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AS and A Level: Hamlet

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Shakespeare and 'Hamlet' - some contextual knowledge to include in your response

  1. 1 Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest, most popular and most performed play.
  2. 2 There are several quartos and folios or editions which make it very difficult to date, but it is generally thought to have been written between 1599 and 1603.
  3. 3 Hamlet is classed as a tragedy and draws on many features of the revenge tragedy genre, which originated in catholic countries such as Italy and Spain – consider the portrayal of Old Hamlet in purgatory in Act 1.
  4. 4 Being set in Denmark and being written around the time of the reformation, Hamlet also embraces many protestant ethics, drawing on differing religious traditions and beliefs. Horatio’s rationalism perhaps counters the superstition attached to the ghost of Old Hamlet in Act 1.

'Hamlet' and revenge

  1. 1 Hamlet embraces many themes typical of tragedies contemporary to Shakespeare: treachery, murder, moral corruption, madness, incest, revenge. What evidence can we see of each of these in Hamlet?
  2. 2 Bacon referred to revenge as a ‘wild justice’ since the revenger figure was positioning himself with God in his desire to exact a justice which should only be ‘divine’. This creates the sense of a flawed protagonist, even an anti-hero, whose quest will ultimately fail. Can this view be applied to Hamlet himself?
  3. 3 Shakespeare subverts many of Aristotle’s notions of classical tragedy, most notably in his depiction of Hamlet himself. The play could be said to dwell on character far more than on action (consider Hamlet debating whether or not to kill the praying Claudius)
  4. 4 Hamlet’s duality and feigned madness has been viewed as problematic in terms of revenger tragedy codes – some critics see his ‘delay’ as a device by which to merely prolong the action of the play.
  5. 5 Hamlet can be compared to other more traditional revenger figures such as Laertes, whose impetuous action contrasts strongly with Hamlet’s own indecision and unwillingness to become corrupted by the society he seeks to purge.

Different readings of 'Hamlet'

  1. 1 Freudian interpretations suggest that Hamlet’s Oedipal desire for his mother prevents him from murdering Claudius, as Claudius has done what he secretly desired to do (i.e. killed his own father) and he is plagued by guilt/aligns himself too strongly with Claudius to act. Close analysis of the closet scene between Hamlet and Gertrude is useful here, but avoid speculation without using the text!
  2. 2 Feminist theorists argue that Gertrude has no knowledge of Claudius’ actions and that there are many ambiguous moments in the play which are read as signs of her guilt. Can you find evidence of this?
  3. 3 Feminist critics argue that both Gertrude and Ophelia are entirely constructed by and according to the men, who use them as pawns and/or objectify them as sexual territory. Ophelia’s madness is caused by the abandonment of the three men who have controlled her identity: her father, brother and Hamlet.
  4. 4 Much of the play can be seen to comment on Elizabethan England – Polonius is thought to have been modelled on the Queen’s chief counsellor; the visiting theatre troupe is thought to have been a reference to a contemporary troupe which was forcing the Globe actors to go on tour.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 24
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    Why does Hamlet still matter?

    5 star(s)

    The ?goodly king? so majestical? and his unanticipated death to Hamlet and the entirety of Denmark has Hamlet melancholic to the extreme of suicide, exposed through the first soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2. This soliloquy reveals Hamlet?s divided consciousness as whether to commit such an unholy act, with knowledge that it is sinful. Hamlet protests to himself about God?s ?cannon ?gainst self-slaughter?, leading to Shakespeare?s reference to King Hamlet as Hyperion, contrasted against ?my father?s brother? a satyr, by Hamlet himself to emphasise the psychological impact the hasty remarriage his mother had on Hamlet?s grieving over his father.

    • Word count: 1922
  2. Marked by a teacher

    How does Shakespeare present ideas of disorder, corruption and decay in Act 1 of Hamlet?

    4 star(s)

    immediately gives a sense of urgency and panic. Barnardo is challenging everyone who approaches. Francisco's words, 'tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart' gives a sense of death and illness. Then he Barnardo repeats himself when Horatio and Marcellus enter, saying 'Stand! Who's there?' This makes the reader or viewers of the play question why he is so anxious and alert. Not too long after, you find out that Barnardo is on alert because he is waiting to see a ghost, which he is sure he saw two times previously. He explains this to Horatio by saying, 'Sit down awhile, And let us once again assail your ears, That are so fortified against our story, What we two nights have seen.'

    • Word count: 1128
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss the dramatic significance of Hamlet Scene 1 Act 1

    4 star(s)

    'Who's there?' - and 'Quiet guard' - these statements imply a foreboding. Immediately the audience is captivated, particularly when one associates midnight with evil. The statements: 'Tis now struck twelve' and 'Bitter cold' further add to the dramatic mood that is being created. Francisco's admission: 'I am sick at heart' has a negative connotation, suggesting feelings of uneasiness. Bernardo's reply: ' Bid them make haste ' - he is obviously scared of something. A reference to loyalty to the Sovereign follows, 'Friends to this ground' and 'Liegemen to the Dane'- here Shakespeare uses a manipulative technique to address the importance of remaining patriotic - an aspect of life everyone can identify with.

    • Word count: 1416
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss the significance of the ghost in Act 1

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    Horatio says of the ghost, "...it started like a guilty thing/ Upon a fearful summons" This simile implies that the ghost is still facing judgement, and this introduces the idea of purgatory. It is believed by Catholics that when a person dies, they either go to heaven, hell or are in judgement in purgatory. The ghost further hints this idea to Hamlet when he says, "Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature/ Are burnt and purged away."

    • Word count: 1519
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Polonius has sometimes been presented as an essentially comic character and sometimes as a more sinister figure. What critical and dramatic issues are raised by the character of Polonius?

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    Polonius has traditionally been played as a sinister character, with exaggerations on his spying and sneaking around castles, as is portrayed in Franco Zeffirelli's version, though many productions in the 20th Century have instead portrayed him as older and more bumbling to bring a comic element to the play. There are two sides of Polonius shown in Act 1 Scene 3 and Act 2 Scene 1. These focus on his relationships with Ophelia and Laertes, and to me portray him as foolish again, though not unintelligent.

    • Word count: 2178
  6. Marked by a teacher

    Explore the presentation of revenge in 'Hamlet'.

    4 star(s)

    Hamlet, who has been brought up with absolute notions of good and evil, is susceptible to these religious references, 'o all you host of heaven! O earth! And shall I couple hell?' It is ironic that the ghost refers to his own torment, trapped in purgatory, in order to demonstrate to Hamlet the injustice of the situation, yet this serves only to warn Hamlet of the possible consequences of revenge. Instead of enraging him, Hamlet is now wary of acting rashly or without proof as it could place him in a similar situation to his father.

    • Word count: 2345
  7. Marked by a teacher

    Explore Shakespeare's presentation of Claudius. Does he have any redeeming qualities, or is he merely a "damned, smiling villain"?

    4 star(s)

    Shakespeare presents the image of Claudius being a "damned, smiling villain" through Hamlet. As Hamlet may be mad, we cannot be sure whether his judgement can be trusted. A madman's view may not be credible, and Shakespeare always leaves an element of doubt over all his characters. We do not know if Hamlet really is mad, and therefore his view of Claudius is biased and unreliable. This essay will consider how Claudius is presented by Shakespeare and analyse his actions to form an opinion of whether or not he is a "damned, smiling villain".

    • Word count: 1922
  8. Marked by a teacher

    Explore the "loving mother-son" relationship between Gertrude and Hamlet, with focus on language.

    4 star(s)

    actions that a man might play, But I have that within which passes show, These but the trappings and the suits of woe. (I.ii.84-6) Hamlet cannot forget his father, even when all those around him have resumed their merry lives, content to offer the occasional pacifying words of wisdom. The queen, considering she has lost a husband, offers up the rather awkward "Thou know'st tis common, all that lives must die/Passing through nature to eternity" (I.ii.71-2), Hamlet's antly, by the cold-hearted actions of his mother, who married her brother-in-law within a month of her husband's death.

    • Word count: 2396
  9. Marked by a teacher

    Explore the way Shakespeare presents the relationships between Hamlet and his Mother, Gertrude, making particular reference to Act III Scene. IV

    4 star(s)

    The location is the Queen's closet, her quarter or bedroom. Hamlet has no sense of territory, and is rude, humiliating and hurtful, and this shows how disrespectful he is to his mother, already so early in the scene. The point that Hamlet has little respect for his mother is proven by the first few lines between them: Hamlet: "Now, mother, what's the matter?" Gertrude: "Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended". Hamlet: "Mother, you have my father much offended". The queen referrers to the offended "father" as Claudius, but Hamlet slyly, and rather mockingly corrects her that his biological father

    • Word count: 2713
  10. Marked by a teacher

    Through its portrayal of human experience, Shakespeares Hamlet reinforces the significance of loyalty. To what extent does your interpretation of Hamlet support this view?

    3 star(s)

    He meets his father's death with consuming outrage and righteous indignation, yet shows no compunction when he himself is responsible for the deaths of the meddling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the pontificating lord chamberlain, Polonius. He uses the fragile and innocent Ophelia as an outlet for his disgust towards the queen, and cannot comprehend that his own vicious words have caused her insanity. Hamlet is full of faults. Hamlet cannot forget his father, even when all those around him have resumed their merry lives, content to offer the occasional conciliatory words of wisdom.

    • Word count: 1242
  11. Marked by a teacher

    How far, and in what ways, do you agree that the story of Polonius and his children is a tragedy within a tragedy?

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    However the family's story does not conform as simply to other definitions of tragedy. '[Tragedy] would look with a sceptical eye at what was happening in the world around', M. Mangan (1991). 'Tragedy would look with a sceptical eye' implies that tragedy has the role of both viewing and criticising society. This concept can be applied to Polonius, a character remarkably similar to Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Shakespeare spent the majority of his life under Elizabeth's rule; hence the Elizabeth's gentry may have aided Shakespeare in creating his constructs.

    • Word count: 1590
  12. Marked by a teacher

    Hamlet presents indecision with decisive craft. Discuss Hamlets character in the light of this quote.

    3 star(s)

    Being a prince brings with it certain responsibilities and a sense of honour. Hamlet is trapped in a moral dilemma, does he kill the king and avenge his father or does he choose to follow his Christian and royal obligations? Ultimately, Hamlet proves to be indecisive by deliberating which course of action he should take when confronted by an issue. He deliberates due to his strong sense of moral beliefs and code of honour, so therefore is acting wisely when thinking before he acts. However, this does not make him an indecisive character, but rather a wise and logical one.

    • Word count: 1716
  13. Marked by a teacher

    Explore how Shakespeare examines the theme of revenge in Hamlet.

    3 star(s)

    The model also involves a ghostly visitation of the victim to a younger member of the member, usually a son. A number of other factors such as periods of madness of a main character, general violence resulting in many deaths and ultimately the avengers through many long soliloquies and bad deeds are also part of the Senecan model. "Hamlet is certainly not much like any play of Seneca's one can name, but Seneca is undoubtedly one of the effective ingredients in the emotional charge of Hamlet.

    • Word count: 2146
  14. Marked by a teacher

    Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras are all reflections on each other. Discuss.

    3 star(s)

    Hamlet himself sees performance as a way of reflecting inner corruption; holding "the mirror up to nature." The idea of mirroring or doubling can further be seen in Shakespeare's use of literary techniques like hendiadys such as in Hamlet's reflective 'To be, or not to be' soliloquy where he says, 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' and 'whips and scorns of time' or later in the play where Hamlet says to Horatio, "Fortune's buffets and rewards." Shakespeare's use of hendiadys helps to place emphasis on the message he is trying to get across as the words mirror each other and act as a sort of parallelism, creating a balance in the phrases.

    • Word count: 1704
  15. Marked by a teacher

    Redemption in Hamlet

    3 star(s)

    This traditional Shakespearian close to the tragedies are mirrored in Hamlet with the feeling of redemption and renewal; this can be seen not only in Hamlet but also in other Shakespearian plays like King Lear that again uses the similar ending to portray and reveal the argument of redemption and religion in the play. Redemption can be defined religiously as 'deliverance from sin through the incarnation, sufferings, and death of Christ' and we can ask whether Shakespeare was in-tern trying to create this sense of religious redemption at the end.

    • Word count: 677
  16. Marked by a teacher

    What Does the Ghost Contribute to the Tragedy of Hamlet?

    3 star(s)

    The disjointed conversations add to the suspense and unease, which contributes to the fear vital to catharsis. The ghost is an essential character in the play as it creates the dilemma for Hamlet when requesting him to revenge his "most foul and unnatural murder". The description delivered by the ghost of its murder includes disturbing images that would "harrow" Hamlet's soul, which literally means that the news would tear into him like an agricultural tool into the ground. Yet, the ghost continues to recount its gruesome death of "vile and loathsome crust, all [his] smooth body" which excludes any paternal emotions that the audience would have expected from someone claiming to be Hamlet's father.

    • Word count: 1402
  17. Marked by a teacher

    Is Hamlet acting or is he really insane?

    3 star(s)

    Gertrude is not the only woman in Hamlets life. He also confronted his lover Ophelia, where he came across as-yet again- misogynist. However, we cannot condemn Hamlet to hating women because we only see him two in the play. Ophelia rejected him and his mother married his uncle. But this is not surprising because Hamlet distrusts everyone and tries to push everyone away, especially Ophelia whom he says he loves greatly (5,1). The relationships between Hamlet and his mother and Hamlet and Ophelia could be portrayed as similar. Hamlets love for both women forces him to act in strange ways. He tells Ophelia to 'go to a nunnery' (3,1,126).

    • Word count: 975
  18. Marked by a teacher

    Why does Hamlet delay in avenging his father's death?

    3 star(s)

    However, having been set the task of killing the new king, Hamlet is unsure whether the ghost is in fact the spirit of his dead father or some evil demon and thus is uncertain of the validity of the ghost's testimony. Thus his contemplative nature leads Hamlet to scheme an elaborate means of establishing Claudius' guilt. He uses a group of travelling actors to perform a scene that closely resembles the means of old Hamlet's murder. He then plans to observe Claudius' demeanour, should it change throughout the scene, his guilty conscience would be established.

    • Word count: 853
  19. Marked by a teacher

    How does Zeffirelli portray the characters of Gertrude and Ophelia?

    3 star(s)

    Herein we see her position but unlike other plays her queenly status is not overbearing. Zeffirelli quite obviously dressing Gertrude in red, a colour of passion; giving further indication of her warm, sexual and vibrant nature as well as an insight into her mentality. Gertrude is almost a victim of her own appetite and she is not very logical and this is strongly portrayed throughout the film. This is particularly prominent when Gertrude agrees to using Ophelia as bate to steak out Hamlet and tolerates Ophelia being humiliated; one could argue this is Gertrude's fatal flaw, her passivity.

    • Word count: 1605
  20. Marked by a teacher

    The Downward Spiral of Hamlet.

    3 star(s)

    Polonius shows us he is not who he would like us to think he is with his son Laertes. When Laertes requests to go to France Polonius gives him his blessing, and best wishes. He gives his son advice to help him while in France, but this is only so he can look like a caring father. "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell. My blessing season this in thee." (I, iii, 78-81) He tells him to be true to himself, and not be false to any man, yet he false to his own son.

    • Word count: 1767
  21. Marked by a teacher

    Hamlet - It's hard to define what revenge actually is.

    3 star(s)

    He does this so he can be sure that the ghost was telling the truth. In Act 2, Scene 2, he decides to perform this play and 'catch the conscience of the King'. When this play is performed in Act 3, Scene 2, Claudius realises that Hamlet knows that he is a murderer. He leaves shouting 'give me some light, away'. I think that this tells us that Hamlet is clever because he subtly told Claudius that he knew about the murder of his father without anyone else knowing. Another example of this is in Act 3, Scene 3. Claudius is kneeling and praying to God. Hamlet comes up behind him and draws his sword.

    • Word count: 2889
  22. Marked by a teacher

    'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark' - At the end of the play, how might an audience have decided what this 'something' is and why it is 'rotten'.

    3 star(s)

    but there are other issues which change the situation. Claudius is corrupt; he has committed fratricide, and reaped the rewards of doing so. We never learn why Claudius murdered his brother, but the reasons could be numerous. It is proposed that he felt Denmark was being corrupted by King Hamlet, that his overwhelming lust for Gertrude drove him to murder her husband, or that he was simply a ruthless man who wanted to rule his land and would do anything to get it.

    • Word count: 1547
  23. Marked by a teacher

    Who was to blame for Ophelia’s demise?

    3 star(s)

    The whole time Hamlet spoke to Ophelia he was being very cruel. At this point Ophelia doesn't know what to do, as Hamlet is being cruel and plain nasty the way he tells her she should join a nunnery. All of Hamlet's actions towards Ophelia are cruel and hurtful. But then Hamlet changes and while they are watching the play of the reconstruction of Hamlet's fathers' death, Hamlet begins to become quite disgusting and crude towards Ophelia 'Do you think I meant country matters.' Hamlet is referring to sex, which was not discussed then. Polonius, Ophelia's father could also be to blame for Ophelias demise, because of the advice he gave her.

    • Word count: 964
  24. Marked by a teacher

    A detailed analysis of Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet.

    Ophelia shows her obedience when she says, " I shall obey, my lord" The women of the time were expected to be obedient and chaste. Ophelia is shown accurately. It seems strange that Polonius disapproved of their relationship. He disapproves because Hamlet is part of the royal family and because he thinks Hamlet is using Ophelia. In this scene the Queen offers her approval she seems to even wish for the relationship to continue " I do wish that your good beauties be the happy cause of Hamlets wildness" I think she wants to know if Ophelia isn't the reason Hamlet is mad it could be something else.

    • Word count: 905
  25. To Be Or Not To Be Soliloquy Interpretation

    This conflict between conscience and action dominates the soliloquy. The next four lines talk about the positives of death. "To die, to sleep No more, and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to; 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished to die to sleep!" The text compares sleep to death, and death being finality to all the grievances that come with life. The meaning for Hamlet in these lines can be perceived in two ways.

    • Word count: 811

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • To What Extent Do You agree that Gertrude

    "I feel that this is the most likely conclusion that can be drawn from the limited evidence provided to us by the text on Gertrude. Due to her over bearing role in her relationship with her husband Claudius, I feel that she must have knowledge of the circumstances of the King's death. I believe that it is she who drove Claudius into his actions which in turn leads on to any other evil actions carried out later on in the play, including those carried out by Hamlet in vengeance for his father. Therefore, assuming this to be true, all evil can be traced back to Gertrude, which places her at the very centre of evil. 1,890"

  • Compare and Contrast Hamlets two soliloquiesin Act 1.

    "To conclude, there are many stark contrasts in the language used, the mood and emotions of Hamlet personally before and after his meeting with the ghost. However the overall mood of the play in general and the themes of appearance and reality and disturbed order are very similar and strong in both soliloquies. Chris Gill 02/05/07"

  • "To what extent do you consider Hamlet a play which presents a patriarchal society in which women are essentially disempowered?"

    "In conclusion, I think the evidence shows that there are different types of empowerment and disempowerment, male and female scattered throughout the play, some blatantly obvious, some rather more subtle. After careful analysis of the play, I have come to my own personal opinion that women in Hamlet are essentially disempowered, for these main reasons : Firstly, there are more men than women in the play, showing that women play less important roles. Secondly, women are not involved in the real important parts of the plot, they only act as a sub-plot, a tangent from the storyline. Also, by the end of the play, neither of the women are seen to have any sort of peace of mind, and they both die tragically. Sources Used: Shakespeare's Ophelia - Amanda Mabillard Gertrude In Hamlet - Orah Rosenblatt A - Z of Shakespeare - Charles Boyce Shakespeare's Life And Times - Oscar J Campbell Hamlet Commentary - Granville - Barker Hamlet Psychoanalysed. 1815words.W/Quotes 1703words W/out Quotes . SAM MAY L6WH ENGLISH LIT COURSEWORK: HAMLET"

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