• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

How effectively does Shakespeare introduce the characters and themes of 'Hamlet'?

Extracts from this document...


AS English Literature: Hamlet- A brief study Jaffar Al-Rikabi 12 - 2 How effectively does Shakespeare introduce the characters and themes of 'Hamlet'? (Acts one and two) "To be or not to be - that is the question" Hamlet famously declaims in the third act of William Shakespeare's longest drama, and one of the most probing plays ever to be performed on stage. Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' was written around the year 1600 in the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who had been the monarch of England for more than forty years and was then in her late sixties. The prospect of Elizabeth's death and the question of who would succeed her was a subject of grave anxiety at the time, since Elizabeth had no children, and the only person with a legitimate royal claim, James of Scotland, was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and therefore represented a political faction to which Elizabeth was opposed. 'Hamlet' and many other Shakespeare plays from this period, unsurprisingly, explore this theme of the transfer of power from one monarch to the next, particularly focusing on the uncertainties, betrayals, and upheaval that accompany such shifts in power, and the general sense of anxiety and fear that surround them. These themes of disorder, dilemma and indecision, madness and revenge and the discrepancy between appearance and reality are mainly explored through the main characters, principally Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia, and through the plot itself. Therefore, the first two acts in this drama are paramount in introducing the characters, and thus also themes, of Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet' for it to be regarded as one of the greatest plays ever to be written and staged in universal drama. ...read more.


His seven soliloquies are all centred on the most important existential themes: the emptiness of existence, suicide, death, suffering, action, a fear of death which puts off the most momentous decisions, the fear of the beyond, the degradation of the flesh, the triumph of vice over virtue, the pride and hypocrisy of human beings, and the difficulty of acting under the weight of a thought 'which makes cowards of us all'. Thus, they probe his own situation, his mind and the problems attached to being human in a society characterised by duplicity and hypocrisy, and being an active agent in a moral universe. Hamlet's first soliloquy in Act one Scene 2 opens with the emphatic line: 'O that this too too sullied flesh would melt', a cry of anguish and a longing for dissolution, which is however followed by an acknowledgement of the fundamental Christian injunction against suicide, thereby precluding escape from the burden of life. This question of the moral validity of suicide in an unbearable painful world haunts the rest of the play, reaching the height of its urgency in perhaps the most famous line in all of English Literature: 'To be, or not to be- that is the question'. In this scene Hamlet mainly focuses on the appalling conditions of life, railing against Claudius's court as 'an unweeded garden/ That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature/ Posses it merely'. The listless tempo of the words 'How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable' conveys his weariness. The speech contrasts dramatically with Claudius's flowing lines as its verse starts and stops, punctuated by expressions of pain and confusion. ...read more.


While his introduction of Horatio and the ghost in the first scene is very important in establishing a mood of distress and anxiety, as well as touching on the themes of uncertainty and disorder, Shakespeare's following scene builds on that to a great extent through the contrast between Claudius and Hamlet, the conflict between appearance and reality and through Hamlet's first soliloquy of the play. In this soliloquy not only are Hamlet's true emotions revealed to the audience but with it many of the central themes and concepts of the play are explored, such as the concept of severe disillusionment leading to the idea that suicide is the only viable option. It is thoughts and emotions such as these that are gradually developed in the novel; and which has led to 'Hamlet' being regarded by many critics as the most powerful and probing play Shakespeare has ever written. The different interpretations of Hamlet and the play in general is only a natural consequence to the ambiguity and uncertainty that Shakespeare creates from very early on in his play. As one critic, John Dover Wilson remarks, 'Hamlet' is very much like 'a dramatic essay in mystery; that is to say, the more it is examined, the more there is to discover'. In that context, the first two acts of this drama have served not only as a very effective means of introducing the main characters and themes of the play, but also through the beautifully crafted soliloquies, Shakespeare probes the most daring aspects of the psychology of man and the history of human thinking through pieces of pure poetry, written in blank verse, sustained by a rhythm now smooth, now rugged, by a fast or a slow pace, offering his audience surprises in every line. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Hamlet section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Hamlet essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    What is the importance of the Soliloquies in Hamlet? Do they show any development ...

    4 star(s)

    Hamlet believes that Claudius will go to heaven if he kills him now because he is praying, so he decides against the act. Instead Hamlet decides to wait for a moment when Claudius is committing a sin: 'When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, Or in th'incestuous pleasure

  2. Peer reviewed

    Shakespeare's presentation of Hamlet

    3 star(s)

    The Ghost describes his stay in purgatory, a place that is common to Catholic belief, as his "foul crimes...are burnt and purged away". However, Hamlet is Protestant especially as he attends Wittenberg University and so the Ghost provides confusion for his religious beliefs particularly as he trusts the Ghost in what it reveals about Claudius.

  1. Ophelia Essay

    In Act Three, Scene Two Hamlet has ordered a group of players to stage a re-construction of the murder of a king. This is to try and make Claudius confess to the murder of King Hamlet. Hamlet uses this chance to talk to Ophelia.

  2. Compare the opening sections of Kenneth Branagh's and Franco Zeffirelli's film versions of Hamlet.

    The veil could also be used to make her look venerable or to make the audience observe Gertrude's costume before they view her face. Gertrude then slowly removes her veil with a trembling hand. We see Gertrude looks tired and worn out but still vulnerable and threatened.

  1. Explore the themes and techniques of the Nunnery scene in Hamlet

    There is also the fact that Ophelia has deceived Hamlet so therefore he is now disgusted with her and so therefore wants to truly upset Ophelia. There are also arguments which suggest that Hamlet actually does love Ophelia. For example, it could be that Hamlet is simply trying to protect Ophelia from getting hurt.

  2. Hamlet Coursework: Is Hamlet alone responsible for Ophelias death? - WJEC English Lit. ...

    speaks she uses lots of punctuation, indicating to us she is speaking in a rushed and agitated manner. As well as the rushed manner, Ophelia has moments where she seems to pause for a while, such as 'horrors--- he comes'.

  1. Discuss and explore the themes and techniques of the Nunnery scene(TM) in Hamlet(TM)

    It is at this point that some productions would decide to make this realisation clear; as done in a Russian version film adaptation directed by Grigori Kozintsev which was released in 1962. In this particular interpretation, Hamlet knocks the said 'remembrances' out of Ophelia's hand and onto the floor in

  2. Compare and contrast how Shakespeare and Marlowe explore attitudes to death and the afterlife ...

    One of the most shocking and disheartening things for Faustus is that God does not appear during the whole of the play; in contrast Lucifer actively meets Faustus and convinces him not to repent. This neglect from God, perhaps explaining Faustus' choice to turn against him, a decision which could reflect Marlowe's supposed atheism.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work