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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
  1. Discussing Hamlets desire for vengeance.

    If thou hast nature in thee bear it not; Let not the royal bed of Denmark be A couch for luxury and d**n�d incest. But howsomever thou pursues this act Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge To p***k and sting her. Fare thee well at once. The glow-worm shows the matin to be near, And gins to pale his uneffectual fire.

    • Word count: 4157
  2. With special reference to the main soliloquies, trace the development of Hamlet's character in the play

    Therefore, overall from the first soliloquy to the second soliloquy, Hamlet is becoming more self critical and low in confidence. Shortly before the second soliloquy when Hamlet is talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern he is presented as a modern character who does not belong to his time as he asks philosophical questions about the medieval society. When he says, 'this most excellent canopy...why, it appareth nothing to me but foul...' Hamlet means that first the world was a wonderful life to me, now it is foul.

    • Word count: 3253
  3. Examine Shakespeare's Presentation of Ophelia and how a modern audience might respond to her

    Here she is warning him against hypocrisy and recognising that some men ('ungracious pastors') are promiscuous while expecting women to be virtuous. In seeing that society has double standards, the audience is shown that there is a side to Ophelia deeper than is obvious in most of her appearances in the play. A modern audience would feel that her reply is justified, and would respect her for standing up for herself. She has a more relaxed attitude to verbalisation of her thoughts when she is in the presence of her brother, but still respects and accepts his will.

    • Word count: 3133
  4. Whos there? Theatrical review.

    This is quite controversial, and up to now the Audience have no idea of the secrets Claudius is keeping, and his deception to the whole of Denmark. Here Hamlet is not only grieving over his father's death, but questions the extent of his mother Gertrude's grief and sees the over hasty marriage to his uncle as deception, as she is not true to her former husband or the vows she made. When Horatio lets Hamlet know of the Ghost and his suspicions, this adds to Hamlets problems.

    • Word count: 6290
  5. 'Hamlet has been read by critics as dramatically presenting a misfit in a politically treacherous world or a weak revenger'

    The nature of Hamlet's grief and the focus of his anger is the marriage between Gertrude and Claudius after his father's death. Hamlet is tormented by images of Gertrude's tender affections toward his father, believing it was pretense to satisfy her own l**t and greed. Hamlet dismisses Gertrude's initial grief over the loss of her husband. She cried 'unrighteous tears'5. Hamlet's disgust at his mother is revealed in the imagery and sibilance of his words. Evidence of this is 'Oh most wicked speed!

    • Word count: 3282
  6. Explore how and why Shakespeare presents thought and actions in the first two acts of the play.

    It is through Shakespeare's presentation of thought and actions in the play, and through the discrepancy between appearance and reality, that 'Hamlet' is able to explore such concerns of the time. The effectiveness with which 'Hamlet' manages to do this owes much to the way these themes are presented in the first two acts, and the introduction of the characters in the play which embody these contrasting concepts. An important area of study when looking at the question of how Shakespeare presents thought and actions in the first two acts of the play is that of the conflict between Prince Hamlet and King Claudius.

    • Word count: 3138
  7. An exploration of the ways in whichShakespeare presents Hamlet's changing thoughts and feelings in the playthrough soliloquies.

    The 'dew' signifies something pure and clean - a state of nature that Hamlet strives for and wants to feel within himself. Hamlet cannot see any solution to end his 'too solid flesh' other than suicide; it is the only way in which he feels he will be free. However, 'the Everlasting' does not allow anyone to act in this way. It is God who rules the universe and Hamlet feels he has no decision but to obey. To commit suicide would be the greatest sin Hamlet could commit which will not provide Hamlet with the purity and the state of mind he struggles for.

    • Word count: 3252
  8. Comparing the revengers Fortinbras, Laertes and Hamlet.

    Shakespeare humanizes the play, gives the audience something to relate to - loyalty between father and son. This is perhaps a component, which contributes to the success of Hamlet. Hamlet first learns of the real situation behind his fathers' death when the ghost of his father visits him in Act 1, Scene V. He is told that his father was murdered. This confirms the suspicion Hamlet had before, and spurs him into thoughts of revenge straight away. 'Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.'

    • Word count: 3560
  9. Show how Prince Hamlet was not entirely rotten but more of a product of a rotten society.

    The conventions of this genre called for a brutal quest for vengeance, which drives the play forward. The play begins with a commission for a murder by the ghost of the victim demanding that his murderer be brought to justice. The murderer is shown to be living in an elevated state having profited from their crime. The avenger then spends the bulk of the play overcoming obstacles before gaining the opportunity for vengeance, which must be death. Along the way there is much bloodshed and the stage is littered with corpses.

    • Word count: 3326
  10. Critical review of 'Hamlet'

    For if not, then his 'antic disposition' doesn't hide true madness leading to failure to get revenge. I also aim to look at whether Hamlet expresses the emotion of love in the play. Towards Ophelia, or his father. From this I can draw conclusion of whether Hamlet develops these emotions, and therefore changes or, if he is hiding his emotions it will then lead to answer the question can we a***s Hamlet's behavioural changes? At the beginning of the play Hamlet's father, the King of Norway has died and Hamlet claims to be himself and not expressing false feelings 'that a man might play' because he feels true 'woe' at this event.

    • Word count: 5280
  11. A consideration of the extent to which, in Hamlet's soliloquies, Hamlet is presented by Shakespeare as thinking

    Act 4, scene iv (41-43) In Act 1, scene ii, Hamlet is still devastated at his father's death and feels betrayed by the speed with which his mother re-married. He also feels that Claudius is unworthy of filling his father's position. At this point, Hamlet is not aware that his father was murdered by his uncle, however, he is presented as the only character who is unwilling to play along with Claudius's garish attempt to mimic a healthy court. On one hand this may suggest Hamlet is the only honest character in the royal court, the only person of high standing whose sensibilities are offended by the events following his father's death.

    • Word count: 4262
  12. In Act two, everyone notices a change in Hamlet because he has began his game of pretending to be insane. As his game continues, will Hamlet begin to self destruct even more?

    She is a very naive character although before her madness becomes obvious to everyone; she suspects that something is poisoned in the Court of Ellsinore. She contrasts with the corruption of the court. Laertes advises her to ignore her feelings towards Hamlet: "Think it no more;/ For nature, crescent, does not grow alone in thews and bulk but as this temple waxes/ The inward service of the mind and should/ Grows wide withal.....Fear it Ophelia, fear it my dear sister,/ And keep you in the rear of your affection out of the shot and danger of desire."

    • Word count: 5286
  13. William Shakespeares' Hamlet is without question the most famous play in the English language.

    We learn that his mother's remarriage has almost broken his heart. According to Hamlet it is an incestuous relationship because his mother has married his uncle too fast. The queen tries to make him understand that death is common, offers philosophy, but Hamlet plays sorrow, his tone of disapproval is evident in Act 1 Scene 2, "Ay, madam, it is common." Hamlet's passionate first soliloquy provides a striking contrast to the artificial dialogue that he must exchange with Claudius. The soliloquy is to reveal to the audience the reasons for his despair.

    • Word count: 3032
  14. Scene by Scene - Hamlet.

    The truth is that Claudius murdered Old Hamlet by pouring poison in his ear. Old Hamlet died fast but gruesomely. The ghost describes the king's seduction of the queen (the "garbage" passage) just prior to describing the actual murder, and this makes the most sense if the queen actually committed adultery before the murder, and that the affair was its actual motive. Even in our "modern" age, if a twenty-plus-year marriage ends with the sudden death of one partner, and the survivor remarries four weeks later, I'd believe that there had probably been an adulterous affair.

    • Word count: 11121
  15. How does Shakespeare use language to describe Claudius as a villain?

    At this moment, however, the medieval English prohibition on s****l intimacy between a brother - albeit a brother in law- and sister serves as the primary focus for Hamlet's rage. Though Gertrude's guilt equals Claudius's in this case, Hamlet directs his fury at Claudius and merely mistrusts his mother. Claudius then appears again in Act2 Scene 2. He is aware that all eyes are on him as he solicitously welcomes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and expresses his grave concern for "Hamlet's transformations".

    • Word count: 4688
  16. Compare and Contrast theCharacters Hamlet and Laertes.

    "It is not, nor it cannot come to good. But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue." Shakespeare uses a literary devise called a foil. A foil is a character that contrasts strongly with another. The characters may face similar obstacles or situations but react differently towards them. Such characters are Hamlet and Laertes. Laertes is a mirror to Hamlet. Hamlet and Laertes are similar in one way, for example the love for Laertes' sister Ophelia. Both Laertes and Hamlet have love for Ophelia and show they are both jealous for her affection "I loved her more than 40,000 brothers".

    • Word count: 3381
  17. The Dramatic Function of Ophelia in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'.

    reveals that she is offended by it, at once showing that she understands, but certainly disapproves of, his language. Her chaste nature is shown by Hamlet telling her 'to a nunnery go (III.i.141)' - so that it can remain so. Throughout the play Shakespeare's use of natural and floral imagery communicates her purity. On drowning, she is surrounded by a garland of flowers and at her funeral 'she is allowed her virgin crants' (V.i.233) and 'maiden strewments.' Ophelia died while collecting flowers which are symbolic of innocence, fragility and purity. The 'h**r leaves' which symbolise the silver-grey colour of age put emphasis on Ophelia's youth and innocence.

    • Word count: 4069
  18. Hamlet - One student said she sympathised most with Gertrude and Ophelia because they were women caught up in a man's world of politics, intrigue and violence. How far do you agree with her opinion?

    Ophelia's own tragedy is over shadowed by Hamlet and her own country, which in the end leads her to despair and madness. Ophelia is a creature of lack and throughout the play she expresses no opinion of her own. Ophelia's submissiveness is quite plain when she first appears. Laertes, her brother, tells her that Hamlet's apparent love for her is l**t, and she should guard against it. She readily agrees to do so. However, when Laertes has gone and her father appears she seems less sure.

    • Word count: 3373
  19. In what way is Hamlet a play that teaches the reader valuable lessons of life?

    When audiences try to "solve" the play's mysteries, they often look inside their own hearts and minds. Hamlet offers a deep and some times frightening look at human nature, and its characters seem both good and evil. Our feelings for them change from scene to scene, because Shakespeare does not provide easy answers for sorting out who is innocent and who is guilty, however he makes each and every character look into his own conscience and sort out what's right and what's wrong.

    • Word count: 4196
  20. In the play Hamlet by Shakespeare, what is the dramatic significance of act III scene IV?

    He must also have been familiar with a considerable body of literature, much of it dramatic, in which revenge was a central preoccupation and motif. Chronologically the first of what it has become customary to refer to as Shakespeare's 'great tragedies', Hamlet must have been written shortly after Julius Caesar (1599), another if very different revenge play. At tow moments in Hamlet the killing of Caesar is remembered. Julius Caesar had contained a vengeful ghost. It also adumbrated, existing between Caesar and his prot�g� Brutus, a troubled father-son relationship which, for some reason, seems to have occupied Shakespeare's imagination to a considerable extent around the turn of the century.

    • Word count: 3121
  21. At various times, Shakespeare has been seen by critics as presenting Hamlet as a sensitive poet, unable to endure the cruel pressures of the world, a man driven by s****l desires for his mother and a representative to a corrupt political regime.

    The language which Hamlet uses in his soliloquies is extremely wonderful. They are his poetry, pronounced in blank verse and are sustained by varying rhythms and pace. Hamlet, in the first soliloquies is a man fuelled with rage, disgusted by his 'sullied flesh' and views the only justice that can be served is no other than death. Nevertheless, following his exciting himself into deciding upon action, hamlet's faith in God halts him in proceeding. "Or tat the Everlasting had not fixed/ His cannon 'gainst self-slaughter" (Act 1 Scene2) In the second soliloquy, Hamlet's attitude is the same .

    • Word count: 3700
  22. Discussing Hamlet.

    Hamlet thinks too precisely under the weight of thought, which as he says himself "makes cowards of us all"- This hesitation eventually leads to the downfall of Hamlet! I would define the 'sensitivity' in Hamlet as a deep philosophical nature wherein is contained a boundless range of emotion, which is depicted more so in the seven soliloquies in the play. We see Hamlet's first soliloquy in act 1, scene 2, and expect to see a true sensitivity of Hamlet, as Shakespeare intended soliloquies to reveal a character's true feelings, void of lies and deception.

    • Word count: 4532
  23. Is Hamlet mad? How does Shakespeare make his audience think about this question and why?

    The ghost asks Hamlet to 'revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.' Hamlet is very angry that Claudius could poison his own brother and also upset because his dead father tells him he must go to h**l where there are 'sulph'rous and tormenting flames.' His father knows he is going to h**l because he had committed sins which he never got the chance to confess to before he was murdered. Hamlet tells his friends, Horatio and Marcellus that he will 'put an antic disposition on' and pretend to be mad 'with arms encumb'red thus or this head shake,' or by 'pronouncing some doubtful phrase'.

    • Word count: 3824
  24. Discuss the atmosphere created at the beginning of the play. What is its relevance to Hamlet’s state of mind?

    The sudden and mysterious death of King Hamlet and the precipitated marriage of Gertrude (Hamlet's mother) and Claudius (Hamlet's uncle) have led young Hamlet to create the same atmosphere in his head. Since there has been no one to ameliorate the state of desolation and confusion in which Hamlet find himself in, his mind soon reflects the same atmosphere as that of the beginning of the play. There is a constant battle between him where he is no longer able to keep thinking rationally and soon he loses control and insanity takes over him.

    • Word count: 5135
  25. Hamlet - themes and speeches in Act lll

    Hamlet views death from a medieval perspective, as a physical liberation from the ?mortal coil?. Shakespeare symbolises the doubt of the Renaissance man questioning the validity of their own values, and their religious assumptions of life through ?the undiscovered country, from whose bourn/no travellers return...?, Hamlet is questioning the presence of an afterlife and thus questioning the presence of a divine being, he geographically transcends heaven reducing it to the levels of mortality. Shakespeare applies a metaphor of the ?undiscovered country? to emphasise its uncertainty causing Hamlet to avert action.

    • Word count: 3023

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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