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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 Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest, most popular and most performed play.
- 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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
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?4 star(s)
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
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 h**l?' 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
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
Explore the way Shakespeare presents the relationships between Hamlet and his Mother, Gertrude, making particular reference to Act III Scene. IV4 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
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.
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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.
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Claudius' negative attitude towards Hamlet's grieving, using somewhat harsh and insulting adjectives like "impious stubbornness, 'tis unmanly grief/...heart unfortified, a mind impatient" evokes in us further feelings of pity towards Hamlet. Claudius makes Hamlet's grief appear sinful, saying, "Fie, 'tis a fault to heaven,/ A fault against the dead, a fault to nature." The repetition of 'fault' and the alliteration in "Fie, 'tis a fault" places greater emphasis on how wrong Claudius interprets Hamlet's actions to be. The use of lists of three also makes Hamlet's wrongdoings seem endless, perhaps to make him feel guilty for grieving his father.
- Word count: 2462
Shakespeare is unable to present women other than as passive victims or deceivers of men With reference to the characters of Ophelia and Gertrude explore to what extent you agree with this statement.
More important men around them overshadow both women constantly. This ties in with the role of women in Elizabethan times, which has been described as a 'submissive baby machine owned by their husbands'3. This attitude towards women could be familiar to modern audiences, although nowadays, it is not something that the majority would approve of, as nowadays the differences between men and women are not as extreme as they used to be in Elizabethan times, where women had no voice of their own and were constantly being oppressed.
- Word count: 2196
What is the significance of the ghost in Hamlet? How would an Elizabethan audience and a modern audience have interpreted the play?
The play is set after the death of the Danish king, therefore creating instability within the nation. Furthermore, with the appearance of the ghost that comes every so often; the audience would link the existence of the ghost to the death of the late King of Denmark. Shakespeare's timing of the play is in place with England's ruler, Queen Elizabeth, who has been ruling for over forty years and is coming to her end. Ironically, three years after Hamlet was first performed at the Globe Theatre, Queen Elizabeth did pass away. The motif behind Hamlet is to provide the Elizabethan audience a sense of self opinion and awareness of the monarchy of England and events that might cause turmoil.
- Word count: 2292
Perhaps in the modern day, one would state that Hamlet is not completely conscious that he is insane, but rather that there is an underlying layer of insanity in Hamlet's subconscious which influences the temperamental consciousness which the audience sees on stage. Freud states that the conscious mind is similar to a fountain which rises from a great subterranean pool, which is the subconscious. Complying with this image, due to the fact that Hamlet is inclined to take the path of "self-slaughter", which he would have done were it not for his fear of God's "canon 'gainst" it, I can only conclude that Hamlet is emotionally and mentally damaged.
- Word count: 2015
The problem or the tragedy of Hamlet is not that he is a thinker but that his thoughts are misplaced, i.e. he is a philosopher who thinks abstractedly without his knowing the world around him.
Abstractedly he associates this theory with all women, and consequently distrusts them. Ironically, it is perhaps the most innocent character in the play, Ophelia, that he directs this anger towards, for he cannot hate or distrust his mother simply because she is his mother. This anger causes the perhaps unforgivable things he says to Ophelia; ordering her to "Get thee to a nunnery" because he does not think she should be a "breeder of sinners". It is this that Hamlet feels "is the only way to save the world" according to Charlton.
- Word count: 2022
The conversation progresses with Gertrude attempting yet again to show her status as his mother by reminding him, "Have you forgot me?" however, likewise to the earlier counter, Hamlet reminds her that she is her "husband's brother's wife". Hamlet's fixation upon the condition and actions of Gertrude rather than his own, exemplifies his resentment upon her - however, this may also be seen as Hamlet's love and concern for his mother; this view is later enforced by his advice for Gertrude to keep her "virtue" or what's left of it, by not retreating to Claudius' bed.
- Word count: 2130
This situation of male authority is reflected in correlative unfairness throughout the society and in the play 'Hamlet'. The Shakespearean era was a patriarchal society where women were seen as powerless to the extent that in the time that Shakespeare wrote his plays; women were not authorized to act on stage, which meant that boys were required to dress up as the female characters in plays. Frailty can be a condition of being frail, whether it is being mentally frail, physically or morally. 'Frailty, thy name is woman,' is a statement, which at the very least could infuriate a feminist critic who may view Shakespeare's opinion of women misogynistic because he frequently displays women as being dependant on men.
- Word count: 2493
What do you think is the importance of Shakespeare(TM)s presentation of the theme revenge in Hamlet for the audiences then and now?
Also it's a bit clich�. At the time I think the reason why Shakespeare chooses to use the ghost to represent the theme revenge it because of the affect is has on the audience. It has totally left them not knowing what to believe The importance of revenge is emphasized by the fact of there being four revengers. The amount of revenge wanted in the play is astounding. Revenge is wanted on so many people and because of this many people die.
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Hesitation was an integral part of the revenge tragedy plot, but was only generally to consider forsaking ideas of personal revenge for using more legal methods to bring the perpetrator to justice. In contrast, Hamlet procrastinates for much of the play: Shakespeare portrays him as a character that prefers thought to action. Many of his soliloquies deal not with the method of revenge, but with whether or not he should exact it. When he encounters Fortinbras' army, whose attitude so contrasts with his own, he muses over whether it is nobler 'to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' (3.1.55)
- Word count: 2154
Examine how Shakespeare explores the role of women in Hamlet. What might the response of a modern audience be to this aspect of the play?
Ian Johnston claims that 'Love, for Polonius, like everything else, can be understood in the lowest denominator of human activity as a power struggle' with his vocabulary referring to money and contracts, saying 'set your entreatments at a higher rate'. Fundamentally Polonius is whoring Ophelia, saying 'I'll loose my daughter to him' implying ownership of Ophelia. He sees her as either an asset or a liability; not a person in her own right, worrying that 'you'll tender me a fool'.
- Word count: 2012
Consider how Shakespeare presents madness in the play and explain whether you think it does illustrate how, "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."
This could be referring either to the whole of Denmark, or just the courts. It is after Hamlet sees the ghost that he decides that he will pretend to be mad; "put an antic disposition on", but he does not want his friends to tell anyone what they have seen or that he is feigning madness; "Never make known what you have seen tonight", as he believes that this way he can find means to exact his revenge on Claudius for killing his father; "And thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain", meaning
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Ophelia is written in a way that was common with the time it was set, which was in 1603. In Act 1 Scene 3, Ophelia is getting advice from her brother, Laertes. Rex Gibson commented, "Women's status and roles were subject to the tyranny of patriarchy." We can see this when Laertes gives her advice about Hamlet, and warns her not to," chaste (your) treasure open/ To his unmastered opportunity." He is doing this because he fears that it will ruin the reputation of the family, because he says, "Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain." He is more concerned about the reputation of his family than he is about Ophelia's feelings.
- Word count: 2342
Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents male characters' attitudes towards women, and how this affects their relationships with the female characters
Here, Shakespeare uses the order in which Hamlet lists Claudius' crimes to convey which event Hamlet views most severely. Damage caused by the remarriage is again seen through Hamlet's resulting negativity towards women. One such attitude is the belief that women are overtly s****l. Upon Hamlet's 'Chance' meeting with Ophelia, he comments unfavourably on her tendency as a woman to "jig", "amble" and "lisp". Shakespeare's chosen combination of verbs implies that Hamlet thinks women to have an inherently flirtatious nature.
- Word count: 2565
Examine how Shakespeare presents the female characters in 'Hamlet' and what the response of a modern day audience might be to this aspect of the play.
This may be noticed in her relationship with the men in her family. In Act one, the relationship shared between Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia may be compared. When looking at Polonius' relationship with his daughter it may be noticed that he is not quite as willing to give in to her wishes. Instead he gives her strenuous warnings about how to behave in relation to Hamlet. "Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers", Polonius tells Ophelia not to believe what Hamlet says to her.
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"To what extent do you consider Hamlet a play which presents a patriarchal society in which women are essentially disempowered?"
Some film portrayals show Gertrude as very similar to Elizabeth I, a woman who "uses" and manipulates men in order to gain power. Others show Gertrude as a "wine-swilling, rampantly s****l temptress", which I do not believe to be true. I believe that even though Gertrude marries her brother-in-law, and so soon after her Husband's death is not an act of s****l desire, rather an act of emotional need. Also, in the closet scene, she expresses remorse for marrying Claudius so early, and some believe that in doing this, she "aligns herself with Hamlet's quest for revenge, and shuns Claudius' touch and bed."
- Word count: 2217
Examine how Shakespeare explores the role of women in Hamlet. What might the response of a modern audience be to this aspect of the play?
Some may argue that Ophelia is one of the causes of Hamlet's 'madness' and his recoil from love. The reaction Hamlet has to Ophelia, at the play for example, allows us to watch Hamlet's disintegration- he is crude and s******y offensive towards Ophelia which allows us to see the way Hamlet is changing throughout the play. Gertrude is also arguably crucial in displaying motifs of the play. Hamlet sees his mother as a representation of how weak and frail women are-she is the reason he views women in this way.
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He makes the character appear more sinister by showing a sly, manipulating side of Claudius justifying himself in his first speech; 'our sometime sister and now queen.' This is the way the character refers to the grief of his dead brother; he convinces the court that he is very grief stricken and assumes others think in the same way showing them that he has the higher status and he should not be disagreed with. Shakespeare expresses what the other characters think of him and what kind of person he is by having him compared to his brother 'here is your husband, like a mildewed ear, blasting his wholesome brother.'
- Word count: 2034
industry is graced with its due reward.' Hamlet is dressed in black and elaborates on his feelings, those which accompany and mirror his dark garments, ''Tis not alone my inky cloak'. The Danish court is a royal place where people celebrate contentedly with each other, and in the Branagh film, under handsomely royal architecture where the court is decorated with gold and accompanied by a rich, lavish atmosphere. Knight focuses on the contrast between Hamlet and the court and its guests in the opening scene, as it is clear to see that Hamlet in comparison can be seen as a morbid figure, and the crowd a mass figure of 'life'.
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This conjures negative emotions in Hamlet, for which uses to build a barrier between them. The distant relationship that Hamlet seems to have with the King and Queen makes it easier for them to pin point his madness on what they think the roots are. Hamlets madness is without a doubt not genuine in the beginning of the play, his plan was to put on an antic disposition and seek revenge of his father's death. Although Gertrude dies in front of Hamlet with him knowing it was going to happen it takes him seconds to revenge her death, as it has been 5 scenes where Hamlet plots to seek revenge for his father.
- Word count: 2682