What are the major themes established in the first two acts of Hamlet?

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What are the major themes established in the first two acts of Hamlet?


The themes of Hamlet that are established in the first two acts are typical of many revenge tragedies throughout history, all of which are dark and dismal including madness, corruption, deception and of course revenge.

Vengeance is a theme that has fuelled an array of plays from ancient Rome to the era of Shakespeare and beyond. By the time Shakespeare had come to write Hamlet, he had written several tragedies, and revenge tragedies themselves had developed a certain ‘frame work’ of components. The reason that the revenge would be needed would often stem from a ghost, in this case Hamlets farther, revealing to the prospective revenge hero how he had come to a gruesome end through a fratricide treachery and calling upon him to ‘Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.’ There was certain to be a procrastination- what else would the play consist of, and several counter-plots. In Hamlet these counter plots emphasise Hamlet’s un-willingness to act with the same livid, lust for revenge that is expected in revenge tragedies, and is shown in Hamlet by the Young Fortenbrias, and his war mongering to avenge his own father. We see Hamlet’s character develop in the first two acts into someone who is most un-suited to deal with the situation that he is in, he states ‘give me that man That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him In my hearts core. A possible interpretation of this is that that Hamlet himself is ‘not passion’s slave’ and he wishes to find another person that would behave in the same way in order to rationalize his inaction. Hamlet also doubts the ghost and it’s story explicitly saying that he ‘May be a devil,’ and needs assurance before he acts; he even has reservations that he may have conjured the ghost ‘out of’ his ‘weakness and melancholy’; he is also self-deprecating when asking ‘Am I a coward?’  

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Hamlet is based around these conventional ideas of a revenge tragedy concentrating on the protagonist’s pursuit of private vengeance against those who have done him or his family wrong. These plays including, Hamlet often concentrate on the moral confusion caused by the need to answer evil with evil. This confusion deepens, and sparks another theme of Hamlet- madness.  Whether it is true or ‘an antic disposition,’ madness features heavily in Hamlet. True to the pattern of revenge tragedies Hamlet tells his friends that he may pretend to be mad in order to carry out the ghost wishes with out rising ...

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