will
wear him In my hearts core, ay in my heart of heart,. The metaphor of hearts core
symbolises that Hamlet associates matters with his heart and is in touch with his
emotional side. The inner turmoil Hamlet feels about his fate reappears in the
renowned soliloquy to be or not to be, in which he questions whether to suffer the
slings and arrows of outrageous fortune a metaphor expressing the ongoing battle of
adversity that is waged on humans, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and
fight back against his fate.
Hamlets procrastination and resulting death, elucidates Shakespeares prevalent faith
in the natural chain of being, making the statement that an individual cannot fight their
destiny and break the natural chain of being, and thus as Hamlet ended up killing the
king, the highest human on the chain, Hamlet had to suffer the consequences of death.

As a result of his emotional journey, Hamlet finally accepts that fortune is a divinity
that shapes our end.
The use of Laertes as a foil, contrasts Hamlet as he did not deliberate and simply
acted upon his destined role as avenger. Although Hamlets characterisation and
contemplative nature led him through emotional turmoil, both Laertes and Hamlet met
the same fate of death, which was written in their destiny. The juxtaposition provokes
the reader to contemplate their own opinion on the role of destiny in ones life.
Hamlet ended up killing the king, the highest human on the chain, Hamlet had to suffer
the consequences of death.
Iambic pentameter is broken to demonstrate unrest of the times and Hamlets shock as
he learns of his fate, my fate cries out!

Uncertainty

Hamlets struggle to grapple with what he should do brings him a sense of uncertainty,
and leads him to question the validity of the ghosts words, instructing Horatio to
observe his uncle, and concluding that if he did not act guilty, It is a damned ghost we
have seen. The juxtaposition of differing mindsets at the beginning of the extract and
at the end as he veers wildly between being assured of his uncles guilt and being
utterly uncertain, further reveals Hamlets inner struggle to accept and grasp his
destiny . This reflects the transparent nature of Hamlets characterisation, and the fact
that he doesnt have any solid plans or motives, rather spends much time debating
what to do, contributing to his inaction.
The very first line of the play, whos there? establishes the undertone of uncertainty
throughout. The world view held in Elizabethan times placed negative connotations on
supernatural elements such as ghosts , thus the fact that a ghost walked the earth
instantly foreshadowed the adversity to both Hamlet and the audience, driving his
uncertainity of whether the ghost was telling the truth, or whether he may be the
devil, as the devil hath power Tassume a pleasing shape, this consideration also
revealing the influence of religion embedded within Elizabethan society.
Hamlet seeks certainty and black and white answers about everything. organises play
to make certain of claudiuss guilt.

Revenge

Desire for revenge eventually corrupts revenger (every one dies)


Divine right of justice- does the right to serve justice belong to us or god? Shakespeare
reveals that it doesnt belong to us
Hamlet, whilst it uses conventions of Kydian Revenge Tragedy, is unconventional for
revenge tragedy in the sense that there is little action, and Hamlet is very hesitant to
avenge.
Instead of craving revenge like tradition, Hamlet talks about revenge. Shown by
juxtaposition foil.
When he finally comes to take revenge, he accepts his fate.

Inaction

Hamlets experience reveals that inaction perpetuates thought and existential


considerations of a life without action.
Hamlets procrastination as he is confronted by what he has to do relates to human life
today and displays process of making difficult decisions on our own lifes. Shines light on
being human.

Hamlets struggle to grasp his destiny contributed significantly towards his inaction and
procrastination rather than accepting his fate and acting upon it.
Hamlet procrastinates because unsure to be loyal to self or to others
In his self reciniminations over his procrastination, Hamlet ask
s, What is a man?, exploring the divine potential in humanity for redemption and
dignity, since a purpose in life is a purpose to existence.
Hamlet's problem is somehow to punish Claudius and yet transcend the sheer human
violence and vindictiveness which such punishment entails
Self recriminations over his procrastination- some craven scruple of thinking too
precisely on the event acknowledges contemplative nature., hath but one part
wisdom and ever three parts cowards
why yet I live to say, this things to do

Madness

The ghost may be seen as a structuring device to demonstrate Hamlets progression


from an antic disposition into actual madness due to his excessive thought, as in Act
One, it is visible to numerous people as a dreaded sight, whilst in Act Three, it is
visible to Hamlet alone, becoming a manifestation of Hamlets innate desire to avenge
his Father, whilst fearful of that hell itself should gape.
Feigning madness becomes Hamlets method for dealing with untrustworthy world
where he is kept under surveillance.
The strain of the task placed upon him causes his nerves to be stretched and him to
become slightly unstable.

Art Reflects Life

Ironically, Shakespeare reflects the idea of drama depicting real life within his own play,
by using the dramatic device of a mousetrap self-reflexive play within a play, a
common convention of revenge tragedies, also seen in Kyds Spanish tragedy, as the
play was devised to expose the truth about Claudiuss murder and metaphorically
catch the conscience of the king, continuing the theme of acting that occurs
throughout within the play and touching on the notion of appearance vs reality . The
acting of the players mirrors Hamlet acting mad in order to uncover signs of guilt,
and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern acting like friends in order to uncover the reason
behind Hamlets antic disposition. Ultimately, Shakespeare employs the metatheatrical
device to emphasise that art holds a mirror up to life, as the players will tell all. Art
being a reflection of life is the reason behind the importance placed on the play Hamlet
itself within our society today. (Timelessness/enduring/universality of art)
The play itself draws attention to itself as a construction in the play-within-the-play
in order to reinforce the message of the inadequacies of 'acting' or 'playing a part'
in life. Hamlet himself is held back by his indecision due to the many parts he must
play.

Corruption

The foundations of corruption within Denmark are laid down by an incidental comment
I am sick at heart by Fransisco, whose sick melancholy keeps with the atmosphere of
corruption and decay permeating the play.
Corruption is represented by the imagery of Denmark as an unweeded garden, with
the weeds symbolising the sporadic corruption which has seeped into the state and is
leeching the nurturers, such as Gertrude. The imagery of a garden is woven into many

scenes as a recurring metaphor, beginning from the ghost describing his murder,
sleeping in my orchard, a serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark, where the
orchard represents a peaceful state. The idea of betrayal committed by Claudius in his
description is greater enhanced by the biblical illusion towards the Garden of Eden
within the imagery, further revealing the religious influence in Elizabethan society.
Fuelled by Claudius Machiavellian villainy, Denmark shifts from a stable political
system to an unweeded gardenrank and gross in nature, a world perpetuated by
moral injustice and perversion and one that becomes oppressively narrow and
claustrophobic by locking its inhabitants into a cycle of corruption.
Hamlet talks of hidden abscess of vice and perversion which surrounds him, which
has infected the ulcerous place His imagery represents his sense of entrapment and
alienation within the morally corrupt society.
Laertes and Claudiuss plotting against Hamlet is interrupted by Gertrude, telling them
in a poignant speech that Ophelia is dead, using nature imagery crow-flowers, nettles,
daisies and describing her to be mermaid- like. The interruption of the plotting with
news of the death signifies the harm and negative effects of plotting, corruption and
deceit on the society.
The theme of surveillance embedded in the play is a testament to the state of
corruption that the Danish royals are in, continued when Hamlet instructs Horatio to
observe my uncle as his actions will reveal occulted guilt. Spying is used by various
characters to identify corruption and reveal the truth. Although through spying, Hamlet
discovers Claudiuss guilt, he is unable to act upon it, which is used by Shakespeare to
comment that one cannot fight corruption with further corruption and spying.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern embody the theme of surveillance and political
corruption. Claudius takes hamlets friends and asks them to spy on him. Their
conspiring however earns them execution, as in Elizabethan times, betrayal warrants
death, emphasising the corrupt nature of surveillance.
The image of rotting along with the released odour permeating far and wide symbolizes the infectious quality of sin.
Critic Rob Moriarity describes corruption in the play as a stagnant disease, with no cure, that inevitable leads to death.
Claudius spreads corruption like a disease throughout the whole of the state, and everyone affected inevitably must die to
rid the state of corruption. Fortinbras, a young man who made his mark through the play quietly and honourably is
successful as his mind was never infected by emotions or the disease.
Hamlets mind is clouded with emotion and the corruption he is experiencing around him, resulting in his rash decision to
kill Polonius thinking it is Claudius, showing he too is infected with the disease.

Appearance vs Reality

Opening line whos there establishes undertone of uncertainty regarding the truth in
the play
Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems. Tis not alone my inky cloak, good
mother, Nor customary suits of solemn black, Hamlet alerts audience to the notion of
seeming and that appearances can be deceiving.
Claudius killed Old Hamlet- people not being what they seem. One may smile and
smile and be a villain

Melancholy

Whilst dealing with issues of death and mortality, the extracts underlying tones of
sadness and melancholy, which are evident throughout the entire play, contribute to its
universality, as grief is an aspect of every humans life and is not subject to a particular
era. Hamlets grief at his fathers death, quote, leads him to feel disenchantment with
life itself, and he reflects he has lost all mirth. He speaks of the beauty of the world,

the paragon of animals, yet it has lost all meaning to him, and offers him no delight.
Man delights not me- no, nor woman neither.
The pessimistic outlook in which he sees the world alienates him further from those
around him. The demand for retribution from his father compromises his morality and
integrity, triggering a loathing of life, as being weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
(cumulative listing)
Emotive outbursts express his feelings, O God! God!...Fie ont!

Deceit (product of corruption)

While language can help hear the truth, it can also distort truth. Claudius distorts truth
to manipulate others and gain power. Ear is a motif. The corrosive effect of poison in
old hamlet represent that Claudiuss dishonesty is eating away at the health of
Denmark. Words can be both helpful and detrimental
The ear is poisoned, both literally and metaphorically. The meaning is extended to
include the power offered by words and language to manipulate and destroy. As the
play progresses, words are the key to both the driving action of the play as well its
outcome as all characters have somehow been affected by poisoned words. In many
senses, each characters sense of reality has been created and shaped because of their
relationship to language and words, often to tragic ends. Thus, the reader is offered
some degree of foreshadowing when Old Hamlet uses synecdoche to state that
Claudius has poisoned the whole ear of Denmark with his words, as words will drive
the action of the play. Eg. it is not necessarily Hamlets actions toward Ophelia that
contribute to her insanity, but his words. He scolds her, telling her she should enter a
nunnery instead of becoming a breeder of sinners. He uses the power of words to act
as daggers.
After provoking Laertes rage and plotting with him, what would you undertake to
show yourself in deed your fathers son more than in words?, Claudius lies to Gertrude
how much I had to do to calm his rage telling her he tried to calm him, a testament to
the state of corruption and the web of plotting and deceit within Elsinore.

Nature of Death

Ghost of father causes hamlet to think about spiritual aftermath of death.


After Poloniuss death, Hamlet sees that death is also a great equaliser, A man may fish
with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm

Inevitability of Death/ Mortality

The theme Tempus Edax Rerum, suggesting that life is temporal and that all things are
devoured by time, is constant within Hamlet, like many tragedies. In the opening scene,
the Ghost accounts of divine retribution and the appalling consequences of an
unprepared for death, and is maintained through to the end, where eight characters
die.
Hamlets realisation of mortality, caused by his fathers sudden death, and struggle to grapple

with his destined role as avenger leads him to become disillusioned with humanity, calling it a
quintessence of dust, a recurring motif, which expresses the physicality and finality of death
through the idea that all humans essentially will turn into dust. The idea reappears during the
graveyard scene in which Hamlet holds up a skull of Yorick whom he once knew, as a symbol of
mortality. The comparison/ juxtaposition of Yorick to Alexander the Great, portrays that although
they led very different lives, they meet the same end and returneth into dust, reiterating that
death is inevitable for everyone, no matter how great or small their lives may be.

Yoricks skull is a symbol for the inevitability of death and although hamlet has often
lamented lifes uncertainty, he finds one grim certainty represented in the skull, the
inevitability of death. Now get you to my ladys chamber, and tell her, let her paint an
inch thick, to this favour, she must come. In other words, try as we might we cant
avoid death.

Hamlet compares Yoricks skull to Alexander the great, Dost thou think Alexander
looked o' this fashion i' th' earth? revealing that even though they led very different
lives, even the greatest men die and all men meet the same end and returneth to
dust.
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
Continuing recurring metaphor of quintessence of dust The hierarchical structure
of society is illusory and ultimately crumbles into dust, just like the bones of those long

gone.
The graveyard speech was made to seem more heartfelt than others through its prose
structure as opposed to poetry, making it sound unrehearsed and straight from the
mind. The heartfelt nature contributed to the audiences overall perceival of Hamlets
emotional journey.
Whilst dealing with issues of death and mortality, the extracts underlying tones of
sadness and melancholy, which are evident throughout the entire play, contribute to its
universality, as grief is an aspect of every humans life and is not subject to a particular
era.

Philosophical Nature/ Educatedness/ Morality

Through Hamlet, Shakespeare explores the nature and array of emotions felt by
mankind, a struggle between mortality and futility
In tragic terms, the philosophical side of the play shows the plays anagnorisis, the
state of enlightenment hamlet attains as a consequence of suffering
In his self reciniminations over his procrastination, Hamlet asks, What is a man?,
exploring the divine potential in humanity for redemption and dignity, since a purpose
in life is a purpose to existence.
Hamlet's problem is somehow to punish Claudius and yet transcend the sheer human
violence and vindictiveness which such punishment entails. The demand for retribution
from his father compromises his integrity, triggering a loathing of life, as being weary,
stale, flat and unprofitable(cumulative listing). Alienates him from those around
him.
Acknowledges his contemplative nature as a cause for his inaction- some craven
scruple of thinking too precisely on the event
hath but one part wisdom and
ever three parts cowards
conscience does make cowards of us all murdering is against his new age
conscience
Instead of acting on revenge like tradition, Hamlet talks and thinks about revenge- new
renaissance ideas of the mind.
While Hamlet acknowledges that this things to do, he ultimately does not carry out
the action he so intensely philosophized over, establishing the universal dichotomy
between god like thought and reason, and action which distinguishes man from
animals.
Hamlet uses words as a weapon, and his dialogue is littered with cynical retorts or
puns.

A little more than kin, and less than kind is an example of stichomythia, with which he
duels the intellect of those who attempt to deceive him such as Claudius, Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern. However he finally meets is match in the gravedigger, who
symbolises death, at which point he abandons language as a weapon and accepts his
unchangeable fate. By act 5, he no longer uses wit as defence.
He acknowledges his skill, using them to express his emotions to mother, I will speak
daggersbut use none
Hamlet is changed- his exterior nor the inward man resembling what it was
But idealism comes at the cost of more pragmatic and social virtues. Hamlets
ideological thinking and reluctance to murder Claudius was moral, for example when
Claudius was praying, an opportune time which he sacrificed, however eventually
resulted in his death, killed by immoral and less ideological characters. However his
ideological nature, and the issues he contemplated, resulted in the timelessness of the
text. Being an introspective man, this is both one of Hamlets greatest gifts as well as
Hamlets defining tragic flaw.

Renaissance vs. Medieval

Play is about new philosophical ideals contrasting the traditions of medieval times,
where murder and revenge were more common themes in society. Kyd and Senecan
revenge tragedy both very conventional, whereas, Hamlet contradicts this with his new
age thinking, being highly educated, thus cant bring himself to murder Claudius for
revenge, which is a very medieval thing to do
In his soliloquy in Act 4 Scene 4, Hamlet describes his revenge as dull as he compares
himself to Fortinbras and considers their interaction.
Renaissance was a period of rebirth
New morals against medieval revenge murders
Desire to commit suicide but Christian injunction gainst self slaught
Refers to after death as the undiscovered country, despite Christianity stating that
there is heaven and hell, thus moving away from old beliefs
Hamlet has moved away from the old style of his father whereby the acquisition of land
and glory was the true measure of a king. Instead Hamlet displays characteristics which
the audience of the time would firmly locate as a Renaissance protagonist.
As characters of this era, they are driven by chivalry and hence the duty of revenge
through murder. However, in the medieval world that comprises the setting of the play,
Hamlet represents a character of an altogether different age. Hamlet's Renaissance
view on his world develops him both as an Elizabethan-era humanist and nihilist. Thus,
through Hamlet, Shakespeare illustrates humanity's struggle with the purpose and
meaning of man.
In what a piece of work is man humanist ideas about uniqueness and extraordinary
abilities of human mind
In to be or not to be- nihilist view of futility of life. He alludes to the afterlife as the
undiscovered country, recognising his departure from medieval religious ideals which
are rooted on strict belief that people either go to heaven or hell when they die.
Foils show his renaissance mindset of questioning and examining the world in his own
pursuit of revenge, different to the pursuit of others men
Young Fortinbras desires to "recover of us, by strong and terms compulsatory, those
foresaid lands so by his father lost" in order to avenge his father's death. Thus,
Shakespeare presents Fortinbras as a medieval character whose belief system lies in
chivalry. Fortinbras' gathering of an army indicates his intention to deliver the revenge
for his father's death through brutality. Thus, in a world where the code of chivalry
reigns, the medieval character of Fortinbras establishes a murderous and action-

oriented revenge at the top of his value system.

This importance of murder for revenge in the medieval world is exemplified in Laertes.
Laertes is another solidly medieval, chivalrous figure, as evident in his vengeful nature.
His code of ethics is driven by his desire for revenge when Polonius, is killed. "To hell,
allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I
dare damnation. To this point I standlet come what comes, only I'll be revenged most
thoroughly for my father". When his father is killed, Laertes throws out many of the
other dictates of the code of chivalry such as allegiance to his king, solely focusing on
one aspect of the code: revenge, to the point where he seems to be willing to do
anything to succeed in his endeavor. In a similar way to Fortinbras, the medieval
character of Laertes follows the code of chivalry and values revenge as its most
important aspect. Laertes' thoughts for how to deliver this revenge turn toward murder
as he plots with Claudius to "anoint my sword" to kill Hamlet.
Contrasting with Laertes and Fortinbras, Hamlet is not a medieval character in the play.
Instead, Hamlet is a modern Renaissance Elizabethan character who is placed in the
medieval world. He is part of the Renaissance era movement, which at its core debated
the nature of man. One aspect of this era included the humanist movement, which
believed in the worth of all humans and that truth can be found through introspection.
Another aspect of Renaissance thinking was what modern society would call nihilism,
which proposes that human existence in fact has no meaning and thus there is no real
purpose to life. These two philosophies of the Renaissance, an appreciation for the
value of the human and the contrasting assertion that life is essentially meaningless
are both explored by Hamlet, causing him inner strife and set him apart from the
medieval characters, Laertes and Fortinbras, who are solely driven by chivalry.
As a humanist, education and individual thought bring Hamlet to examine the purpose
of man's existence. Except Horatio, Hamlet is the only character in the play with
academic and intellectual aspirations. Hamlet's wish to go "back to school in
Wittenberg" demonstrates his desire for knowledge, a yearning not present in the vast
majority of characters in Hamlet. Thus, with Hamlet's humanistic intellectual pursuits,
Shakespeare separates him from his medieval counterparts. Hamlet's individual
thought also leads him to exclaim "what a piece of work is a man, how noble of work is
a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express
and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty
of the world, the paragon of animals" In the first part of this speech Hamlet asserts that
he values man and states that he believes that man is a marvel, close to perfection and
thus, through these lines, demonstrates Hamlet's humanism. However, Hamlet's
intellect and insight leads to his self-doubt regarding the importance of man and brings
about his conflicting nihilism, establishing him as a character at odds.

Dramatic Techniques
Soliloquy

Aside

Shakespeare uses to soliloquoys to give the character an opportunity to speak their


minds in the presence of an audience, so that the audience can understand what is
truly on their minds, and explore the complexities of their emotions. Adds further depth
to the characters. Hamlets seven soliloquys display a journey of his inner struggle.
Through Claudiuss soliloquy, the audience discovers his sense of guilt, adding more
depth to the character and making him more rounded and realistic, creating characters
which are timeless and are universally relatable.

An aside is where the characters speak to the audience or themselves, in the presence
of other characters, however not directly to them, informing the audience of what the
character is thinking
Set piece
Set piece is a speech on a particular topic where the meaning is not solely dependent
on the plays context, and provides meaning outside of the play; people who didnt
know Hamlet could see just that piece and understand what that piece conveys
- Eg. To Be or not to be- about suicide/ action vs inaction (diff. representations have
diff. explanations)
- what a piece of work is man is about humanity
The set pieces broaden the frame of reference for the play, creating universal ideas
which act as a vessel, transforming the relevance of the play to people in all time
periods. They ensure the relevance of the play even centuries later, in all different
contexts.
Dramatic Irony
-

Most action is based on situations where the audience knows more than one or more
of the characters
The fact that the audience knows of Hamlets plan to feign madness helps the
audience understand the events, and also creates a stronger connection between
the audience and Hamlet, and they feel they are on his journey, as they know
everything that he does.
When Hamlet is duelling Laertes, the fact that the audience knows the drink is
spiked positions Hamlet as a victim.
The fact that we hear what the ghost says demonises Claudius in the audiences
minds, rendering him a villain in every scene.

Foil
-

There are three avengers: Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras, who act as foils of Hamlet
to juxtapose him and emphasise his difference, lack of action, and philosophical
thinking to the normal avenger.

Characters
Claudius

Cunning nature displayed through King Hamlets metaphor, serpent hat did sting thy
fathers life ,now wears the crown.
King Hamlet represents medieval ideas and Prince Hamlet represents new ideas

Key Scenes

Graveyard scene

Their conversation about Ophelia, however, furthers an important theme in the play:
the question of the moral legitimacy of suicide under theological law. By giving this
serious subject a darkly comic interpretation, Shakespeare essentially makes a
grotesque parody of Hamlets earlier To be, or not to be soliloquy (III.i), indicating the
collapse of every lasting value in the play into uncertainty and absurdity.
Hamlets confrontation with death, manifested primarily in his discovery of Yoricks
skull, is an enduring image from the play.
Hamlet speculates darkly about what occupations the owners of these skulls served in
life: Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddities now . . . ?
futility of life- whatever you do, youll die and be the same as everyone else
Hamlet asks the gravedigger whose grave he digs, and the gravedigger spars with him
verbally, first claiming that the grave is his own, since he is digging it, then that the
grave belongs to no man and no woman, because men and women are living things
and the occupant of the grave will be dead.
Hamlet picks up a skull, and the gravedigger tells him that the skull belonged to Yorick,
King Hamlets jester. Hamlet tells Horatio that as a child he knew Yorick and is appalled
at the sight of the skull. He realizes forcefully that all men will eventually become dust,
even great men like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Hamlet imagines that Julius
Caesar has disintegrated and is now part of the dust used to patch up a wall.
The only person who matches Hamlets intellect is the gravedigger. Hamlet asks the
gravedigger whose grave he digs, and the gravedigger spars with him verbally,
claiming that the grave belongs to no man and no woman, because men and women
are living things and the occupant of the grave will be dead. one that was a woman
sir, but rest her soul shes dead.
Shakespeare plays on the word wit, as the clown, unaware that he is talking to
Shakespeare, states that Hamlet is losing his wits, referring to Hamlets feigned
madness, however signified that during this scene, Hamlet was also losing his wit and
use of words to attack.
Marxist readers view the fact that a gravedigger stopped hamlets tongue to send the
message that lover class can be just as intelligent