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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.

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  1. The inner play, the Murder of Gonzago, which Hamlet nicknames the Mouse-trap, allows Shakespeare to explore and address otherwise inexplicable issues.

    Pathos is given to Gertrude and her situation. Checkhov's gun is also used with Lucianus' detached monologue at the end. Shakespeare is consistent with his rhyming couplets throughout the inner play except for Hamlet's interruptions. This highlights Hamlet's growing complacency and desperation for a confession from Claudius. It was supposed to coat Hamlet's real intentions of his play 'Wherein [he'll] catch the conscience of the King along with his act of 'antic disposition' to protect him from losing the people's approval of him on account of treason or disrespect of the king.

    • Word count: 407
  2. Shakespeare uses the widely debated Ghost in Hamlet as a linchpin to keep the storyline together as well as retain the attention of his Elizabethan audience.

    The appearances and thought about the Ghost provide a vacillating journey of thought for the audience. At times, the Ghost is very real and is evidently the 'buried Denmark' himself as in the opening act when he is identified by three witnesses of different backgrounds (Marcellus and Barnardo are identified with by the average unthinking members of the audience who are little touched by philosophical and theological speculation and the more educated ones looking at Horatio for the verity of the apparition because of his scholarly background 'Thou art a scholar, speak to it Horatio'), at others, the Ghost's identity is doubted but not his presence as in the end of second act when Hamlet recognizes the possibility that the spirit may well have been a devil '.

    • Word count: 894
  3. Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents Hamlets state of mind in this passage.

    But he does this without speaking directly to hamlet. This is a dramatic effect showing how Hamlet has a higher authority. However this contrasts with the weakness of Hamlet mentally. On line 181 hamlet says 'for if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion - have you a daughter?' The metaphor is used to describe Claudius as feeding on the old King Hamlets throne. Hamlet then goes on to asking Polonius about his daughter however Hamlet clearly knows Polonius does have a daughter.

    • Word count: 733
  4. 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
  5. How do aspects of disorder contribute to the tragedy of Hamlet?

    The Oedipus theory gives an interesting interpretation, as their relationship seems quite unnatural at times. The closet scene displays strong imagery on Hamlet's part. 'Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stewed in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty.' The words 'rank 'and 'sty' are used metaphorically to create unpleasant strong imagery. I believe Hamlet is revealing the truth of the relationship; Gertrude doesn't want to face the reality. Gertrude expresses that Hamlet is hurting her feelings with the use of a metaphor 'Words like daggers.'

    • Word count: 1601
  6. Hamlet. In this play, suicide is an act forbidden by religion and society that one may take into consideration only after stricken with unbearable grief. In Hamlets case, he is stuck between living a horrible life that may not seem worth living,

    Even after death, the people still looked down upon the dead that did not pass naturally into the afterlife by holding a funeral that only genocidal dictator would be worthy of; one that involved throwing rubble into the pit of the dead instead of pious flowers and ornaments. Also, though, what must be considered is the situation a person might be in. For example, if you live a life that involves lying in a dreadful hospital bed with very little consciousness and no sense of elation, one might argue, from a Christian viewpoint, that it is not immoral to kill yourself.

    • Word count: 1365
  7. Detailed commentary between Hamlet and the Ghost

    The conversation between Hamlet and the Ghost can be interpreted and understood in many different ways. It is strongly suggested that the repercussions of this conversation will determine the revenge -tragedy that is the essence of the play 'Hamlet'. The Ghost begins the colloquy by psychologically manipulating Hamlet into feeling sorry for him; he does so my declaring: 'When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames,' thus stating he does not have much time until he has to return to his Catholic purgatory, as he was not allowed to receive the obligatory sacrament before dying: 'Uhous'led, disappointed, unanel'd.'

    • Word count: 1129
  8. Discuss Shakespeares and Hamlets treatment of and ideas about women

    Ophelia in particular displays the role more strongly, with critic David Leverenz noting "[Ophelia] has no choice but to say 'I shall obey, my lord'". In this example of Ophelia's compliant nature, after her father, Polonius' orders her to not "give words or talk with Lord Hamlet- (I.3)", the reader is able to view the customary relationship between a woman and the male figures in her life. Though Gertrude does not give any particularly submissive dialogue, even she as Queen reinforces this relationship in her minimal speech in scenes for which she is not only present, but concerned.

    • Word count: 1626
  9. 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
  10. How does Shakespeare present aspects of love in Hamlet?

    There are many ways that Shakespeare presents love but one of the main methods that allow us to understand all the different relationships in the play is, the way Shakespeare uses the other themes of the play to make us aware of all the characters liaison's in the play. Shakespeare uses the theme of betrayal as a way of destructing the relationships between the characters. Therefore while we are always consumed and focused on the main plot of the play, Hamlet's revenge on Claudius for killing his father the King of Denmark, we are also aware of the relationships that are taking place.

    • Word count: 1616
  11. How does Shakespeare create and maintain our interest in Act One of Hamlet?

    Through Shakespeare's unique writing style he sets us up for the rest of the play, and therefore captures the reader's attention, making them want to read more. Shakespeare establishes the atmosphere of the play in Scene I. The scene takes place in Elsinore and during the night. The fact that the beginning of this scene is set at night instantly captures the audience as we, as humans have a schema that in the night there are possibilities of seeing things that you cannot see during the day and that secrets and tension can be revealed and created.

    • Word count: 1098
  12. 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

    are testament to this obsession, especially concerning suicide ("O that this too too solid flesh would melt", "To be or not to be"). This self-obsession may be thought of as somewhat surprising when it is noted that Hamlet is meant to be heir to the Dane throne, as it portrays Hamlet as someone in a role of great social responsibility who only has the scope to think about his personal problems. Hamlet is by now old enough to attend university (although his age is unspecified), showing that he has reached an age where he can think independently and fully comprehend

    • Word count: 1043
  14. 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.

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  15. In what ways does Shakespeare create sympathy for Hamlet in the first two acts?

    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
  16. Hamlet Scene 1 Act 1

    The description is able to evoke a mood and create and sinister atmosphere. The language used in Hamlet is dramatically intense and unfamiliar due to the use of heavily-charged words such as "harbingers" which are uncommon in both contemporary and modern vocabularies. The diction and syntax of these words are not problematic during a performance of Hamlet but can cause difficulties when studying the written script. Therefore they are used as a reflection of the inner turmoil of the characters within the play. Dialogue also contributes to the themes of the play, especially the tragic factors.

    • Word count: 1172
  17. "In the play Hamlet, Ophelia and Gerturde are both victims" How far do you agree with this view?

    Through this repression, Ophelia is some what victimised as she feels and knows she must respect her elders wishes and obey her father. In one of the earlier scenes of the play, after Ophelia has been discussing her courtship with Hamlet to her brother Laertes, Ophelia attempts to express to her father these feelings that Hamlet has claimed to have for her. She says "He hath of late made many tenders of his affection to me." To which Polonius replies "Affection?

    • Word count: 1414
  18. To What Extent Is Hamlet, The Tragic Hero Of The Play, Responsible For His Own Downfall?

    This phrase suggests a possible isolation in his thinking, and due to his over analysis and nature of his reasoning, it becomes evident how this over thinking will lead to his downfall in committing the vengeful acts he aims to carry out. Hamlet himself admits the role thinking plays in ones downfall in his suicidal 'to be or not to be' soliloquy. He explains that 'the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought...with this regard their currents turn awry'.

    • Word count: 1337
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. Essay on Horatio

    the roles reverse - Horatio, charged by Hamlet's passion, almost dies with the prince. For the audience, Horatio becomes a separate and important entity as Hamlet delivers the speech about his character that defines Hamlet's own ideals. Shakespeare gives Hamlet the chance to voice the faculties he admires, thus giving us another chance to understand the greater aspirations and aims of the protagonist. He says: 'Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man As e'er my conversation coped withal. Nay do not think I flatter,... ...Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice, And could of men distinguish, her election Hath sealed thee to herself; for thou hast been As one, in suff'ring

    • Word count: 1100

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