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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

    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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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 s*x, 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
  5. 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
  6. How does the King manipulate Laertes in Act Four, Scene Seven?

    In line 22, the King once again downplays his power by describing his attempts to unseat Hamlet as "slightly timbered" arrows, implying a loss of strength and influence where Hamlet is concerned. This show of weakness, however, is swiftly reversed when Laertes hints at taking revenge independently, and the King immediately reacts by assuring him that he would not "let our beard be shook with danger / And think it pastime", reverting confidently to the royal "we" to convey majesty and high status.

    • Word count: 865
  7. What does the audience learn from Hamlet's first soliloquy?

    This serves to create a powerful divide between these two characters, foreshadowing future tension between the two to the audience. Another contrast is shown when the audience's original perception of Hamlet's intelligence is challenged. Before his soliloquy, we notice that Hamlet's lines are considerably shorter and less articulate than those of the other characters. Whilst we learn later the reasons behind this (his personality is forced with Gertrude and Claudius) the audience may originally perceive Hamlet as simply lacking in intellect.

    • Word count: 938
  8. Explore the various reasons for Hamlet's delay.

    The term "maybe" clarifies that hamlet has doubts about the true form of the ghost and therefore he needs solid proof and believes that the devil exists with bad intentions of making people sin. However, hamlet clearly fears weakness and melancholy or he does want to be taken advantage of. At this point in time, he shows how smart he is by saying"I will have grounds more relative that this, the play is the thing." This quotation suggests that hamlet decides to search for his proof to make sure that he is right and fair but at this time, his

    • Word count: 878
  9. Hamlet calls Denmark an unweeded garden. Discuss Shakespeares use of the image of rottenness throughout the play.

    One of the most mysterious superstitions of the supernatural is the definite belief in ghosts. There is no doubt that Elizabethans truly believe in the existence of these spirits for they even have somewhat of a list as to the characteristics of ghosts. These characteristics are embedded within Shakespeare's Hamlet. The first and foremost characteristic is that ghosts are considered evil spirits that impersonate the deceased. This characteristic helps to provide a plot such as in Hamlet where when the father's ghost first appears, Hamlet does not know whether he is a good or evil spirit.

    • Word count: 932
  10. How does Shakespeare present the characters of Laertes, Ophelia and Polonius and the relationship between them in Act 1 Scene 3?

    Ophelia's responses are very short in regard to what her brother is telling her and she doesn't seem to be defending Hamlet's love for her at all, or saying much about how she feels about Hamlet. Ophelia agrees to follow Laertes advice on Hamlet, but also tells him he should follow his own advice, as he doesn't usually. Ophelia is probably very reluctant to defend Hamlet, as she herself is not entirely clear about how she feels about him. It is more likely that she would rather have a woman figure in her life, instead of her brother and father, to confide in about her feelings, and to offer her advice.

    • Word count: 675
  11. Hamlet. In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, one of the main themes is the discrepancy between appearance and reality.

    Shakespeare here signals to the audience that Claudius is uneasier than he appears by leaving his nephew and son-in-law to deal with last. In my opinion, the exposition of Claudius' Machiavellian mature at the beginning through the theme appearance versus reality is very effective as it reveals to the audience the corruption in Elsinore which essentially instigates Hamlet's revenge and also exposes Claudius at the beginning of the play as the antagonist, aligning the audience's sympathies. Furthermore, this main theme is developed through the soliloquies - in particular Claudius'.

    • Word count: 889
  12. Hamlet. In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the audience may perceive the main player to be nave and sympathise with him due to this shortcoming.

    Despite this misogynistic attack at Ophelia and women in general, the audience still sympathise with Hamlet and his predicament as he cannot trust anyone within Elsinore without being betrayed: 'Denmark is a prison'. This heated exchange between the eponymous prince and Ophelia recapitulates arguably the main theme of the play; appearance versus reality which is exposed at the very beginning and is reiterated through Hamlet's exchanges with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - they also spy on Hamlet for Claudius: 'they did make love to this employment'.

    • Word count: 918
  13. How do you see the presentation of queen gertrude?

    Shakespeare never really communicates Gertrude's true feelings regarding the marriage so it is easy to feel sympathetic towards her. Despite this it is easy to criticise Gertrude for the short timescale taken to marry Claudius with it being completed with "most wicked speed". As a result of this she is condemned by Hamlet with him describing her as no better than the pts of society "A beast that wants discourses of reason would have mourned longer" This shows how passionately Hamlet cares about the death of his father and the events preceding it as this treatment of his mother is something that is a shock to the modern day audience.

    • Word count: 932
  14. Discussing the sanity of Hamlet.

    There is a cause to question whether Hamlet's mind is entirely stable because after the play, he encounters Gertrude and loses complete control of his temper. During this enraged scene, he encounters the ghost of his father again, but Gertrude does not seem to see the ghost. Because only Hamlet could see the ghost it is reasonable to question whether it was part of his imagination or the ghost just wanted Hamlet to see him. In any case, Gertrude was confused as she watched Hamlet stare at nothing but Hamlet later tells her not to dismiss his words as lunacy.

    • Word count: 998
  15. Analysis of Hamlet Act II.2

    and that they have a plentiful lack of wit. Here, Hamlet pretends to discuss the "slanders" of which he reads, but the audience can see that he is commenting on Polonius as an old man. By mentioning the "plentiful lack of wit", he recognises how obvious Polonius' motives are in conversing with him, and attacking his methods. Although Polonius does not pick up on this, he does see that there is more to the "madness" of Hamlet than is seen, commenting "there is method in't."

  16. Free essay

    Hamlet - Historical and Political Context

    She had tried to reinstate Roman Catholicism as the state religion. Elizabeth, Mary's half sister, although not considered a legitimate heir to the throne, became Queen in 1558 and ruled for 45 years. Although she had been brought up as a Protestant she understood that in view of the recent religious upheaval some compromises some compromises had to be made. The country needed stability and a strong ruler. Her life had been in danger before she became Queen and there were the inevitable conspiracies to usurp her position. The tragic figurehead of one of these and the object of Elizabeth's suspicion and jealousy for many years was Mary, Queen of Scots; Elizabeth at first kept her under arrest but eventually had her executed in 1587.

    • Word count: 936
  17. How does Shakespeare present Ophelia and the men in her life, in "Hamlet"?

    Ophelia's relationship with her father is less then the traditional intimate one expected. Instead it shows a controlling man, obsessed with what others think, and a daughter respectful of her fathers wises. Polonius becomes convinced that Ophelia's relationship with Hamlet will result in the diminish of his families honour, and to him, the respect others have for his families reputation is very important. He thus begins to pressurise Ophelia into breaking off any understanding between herself and Hamlet. Shakespeare uses these characters and their interaction to present a more traditional view of how a woman should act toward the men in their lives during this time period.

    • Word count: 829
  18. Free essay

    Examine how Shakespeare looks at the role of women through Gertrude and the men in her life

    Gertrude comes across as an unsure woman and, like Ophelia, reliant on the men in her life. She needed Claudius to remain in such high esteem within the country, and needs Hamlet as her strong backbone through the loss of her husband and the change in her life. Hamlet's most famous comment about Gertrude is his furious condemnation of women in general: "Frailty, thy name is woman!" this conveys Gertrude's frail state of mind and being- an older, beautiful lady, with little solidity to hold onto in her life.

    • Word count: 712
  19. Shakespeare play modernization: Act 3 Scene 3 King Claudius = KC = Dan Guildenstern = GU = Rosencrantz = RO =

    We will protect you with our lives as you have protected your people so well and devoted. RO: Everyone tries to stay away from harm, but someone famous needs even more protection. When a leader dies, he doesn't die alone but the country dies with him. The king is followed by everyone and everyone relies on the king. KC: Get ready for your trip and I will control this danger that is coming. RO and GU: We will be quick and efficient to get the job complete. Exit RO and GU, Enter Polonius. PO: My lord, Hamlet is heading for his mother's room. I'll hide behind the curtains and hear what he has to share with us.

    • Word count: 587
  20. With specific reference to the two soliloquies, which we have studied in detail, show how Shakespeare reveals to the audience Hamlets character, state of mind and his problems.

    He seems very confused and frustrated in this soliloquy. Whereas in the second soliloquy he seems much more relaxed and seems to have gotten some time to get all the pressure and thoughts off his mind. There is a lot of repetition in the first soliloquy which gives you the idea that he is confused and does not everything is clear to him. The structure in the first soliloquy is very different than the second one; the first one is very unorganized, which also shows confusion. The first soliloquy is very public and is in the great hall where everyone can hear him; I think this is because he wants everyone to hear what is on his mind, and what he thinks about his mother and Claudius.

    • Word count: 782
  21. Hamlet Soliloquy

    Hamlet begins his soliloquy by criticizing himself, "O, what a rogue and peasant slave I am (II.2.449)!" He continues by talking about an actor who has to imagine and fake sorrow in order to let his tears flow over nothing. He then ironically compares himself to the actor's overwhelming passion and comprehends the fact that he does not seem to possess that same passion in reality regarding his father's death. This harasses his mind, and causes him to scold himself and think that he is a horrible person for his silent grief, hence giving his character low self-esteem.

    • Word count: 719
  22. How does Shakespeare present suicide in Hamlet?

    Despite Hamlet supposedly having the justification to commit suicide (death of father, betrayed by mother), with all of this pain, eternal life in Heaven seems a healthy option. However, Hamlet takes into account his Christian beliefs and loathes that to end one's life is an enormous sin. In Shakespeare's world renowned soliloquy, "to be or not to be...", Hamlet rarely addresses his problem and drastically uses the pronouns 'we' and us'. Also, once again he verbally considers his suicide and it seems as if he is trying to persuade himself to commit the action, but with no success, due to him fearing the unknown that may haunt him in the afterlife, "...what dreams may come".

    • Word count: 836
  23. Do you find the ending of Hamlet satisfactory?

    At the centre of all great tragedies are obstinate, troublesome men and women who make us rethink the meaning of death. The tragedy is due to revenge. Revenge is a key theme in Hamlet. It is not only essential to understanding Hamlet's character, it forms the structure for the whole play, supporting and overlapping other important themes that arise. Though it is Hamlets revenge that forms the basis for the story, tied into this is the vengeance of Laertes and Fortinbras, whose situations in many ways mirror Hamlets' own.

    • Word count: 974
  24. If Hamlet is mad, then there is no tragedy - Discuss Hamlet's madness is feigned, faked and put on - period! If he was truly mad then how can there be a tragedy in the full Greek sense

    Shakespeare actually wrote - "...a hawk from a hernshaw" - a 'hernshaw' being ancient English for a heron! You can see how he is saying starkly - 'I am not mad unless I want to be and you suckers can't see it!' So, even though he knew Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were in league with his avowed enemy, King Claudius, he was brave enough to tell them that he was sane. So, he tells those he trusts that he is sane and will feign madness and with all the others - Ophelia, Polonius, Laertes, his mother, R&G, Claudius, he is a mad man.

    • Word count: 581
  25. In what ways does the presentation of Polonius contribute to the play Hamlet?

    (Act 1 Scene 2- Lines 47-49) Here, the audience would most probably be double-minded and slightly confused. This is because; this quote could have a double meaning. It could be that Claudius wants to get rid of Polonius but finds difflculty in doing so as he is a faithful servant towards himself, the King. Polonius could be an "instrumental" devise for Claudius for those critical times. We soon learn that Polonius is an over-protective father who only wants to protect his children from society and has a strong authority over his son and daughter.

    • Word count: 732

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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