Role of Symbolism in Hamlet

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“Compare and contrast the role of symbolism in at least two plays you have studied”.

  • Role of symbolism in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

        Hamlet is one of the greatest tragedies written by the famous English author William Shakespeare, presumably in the early 1600’s. Hamlet, who is the protagonist of the play, is nephew to the present King of Denmark and son to the former and now deceased King. He experiences different complications throughout the play that tie to the ideas of love, death and betrayal. Throughout the play, we can notice important symbols such as Yorick’s skull, Hamlet’s costume change or poison. The symbols in Hamlet are significant to the play as they have a powerful effect on the protagonist, they add more depth to the plot,  and represent a certain state of mind of the characters.

One of the ways that symbolism is significant to the play Hamlet, is the powerful effect that it has on the protagonist. The symbolism behind Yorick’s skull and the graveyard brought Hamlet to certain realisations that he would not have come to before. When Hamlet dug up the skull of Yorick, a court jester that meant a lot to him in his childhood, he began to reflect upon death, and everything began to have a greater meaning to him. The skull symbolises afterlife, the finality of death and the fact that no matter what social class we are in, what lives we live or what we leave behind, all of our lives come to the same end, where we "returneth into dust" (5.1.30). Hamlet realises how ordinary and pretentious death is once he sees that both his dear court jester Yorick and Alexander the Great are the same, lying beneath the earth. Only once Hamlet ‘looks face in the death’ does he attain a more mature look on the concept of ‘death’, and accepts that there is nothing one can do to prevent it. The graveyard itself creates a great contrast from the royal court symbolically as it is a place where people come to acknowledge the dead and their past, whereas at the royal court, his father’s death was quickly forgotten and put into the past. The role of the graveyard setting and Yorick’s skull as symbols were that they had a meaningful effect on the protagonist, bringing him to defined realisations.

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Another role of symbolism in this play, is that it adds layers and greater depth to the plot. The way the garden in the play is depicted by Hamlet, leads the reader to believing that there is greater meaning behind it. He describes the garden as "tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely" which is a contrast to what people usually imagine when they think of gardens. It appears to be a gloomy place with chaotic overgrowth of vegetation and generally a negative ambience. When the Ghost informs Hamlet ...

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