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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. Hamlet's soliloquies are embarrassingly outdated and unnecessary" "The soliloquies are what make the play. They bring the audience closer to Hamlet and offer profound observations on humanity" Consider both these views. What is your view of the solilo

    As well as this, Hamlet constantly repeats himself in his soliloquies for example in the first one he frequently mentions how quick his mother remarried after his father's death, 'and yet within a month' ,'a little month e'er those sheets were old' 'within a month, ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears...' In the fourth soliloquy he repeats the phrase 'to die: to sleep' and repeatedly talks about death, and in the fifth he repeats the same idea again 'let me be cruel, not unnatural' 'I will speak daggers to her but use none' 'my tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.'

    • Word count: 1750
  2. "Shakespeare skilfully weaves political and personal themes an issues ion the opening act of the play", "Shakespeare's aim in Act 1 is to establish Hamlet firmly as the pivotal character in the play" What do you see as the importance of Act 1?

    According to Hamlet, they drink so much that other countries 'clepe [them] drunkards.' Drinking alcohol excessively is unhealthy for the body and as Claudius and Gertrude represent the body politic of Denmark, this shows another sign of malaise and weakness of Denmark politically. The actions of the King and Queen offer another political issue as Claudius is not the rightful king of Denmark. He has usurped the rightful King by murder and has therefore gone against the will of God and only tragedy and ruin can come from the rein of this immoral king.

    • Word count: 1552
  3. Hamlet Act I

    Hamlet feels that the wedding of his mother and Claudius is too soon after the death of his father, and he planned to go back to school, however when his mother asks him not to he says; "I shall in all my best obey you madam". This shows that although he does not want to stay he will to please his mother. His displeasure at the wedding is also shown in his soliloquy at the end of the scene, where he says; "She married.

    • Word count: 1022
  4. 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

    • Word count: 2569
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. To what extent is Act 3 in Hamlet a turning point?

    Soon after delivering his "To be or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet is interrupted in his depressive thoughts by Ophelia, who tells him, under the orders of her father Polonius, that she must return to him the tokens of love he gave to her. This obviously angers him, and he denies that he ever gave Ophelia anything, claiming to have loved her once, and never to have loved her, at the same time. This is in stark contrast to the Hamlet that appeared earlier who was believed to have developed his 'antic disposition' and appear mad because of his infatuation with Ophelia.

    • Word count: 1595
  9. Compare the first four soliloquies in Hamlet, and how his attitude changes towards revenge in each of them

    He tries to come to terms with the recent loss of his father and the indecent haste with which his mother has remarried his uncle, a man utterly unlike his father. He wishes suicide were not a mortal sin. The world has become a tedious, degenerate, foul place, populated only by "things rank and gross in nature" (Line 136) Contrary to the impression given by Claudius and the Queen, we discover that King Hamlet has been dead for only three weeks.

    • Word count: 1113
  10. In the light of Hamlet's Act I how does Hamlet establish the theme of appearance and reality?

    Renaissance ideas were around in the early17th century which talked of a medieval chain of being involving God at the top of the chain followed by the divinely appointed King followed by first class, middle class then peasants. The ghost implies that by his murder of the King Claudius has disrupted this order and in this way has set up a link between the supernatural and reality of the world due to the extremity of his actions. Only Hamlet can see behind the true and honest portrayed and can see in reality Claudius is polluted with evil.

    • Word count: 1080
  11. Why does Hamlet delay?

    Hamlet is not sure of the true identity of the ghost. At first he questions whether it is a "spirit of health or goblin damned." This greatly confuses Hamlet as he is unaware of the spirits intentions. He feels that he might be tricked by the devil to commit sin. He thinks that the "de'il" maybe targeting him, taking advantage of Hamlet in his time "of weakness and melancholy," so by killing Claudius he would be damned to h**l. This plays upon Hamlet's conscience which further delays the revenge. Hamlet is a great thinker, a "john-a-dreams" which shows that he over-analyses situations, thinking greatly about how to kill Claudius but never putting these thoughts into action.

    • Word count: 1005
  12. To be or not to be Hamlet soliloquy analysis

    Hamlet starts his soliloquy with "To be or not to be- that is the question." It is interpreted as Hamlet contemplating whether or not he should exist or not exist. From this line alone we can relate how Hamlet is contemplating his suicide and killing Claudius. We see how Hamlet always questions himself and his thoughts. This shows the audience that Hamlet lacks confidence in himself and his ability to put his thoughts into action. He feels the need to commit suicide because of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

    • Word count: 1151
  13. foil characters of Hamlet

    On the other hand Ophelia's genuine madness due her fathers death is in stark contrast to Hamlets feigning madness. Therefore evidently the purpose of Shakespeare's utilization of foil characters is through juxtaposition exposing the attributes of the protagonist, enabling the audience to gain a more insightful understanding of the main character. Hamlets inability to take reasonable, effective action is illuminated by Fortinbras's character. Due to the sake of honor Fortinbras prepares his "lawless resolutes" (IV,iiii, 45)in order to attack Denmark, avenge his fathers death and regain the land that was previously owned by Norway. Evidently Fortinbras is motivated and passionately driven, as he is willing to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of people to regain a small piece of land for honors sake.

    • Word count: 1080
  14. the themes in Hamlet

    (I, iv, 90) The appearance of the previous king's ghost confirms a sense of foreboding about the future of the country since the new king has forced himself onto the throne through corrupt means. All this corruption affects Hamlets view of the world as well, where he comes to believe that the world is merely possessed by "things rank in gross in nature".( I, ii, 136) Even before Hamlet encounters his fathers ghost who reveals the truth about the murder, Hamlet is searing with indignation over how his mother with "most wicked speed, [did] post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets" (I,ii,156 - 157)

    • Word count: 1420
  15. Entrapment - In William Shakespeares play, Hamlet, show the development of a character that is trapped by serious predicaments.

    His father has appeared to him as a ghost, telling Hamlet to seek revenge against his father's killer. Claudius is King Hamlet's brother. He took his place as king by marrying the Queen Gertrude. Claudius put poison into the King's ear, making it appear as if a snake had bitten him. Hamlet now becomes stuck as what he should do next. He longs to heed what his father has commanded him to do. However, he is aware that is he kills King Claudius, he will go to h**l.

    • Word count: 1073
  16. Free essay

    Examine Shakespeare's presentation of Ophelia and how a modern audience might respond to her

    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
  17. The first act is an element of the exposition, this play has 5 scenes and it is quite long but very dramatic. The first scene is very dramatic and dark.

    These are, "something is rotten in the state of Denmark". "To be or to not to be". "O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain"! "How now? A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead"! The first act is an element of the exposition, this play has 5 scenes and it is quite long but very dramatic. The first scene is very dramatic and dark. Bernado says, "Who's there", and then Francisco says, "I think I hear them - stand ho who is there". The tension is really building up at the start of the scene.

    • Word count: 1965
  18. Hamlet- What is the dramatic significance of the nunnery scene?

    Ophelia is portrayed as a delicate and caring character and when she says, "And with them words of so sweet breath composed as made these things more rich. Their perfume now lost," she is saying that when she received the gifts Hamlet had been very sweet and kind with her but now the novelty has worn off as Hamlet now mocks and taunts her. The fact that she says this suggests she is feeling disappointed with Hamlet. Throughout the play we see a 'past' between Hamlet and Ophelia and the above quote gives us a firm reason to believe this.

    • Word count: 1715
  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. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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.

    • Word count: 2883
  25. Hamlet Soliloquy. I am going to show how significant Hamlet's soliloquys are in the play and how they relate with the plot

    The power of Hamlet's soliloquys during the play show shakespeares philosophical views to life. For example, in Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet, again contemplates suicide, where he suggests that suicide is the easiest way of ending the problems and conflicts of life. He then debates this by saying that the fear of an unknown afterlife is what keeps man living. Hamlet observes religion, but it has been shown that he is hypocritical of it because he is inconsistant with his beliefs (As shown by Schlegel), for example, when the ghost enters, he believes that it truely

    • Word count: 1550

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