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Great Examples of Hamlet Thesis Statements

thesis statements in hamlet

Do you need to write a paper on Hamlet? Are you confused and don’t know how to come up with a thesis statement? Read this article and get some more insight into the ways how to write a successful thesis on this popular piece of art!

Hamlet is one of the most famous tragedies created by William Shakespeare. This classic play is extremely important for the English literature. Most students have written an essay on this tragedy at least once during their studies. It is an essential part of their requirements to complete a degree. If you do a profound research, your thesis on Hamlet can break some new grounds and exert an impact on your readers.

One can find a number of topics covered in Hamlet. The most important ones are duality, revenge, and confusion. Meanwhile, the central theme of the tragedy is mourning. All of the themes are eternal: people faced these issues in the times of Shakespeare and we still encounter them in the present days. Therefore, it is not as hard as it may seem to choose a thesis on Hamlet. If you are creative enough, you can come up with an original and interesting thesis statement. All you need to do is to study the tragedy thoroughly to get your opinion regarding it.

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Your Hamlet thesis statement can be related to any of the major topics of the play, including mourning, duality, revenge, and others. Further in this article, you will find several good examples of thesis statements on Hamlet. You can use them as a guide to understand the point and create your own thesis statement.

Thesis Statement Samples

  • Example 1:The Theme of Revenge in Hamlet “Hamlet is a sorrowful hero who is madly looking for vengeance for his beloved father’s demise, murders everyone who stands on his way, and eventually manages to take revenge by killing King Claudius, the man who murdered his father.”
  • Example 2:The Theme of Tragedy in Hamlet

“Hamlet’s melancholy, blemish, bogus madness and inability to take action on his desire to seek vengeance for his father’s killing – it all result into his unavoidable but tragic collapse.”

  • Example 3:The Theme of Hunger for Power in Hamlet

“William Shakespeare, in his famous tragedy Hamlet, tells about Claudius – an antagonist and an egocentric man who is seeking power by all means. He murders his brother and marries Queen Gertrude, his brother’s widow to attain the power he desires so much.”

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What do you think about these thesis statements? Hopefully, they will help you understand how a good thesis on Hamlet should look like and come up with your own excellent statement! If you are creative and original, you will succeed with your paper.

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Plays — Hamlet

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Essays on Hamlet

Hamlet essay topics and outline examples, essay title 1: the tragic hero in "hamlet": analyzing the complex character of prince hamlet.

Thesis Statement: This essay delves into the character of Prince Hamlet in Shakespeare's "Hamlet," examining his tragic flaws, internal conflicts, and the intricate web of relationships that contribute to his downfall, ultimately highlighting his status as a classic tragic hero.

  • Introduction
  • Defining Tragic Heroes: Characteristics and Literary Tradition
  • The Complex Psychology of Prince Hamlet: Ambiguity, Doubt, and Melancholy
  • The Ghost's Revelation: Hamlet's Quest for Justice and Revenge
  • The Theme of Madness: Feigned or Real?
  • Hamlet's Relationships: Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius, and Horatio
  • The Tragic Climax: The Duel, Poisoned Foils, and Fatal Consequences

Essay Title 2: "Hamlet" as a Reflection of Political Intrigue: Power, Corruption, and the Tragedy of Denmark

Thesis Statement: This essay explores the political dimensions of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," analyzing the themes of power, corruption, and political manipulation as portrayed in the play, and their impact on the fate of the characters and the kingdom of Denmark.

  • The Political Landscape of Denmark: Claudius's Ascension to the Throne
  • The Machiavellian Villainy of Claudius: Murder, Deception, and Ambition
  • Hamlet's Struggle for Justice: The Role of Political Morality
  • The Foils of Polonius and Laertes: Pawns in Political Games
  • The Fate of Denmark: Chaos, Rebellion, and the Climactic Tragedy
  • Shakespeare's Political Commentary: Lessons for Society

Essay Title 3: "Hamlet" in a Contemporary Context: Adaptations, Interpretations, and the Play's Enduring Relevance

Thesis Statement: This essay examines modern adaptations and interpretations of "Hamlet," exploring how the themes, characters, and dilemmas presented in the play continue to resonate with audiences today, making "Hamlet" a timeless and relevant work of literature.

  • From Stage to Screen: Iconic Film and Theater Productions of "Hamlet"
  • Contemporary Readings: Gender, Race, and Identity in "Hamlet" Interpretations
  • Psychological and Existential Interpretations: Hamlet's Inner Turmoil in the Modern World
  • Relevance in the 21st Century: Themes of Revenge, Justice, and Moral Dilemma
  • Adapting "Hamlet" for New Audiences: Outreach, Education, and Cultural Engagement
  • Conclusion: The Timelessness of "Hamlet" and Its Place in Literature

Hamlet Revenge Analysis

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King Claudius: an Unlikely Hero in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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"Act": The Theme of "Acting" in Hamlet

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1603, William Shakespeare

Play; Shakespearean tragedy

Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius

The play Hamlet is the most cited work in the English language and is often included in the lists of the world's greatest literature.

"Frailty, thy name is woman!" "Brevity' is the soul of wit" "To be, or not to be, that is the question" "I must be cruel to be kind" "Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me, it is a prison."

1. Wright, G. T. (1981). Hendiadys and Hamlet. PMLA, 96(2), 168-193. ( 2. Leverenz, D. (1978). The woman in Hamlet: An interpersonal view. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 4(2), 291-308. ( 3. Lesser, Z., & Stallybrass, P. (2008). The first literary Hamlet and the commonplacing of professional plays. Shakespeare Quarterly, 59(4), 371-420. ( 4. De Grazia, M. (2001). Hamlet before its Time. MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly, 62(4), 355-375. ( 5. Calderwood, J. L. (1983). To be and not to be. Negation and Metadrama in Hamlet. In To Be and Not to Be. Negation and Metadrama in Hamlet. Columbia University Press. ( 6. Kastan, D. S. (1987). " His semblable is his mirror":" Hamlet" and the Imitation of Revenge. Shakespeare Studies, 19, 111. ( 7. Neill, M. (1983). Remembrance and Revenge: Hamlet, Macbeth and The Tempest. Jonson and Shakespeare, 35-56. ( 8. Gates, S. (2008). Assembling the Ophelia fragments: gender, genre, and revenge in Hamlet. Explorations in Renaissance Culture, 34(2), 229-248. (

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thesis statements in hamlet

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Hamlet Essays

I. Introduction Hamlet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, probably written in 1600 or 1601. It is often considered his supreme achievement, and one of the world’s greatest tragedies. Considered as one of the greatest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Hamlet is also one of the best-known plays in world...

1 111 words

Grammaticus The problems related to the origin and sources of Hamlet are no less contentious and inconclusive than the philosophical, moral and structural problems traditionally associated with the play. The present day iconic status of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ often obscures the...

2 875 words

Q1) The character of Claudius can be recognized as the major antagonist in the play. Traits such as being cleverly evil, lustful, and conniving were the factors that won him the crown as the King of Denmark. As a king, Claudius focused on protecting his throne from being relinquished from him. He...

1 028 words

Shakespeare's characterization of Gertrude and Ophelia in Hamlet is paradoxical as it challenges as well as complements the contemporary social traditions and norms. Gertrude is the best example of this paradox that is manifested through her extraordinary supremacy over all the major characters of...

Hamlet is a character with whom most of us could relate not only because of his imperfections but also because of his insecurities. He is imperfect, he has his insecurities, but what is most remarkable in him is his goodness of heart which makes it very difficult for him to think ill of other...

1 569 words

I) Introduction A. Hamlet is the direct cause of the tragedy i. Charnes; “Hamlet Without Hamlet.” II) First appearance of Hamlet A. Hamlet’s lack of a sense of purpose B. Hamlet’s attempt to relieve his melancholy i. Udo and Fels; "’Suit the Action to the Word, the Word to the Action’: An...

1 780 words

Isabella is a woman with a seemingly over pious regard to herself and her virginity, placing the same over an individual’s life and liberty. This is made evident in her statement “Then, Isabel, live chaste, and, brother, die: More than our brother is our chastity (Measure for measure...

William Shakespeare is perhaps best known for being the father of plays. Of all playwrights, none can compare to Shakespeare’s style, creativity, and wit. A great example would be Hamlet which could perhaps be viewed as the best of all his plays. The lines of the play have been remembered in the...

2 243 words

Introduction When discussing “Hamlet”, whether in casual company, stage production or academic study, the conversation can quite literally go in a million different directions. Widely regarded as Shakepeare’s most complex play, Hamlet can in fact be deeply examined and extensively interpreted...

Aristotle has written numerous treatises about a variety of topics, one of which is his treatise on Poetics. In this treatise he discusses poetry and the construction of epics, but the treatise focuses heavily on the creation and the definition of a tragedy, especially on the development of the...

1 644 words

There are a number of reasons why Hamlet has remained a classic and one of these reasons is because of the great characterization that Shakespeare uses in the creation of his characters. It is because of these characters that the play comes alive and the reason why the audience is able to laugh...

It is chiefly character that is responsible for the tragic fate of the hero, but a Shakespearean tragedy also arouses a feeling that there is a mysterious power in this universe, whom we may call Fate or Destiny or Providence that operates in the universe and is responsible for the manner in which...

1 869 words

1. Hamlet, one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies possesses an intense environment of uncertainty. This sense of “uncertainty” is governed primarily by the indecision and hesitation demonstrated by the protagonist, Hamlet, the prince of Denmark. He is always in two minds and cannot seem...

William Shakespeare once said that “action is eloquence”. Hamlet finds it easy to make a choice to avenge his father’s death, but is unable to execute this choice. Hamlet’s choices and inconsistencies in carrying them out is what will lead to multiple tragedies and ultimately, his redemption...

The 1996 film version of Hamlet directed and starred in by Kenneth Branagh in the title role is a faithful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous play. The exposition of the plot occupies the first few minutes of the story. It begins with the appearance of a ghost to the castle guards. This...

Hamlet is a well known character in the body of works of Shakespeare. The soliloquy signifies the derailed and arguments of a wearied soul trying to explain life and the consequences of hardships of thoughts' impacts on decision makings throughout life which end with the beginning of death and the...

1 276 words

Introduction In order to understand the role of the rites in Hamlet, one must conceptualize the ritual. The rites in Hamlet concern mainly marriage, mourning and funeral. It is crucial to distinguish their specific nature to detect how they participate in the tragedy. Arnold van Gennep identified...

2 602 words

The first soliloquy of Hamlet occurs (act I, scene ii, lines 129-59) after the King and the Queen have urged Hamlet in the open court to cast off the deep melancholy which, as they think, has taken possession of him as a consequence of his father’s death. In this soliloquy, Hamlet reveals the...

1 472 words

Introduction Every emotion and feeling of human beings is captured by literary works such as stories, novels and poems. The characters, plot and themes in the stories and novels bring forth the varied emotions experienced by human beings. Two such stories which focus on the feelings and emotions...

This student owes a great deal of intellectual debt to Louise Cowans thanks in great part to the theoretical criticism the author expressed in her introduction to The Comic Terrain. An example of the brilliance of her critical theory is found in an extended quotation from the work’s introduction...

2 026 words

The dilemma about the intrinsical meaning of the story about the Prince of Denmark is a perturbing issue of discussion. Question about whether Hamlet feels affection to Ophelia is still not answered because the author uses various evasive situations when readers get more and more confused. Those...

The significant tragedy “Hamlet” violates the eternal problems. Those problems are connected with the contradiction between action and ideal, the role of personality in the history of humanity, the meaning of the life of each person, with justice, revenge, betrayal, love, friendship...

Hamlet’s different perspectives of death Death is perceived as different things according to different people. In William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” the title character, Hamlet openly expresses his opinion of death through the various acts he commits and the things he says...

Shakespeare’s early 17th century revenge tragedy “Hamlet” is shaped by our understanding that knowledge of its contextual milieu develops an appreciation for the play’s timeless resonance. We also recognize the play’s textual integrity allows Shakespeare to explore...

Both Hamlet and Frankenstein deal with the concept of revenge. In a well-organized essay discuss the importance of revenge as a central theme in either Frankenstein OR Hamlet . Avoid mere plot summary. You must provide strong textual references to support your ideas. The revenge theme came in both...

“THE DEAD AMONGST THE LIVING” IN HAMLET AND FRANKENSTEIN William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein are challenging literary works that both have the same theme about the dead amongst the living. Both protagonists Hamlet and Victor Frankenstein...

2 140 words

Female voices in classic literature are rarely allowed to be heard as they should, especially in a society like Shakespeare’s, where women are expected to make children and hot meals and not much more than that. While Shakespeare does take drastic steps forward in allowing such prominent...

Harold Bloom says the genius of Shakespeare is that “Characters develop rather than unfold, and they develop because they reconceive themselves” (The Invention of the Human XVII). Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, shows the development of Hamlet within the land of Denmark. Hamlet...

1 420 words

English 30-1 Hamlet Personal Response March 21 2013 Final Draft Interior Monologue My uncle is dead. Along with everyone else I love and the people they care about. My mother Gertrude, Ophelia, Laertes, and their father Polonius. Dead and gone to heaven forever. I finally killed Claudius! He has...

Hamlet: Response To Literature Taking place in Elsinore, Denmark Hamlet by Williams Shakespeare is a remarkable play where love and madness co-exist in an all-out war between family and friends. For many years, literature scholars have viewed Hamlet’s themes in many ways and forms. I intend...



Hamlet: Developing your thesis (Essential question)

  • Developing your thesis (Essential question)
  • What is critical analysis and where can you find it?
  • Using MLA Format This link opens in a new window
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  • Research Cycle
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Finding a theme:

Start searching to get familiar with the topic!  Reviewing what topics are covered in the literature criticism is helpful - but  just skim for ideas at this point . Look to see what topics are covered but try not to focus on any one critical essay or academic journal at this stage-  that's for later!

Searching for Shakespeare using the Library Catalogue

thesis statements in hamlet

Helpful Websites

  • LitCharts - Hamlet Particularly good if you want to consider the themes found in the play.
  • No Fear Shakespeare - Hamlet The library also carries the books. This is a great source to help you understand the play but it is not an appropriate source to cite in a paper.
  • Roya Shakespeare Company This drama company brings a helpful, but unique perspective to Hamlet.

Thesis statements

"Nothing so facilitates good writing as actually having something to say." T.S. Eliot

thesis statements in hamlet

What Makes a Good Essential Question?

  • Is  open-ended;  that is, it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer.  
  • Is  thought-provoking  and  intellectually engaging , often sparking discussion and debate.  
  • Calls for  higher-order thinking , such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.  
  • Points toward  important, transferable ideas  within (and sometimes across) disciplines.  
  • Raises  additional questions  and sparks further inquiry.  
  • Requires  support  and  justification , not just an answer.  
  • Recurs  over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again.  
  • It is interesting to YOU!

Source: "What Makes a Question Essential?"  ASCD . ASCD, 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

Start Searching Your Topic with Databases

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  • Shakespeare A to Z by Charles Boyce ISBN: 0440504295 Publication Date: 1991-11-03
  • World Literature Criticism, 1500 to the Present by James P. Draper (Editor) Call Number: REF 809 WOR ISBN: 0810383616 Publication Date: 1992-08-01

thesis statements in hamlet

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140 Hamlet Essay Topics

One of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays is Hamlet. Set in Denmark, it tells the story of Hamlet, a young prince who becomes aware of his father’s death and seeks revenge against his mother Gertrude by killing her new husband, Claudius.

The play is a thrilling roller coaster ride of emotions, with themes such as lust, love, betrayal, and revenge present throughout the story.

Hamlet Essay Writing

Usually first studied in high school literature classes, Hamlet’s many themes have been the subject of many essay writing assignments. Whether it’s an argumentative, persuasive, or analytical essay, the trick to writing about Hamlet lies in the following steps.

Understand the Reading

The key to writing about Hamlet is understanding it. Shakespeare wrote in a much different way from modern literature, so it takes time for many to understand the writing or where the author is going.

To better understand the play, it may be necessary to read it multiple times. It can help to mark specific sections with a color-coded or annotation system. If you color code the reading, use different colored highlighters designated to a particular theme, symbol, character, or event to mark several passages. If annotating, use a pencil or pen to underline, circle, or write notes in the margins of important passages.

By marking the reading as you go through it, you develop a better idea of how each symbol relates to the others and the overall story.

Choose a Topic

Once you have read through the play and made notes detailing the significant themes, symbols, and characters, it is time to choose a topic. There are many different ways to approach the essay, depending on what you feel will make for the best argument or story.

Pick a topic that interests you and can be backed by the number of examples you have highlighted or noted while reading the play. If you are having trouble choosing a topic for a Hamlet essay, consider using any of the 140 Hamlet essay topics at the bottom of this article.

Create a Strong Thesis Statement

Once you have chosen a topic, it is time to create your thesis statement. A thesis statement on Hamlet should include the topic your essay will focus on, as well as an argument that your textual evidence can support. For example:

“The role of women in Hamlet is significant to understanding the meaning behind revenge.”

“Hamlet’s lust for Gertrude affects his ability to carry out his plan for revenge.”

“It can be argued that Hamlet is trapped in a cycle of revenge and cannot escape until the ghost gives him permission to do so.”

These thesis statements clearly state what your essay will focus on and can be backed up with examples from the play.

Hamlet Essay Structure

Once you have the key steps above completed, it’s time to start drafting your Hamlet essay.


Start with a compelling hook that draws the reader in. For example, compelling opening sentences for Hamlet essays could be something like:

“In a time when women were expected to be silent…”

“Hamlet’s lust for his mother…”

“In a world where revenge…”

After the hook, you’ll want to include pertinent background information to help the reader understand your essay. For example, if you are writing about the role of women in Hamlet, begin with a brief summary of King Hamlet’s death and how it affected his family before getting into specific examples from the play that show the role of women.

Finish your introduction with a strong thesis statement that lays out the essay’s overall argument.

The body paragraphs should go logically from the least crucial point to the most vital, usually with one to three examples per paragraph. Use quotations from the play where possible, and remember to include any subtleties that tie back into your thesis statement.

Pro Tip: When quoting lines from Hamlet, be sure to reference them in the correct format. Depending on the style, this may require using parenthetical notation to reference the act, line, and scene, written as (1.2.41)

Your conclusion should summarize what you have said during your essay and tie up any loose ends that were left.

For example, if your essay began with a summary of King Hamlet’s death and how it affected his family, be sure to end the essay by reiterating how that loss impacted Hamlet’s life.

This is also where you can bring up any implications or possible future developments based on what has happened in the play to tie it back into the overall argument.

Pro Tip: Remember that a well-written essay will include fewer examples and more textual evidence instead of a long list of facts without any supporting quotes from the play. Include as much detail as possible about each example or instance you bring up in your essay to strengthen your argument and show your reader how each point is relevant to the topic.

Choosing the right topic for your Hamlet essay can be challenging. Fortunately, this list of 140 Hamlet essay topics is perfect for students writing about the famous play.

Hamlet Essay Topics About Tragedy

  • Discuss the tragedy of Hamlet and how it affects his life
  • Analyze how tragedy is represented through literary devices throughout Hamlet
  • Compare and contrast Hamlet’s various tragedies in terms of literary devices
  • Discuss how Hamlet’s tragedies are reflected through the characters in the play
  • Analyze the effect of death on both Hamlet and his family/friends
  • Compare/contrast Queen Gertrude’s tragedies to Lady Macbeth’s
  • Analyze how death functions as a literary device throughout Hamlet
  • Discuss whether or not Hamlet is truly a tragic hero
  • Compare and contrast the portrayal of tragedy in Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet
  • Discuss how Hamlet’s tragedies could have been avoided
  • Would it still be considered a tragedy if Hamlet happened in modern times?
  • Reflect on the theme of tragedy as it pertains to Hamlet
  • Which character in Hamlet experiences the worst tragedy, why?
  • How does the theme of tragedy compare with the other themes in Hamlet?
  • When does the tragedy of Hamlet become noticeable as the play progresses?
  • Why is Hamlet considered a tragedy?
  • Do you think that Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s best or worst tragedies?
  • How could the tragedy have been avoided in Hamlet?
  • Would better communication between the characters have prevented the tragedy in Hamlet?
  • Who is more of a tragic hero, Hamlet or Othello? Why?

Hamlet Essay Topics About Revenge

  • Discuss why Hamlet’s plan to seek revenge is an internal conflict
  • Analyze how Hamlet deals with his desire for revenge after learning of his father’s death
  • Compare and contrast Claudius’ and Macbeth’s quests for power that leads them to take a life
  • Analyze whether or not Hamlet’s motivations can be justified as revenge
  • Discuss the role of revenge and vengeance in Shakespeare tragedies (e.g., Othello, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet)
  • Analyze how revenge is portrayed in Hamlet
  • Compare and contrast taking revenge on Claudius to Ulysses’s quest for revenge in The Odyssey
  • Discuss the concept of suspicious minds throughout Hamlet
  • Identify examples of extreme suspicion in Hamlet
  • Discuss the literary devices used to express suspicion in Hamlet
  • Analyze the impact of suspicious minds on Hamlet and his family/friends
  • Analyze the role of urgency in Hamlet: Is it a necessary part of revenge?
  • Is revenge justified in Hamlet? Discuss your answer.
  • Hamlet is often considered an anti-hero. Why do you think that is?
  • How would the story have been different if Hamlet had taken revenge sooner?
  • What does Shakespeare achieve through his portrayal of revenge in Hamlet?
  • Which character in Hamlet gets the most out of their revenge?
  • Is revenge ever warranted in any situation? Discuss why or why not.
  • How would modern-day society view Hamlet’s revenge plot?
  • Compare and contrast the themes of revenge in Hamlet with a modern-day literary work

Hamlet Essay Topics About Women in Hamlet

  • Analyze how women are portrayed in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • Compare and contrast Lady Macbeth and Gertrude in terms of their relationships with the men in their lives
  • Discuss the role of gender politics throughout Hamlet
  • Analyze how Gertrude is treated by her husband, son, and the other characters in the play
  • Analyze Gertrude’s role as Queen of Denmark
  • Analyze how Shakespeare uses women to convey the political atmosphere of Denmark during this period
  • What is the significance of the women in Hamlet?
  • How do male-female relationships function throughout Hamlet?
  • Compare and contrast the portrayal of women in Shakespeare’s Othello with that of Hamlet
  • If Hamlet was written today, how would the female characters be portrayed?
  • Was there any significance behind Claudius’ betrothal to Gertrude?
  • Discuss the importance of Ophelia’s death in Hamlet
  • How do women convey the theme of revenge throughout Hamlet?
  • Did Gertrude love Claudius, or was she forced into marriage with him?
  • Is any female character redeemed in Hamlet?
  • How does gender function as a theme in Hamlet?
  • Would a female director’s vision of the play be drastically different from a male director’s?
  • Discuss whether or not women stand up for themselves throughout Hamlet.
  • Analyze why Gertrude commits suicide at the end of Hamlet
  • How do women convey madness, desire, and revenge themes in Hamlet?
  • Do you think that Shakespeare was critical or supportive of women throughout his works?
  • Is Gertrude just as guilty for Hamlet’s death as Claudius is?
  • Analyze whether or not Shakespeare has a feminist or misogynistic view of women in Hamlet.

Hamlet Essay Topics About Grief

  • Analyze the role of grief in Hamlet
  • Discuss the various ways that characters deal with grief throughout Hamlet
  • Analyze Laertes’ main motivation for seeking revenge on Claudius
  • Compare and contrast how different characters are affected by grief in Hamlet
  • Analyze whether or not Laertes is a reliable source of information in the play
  • Analyze whether or not Hamlet is actually living up to his name throughout the play
  • What does Shakespeare mean when he says that “the readiness is all”?
  • How are the characters’ feelings about death conveyed in Hamlet?
  • How does grief influence the actions of various characters in Hamlet?
  • Which theme is more prevalent in Hamlet – grief or madness?
  • What is the significance of Ophelia’s death in Hamlet?
  • Would modern-day society view grief as a valid motivation for revenge?

Hamlet Essay Topics About Madness

  • Analyze the various ways that insanity is manifested in Hamlet
  • Discuss how Shakespeare uses madness to convey themes of grief and revenge in Hamlet
  • Compare and contrast Hamlet’s riddling with The Tempest’s concept of magic
  • What is the significance of the “ghost” scene in Act 1, Scene 4?
  • Is Hamlet genuinely insane?
  • Does Ophelia go mad, or does she purposefully act that way?
  • Does Claudius’ desire for power drive him into insanity?
  • Analyze whether or not all of the characters in Hamlet are truly insane.
  • How does insanity function as a theme throughout Shakespeare’s play?
  • What is the significance of Laertes’ recovery from his madness, and how does it affect the plotline?
  • Compare and contrast Gertrude’s sanity at the beginning of the play with her sanity at the end.
  • How does insanity manifest itself throughout Hamlet?
  • Which literary devices are the most essential for depicting the scope of madness experienced by characters in Hamlet?

Hamlet Essay Topics About Power & Corruption

  • Analyze the role of power dynamics within families in Hamlet
  • Discuss Claudius’ motivations for murdering his brother and marrying Gertrude
  • Analyze the significance of the name “Hamlet” throughout Shakespeare’s play.
  • Compare and contrast how different characters respond to their loss of power or status in the play.
  • Discuss the theme of corruption throughout the play.
  • Does power corrupt Claudius?
  • Are there any characters in the play that do not experience some form of loss of power, status, or nobility?
  • Compare and contrast Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Laertes
  • How would the pursuit of power in Hamlet be viewed in modern times?
  • Is there a specific character that is corrupted or corrupting throughout Hamlet?
  • Discuss whether the theme of corruption exists more prominently in The Lord of the Flies or Hamlet.
  • What does Shakespeare mean when he says, “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”?
  • Was one character’s quest for power the only thing going on in the play?
  • How do the themes of corruption and power in Hamlet mimic modern-day events?
  • What are the most significant changes throughout Hamlet in terms of power dynamics?
  • Which characters are corrupted by their pursuit of power, and which are not?
  • How does Shakespeare convey the theme of corruption through literary devices?
  • How does Shakespeare critique corruption and power in Hamlet?
  • Are there any characters that display no form of corruption after experiencing significant events in the play?

Hamlet Essay Topics About Jealousy

  • Analyze how the theme of jealousy plays out throughout Hamlet
  • Which characters in Hamlet express feelings of jealousy and why?
  • Compare and contrast Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia to that of Laertes’ relationship with Ophelia.
  • How does Shakespeare use jealousy as a literary device?
  • Do you think Gertrude is justified in her feelings towards Ophelia?
  • Does Laertes’ understanding of his sister’s relationship with Hamlet influence his decision to fight in the duel?
  • What motivations do Hamlet and Laertes have in fighting in a duel with one another?
  • Compare and contrast Claudius’ feelings of envy when he hears of Fortinbras’ men passing by with the jealousy Laertes experiences towards Hamlet.
  • Does the theme of jealousy exist throughout the play?
  • How does Shakespeare portray the characters that experience feelings of jealousy in Hamlet?
  • Which character’s jealousy is most detrimental to their relationships with others?
  • What impact do Gertrude’s feelings for Claudius have on the play?
  • How does Shakespeare subtly convey feelings of jealousy through his use of language and literary devices?

Hamlet Essay Topics About Friendship

  • How do Ophelia’s feelings of loss influence her decisions to act in certain ways throughout the play?
  • What is the significance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern betraying Hamlet?
  • Analyze whether or not Gertrude’s friendship with Claudius contributes to her betrayal of Hamlet.
  • How do the relationships between characters in Hamlet evolve throughout the play?
  • How does Shakespeare portray friendships in Hamlet?
  • Which character displays the most loyalty to another, and why?
  • What is the significance of Ophelia’s relationship with her father, Polonius?
  • What do you think Shakespeare thought about friendship based on Hamlet?
  • What is the importance of Hamlet’s relationship with Horatio?
  • How does Shakespeare portray friendships in his use of language and literary devices?
  • How would you define friendship based on your analysis of Hamlet?
  • Is it possible for someone who betrays another person to be considered a friend?

Hamlet Essay Topics About Morality

  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not experience as much change as the primary characters of the play from good to evil.
  • In what ways has Claudius changed since he came to power?
  • How would someone who has killed a person be viewed in modern society?
  • Compare and contrast Laertes’ actions with those of Hamlet’s.
  • Does Shakespeare explore immorality or morality in Hamlet?
  • Do you think Claudius can be saved from damnation in the eyes of God?
  • What impact do recent events in the play have on Hamlet’s decision to avenge his father’s death?
  • How does Shakespeare portray morality in his use of language and literary devices?

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Jeffrey R. Wilson

Essays on hamlet.

Essays On Hamlet

Written as the author taught Hamlet every semester for a decade, these lightning essays ask big conceptual questions about the play with the urgency of a Shakespeare lover, and answer them with the rigor of a Shakespeare scholar. In doing so, Hamlet becomes a lens for life today, generating insights on everything from xenophobia, American fraternities, and religious fundamentalism to structural misogyny, suicide contagion, and toxic love.

Prioritizing close reading over historical context, these explorations are highly textual and highly theoretical, often philosophical, ethical, social, and political. Readers see King Hamlet as a pre-modern villain, King Claudius as a modern villain, and Prince Hamlet as a post-modern villain. Hamlet’s feigned madness becomes a window into failed insanity defenses in legal trials. He knows he’s being watched in “To be or not to be”: the soliloquy is a satire of philosophy. Horatio emerges as Shakespeare’s authorial avatar for meta-theatrical commentary, Fortinbras as the hero of the play. Fate becomes a viable concept for modern life, and honor a source of tragedy. The metaphor of music in the play makes Ophelia Hamlet’s instrument. Shakespeare, like the modern corporation, stands against sexism, yet perpetuates it unknowingly. We hear his thoughts on single parenting, sending children off to college, and the working class, plus his advice on acting and writing, and his claims to be the next Homer or Virgil. In the context of four centuries of Hamlet hate, we hear how the text draws audiences in, how it became so famous, and why it continues to captivate audiences.

At a time when the humanities are said to be in crisis, these essays are concrete examples of the mind-altering power of literature and literary studies, unravelling the ongoing implications of the English language’s most significant artistic object of the past millennium.








 is a Suicide Text—It’s Time to Teach it Like One




: Divine Providence and Social Determinism



Why is Hamlet the most famous English artwork of the past millennium? Is it a sexist text? Why does Hamlet speak in prose? Why must he die? Does Hamlet depict revenge, or justice? How did the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, transform into a story about a son dealing with the death of a father? Did Shakespeare know Aristotle’s theory of tragedy? How did our literary icon, Shakespeare, see his literary icons, Homer and Virgil? Why is there so much comedy in Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy? Why is love a force of evil in the play? Did Shakespeare believe there’s a divinity that shapes our ends? How did he define virtue? What did he think about psychology? politics? philosophy? What was Shakespeare’s image of himself as an author? What can he, arguably the greatest writer of all time, teach us about our own writing? What was his theory of literature? Why do people like Hamlet ? How do the Hamlet haters of today compare to those of yesteryears? Is it dangerous for our children to read a play that’s all about suicide? 

These are some of the questions asked in this book, a collection of essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet stemming from my time teaching the play every semester in my Why Shakespeare? course at Harvard University. During this time, I saw a series of bright young minds from wildly diverse backgrounds find their footing in Hamlet, and it taught me a lot about how Shakespeare’s tragedy works, and why it remains with us in the modern world. Beyond ghosts, revenge, and tragedy, Hamlet is a play about being in college, being in love, gender, misogyny, friendship, theater, philosophy, theology, injustice, loss, comedy, depression, death, self-doubt, mental illness, white privilege, overbearing parents, existential angst, international politics, the classics, the afterlife, and the meaning of it all. 

These essays grow from the central paradox of the play: it helps us understand the world we live in, yet we don't really understand the text itself very well. For all the attention given to Hamlet , there’s no consensus on the big questions—how it works, why it grips people so fiercely, what it’s about. These essays pose first-order questions about what happens in Hamlet and why, mobilizing answers for reflections on life, making the essays both highly textual and highly theoretical. 

Each semester that I taught the play, I would write a new essay about Hamlet . They were meant to be models for students, the sort of essay that undergrads read and write – more rigorous than the puff pieces in the popular press, but riskier than the scholarship in most academic journals. While I later added scholarly outerwear, these pieces all began just like the essays I was assigning to students – as short close readings with a reader and a text and a desire to determine meaning when faced with a puzzling question or problem. 

The turn from text to context in recent scholarly books about Hamlet is quizzical since we still don’t have a strong sense of, to quote the title of John Dover Wilson’s 1935 book, What Happens in Hamlet. Is the ghost real? Is Hamlet mad, or just faking? Why does he delay? These are the kinds of questions students love to ask, but they haven’t been – can’t be – answered by reading the play in the context of its sources (recently addressed in Laurie Johnson’s The Tain of Hamlet [2013]), its multiple texts (analyzed by Paul Menzer in The Hamlets [2008] and Zachary Lesser in Hamlet after Q1 [2015]), the Protestant reformation (the focus of Stephen Greenblatt’s Hamlet in Purgatory [2001] and John E. Curran, Jr.’s Hamlet, Protestantism, and the Mourning of Contingency [2006]), Renaissance humanism (see Rhodri Lewis, Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness [2017]), Elizabethan political theory (see Margreta de Grazia, Hamlet without Hamlet [2007]), the play’s reception history (see David Bevington, Murder Most Foul: Hamlet through the Ages [2011]), its appropriation by modern philosophers (covered in Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster’s The Hamlet Doctrine [2013] and Andrew Cutrofello’s All for Nothing: Hamlet’s Negativity [2014]), or its recent global travels (addressed, for example, in Margaret Latvian’s Hamlet’s Arab Journey [2011] and Dominic Dromgoole’s Hamlet Globe to Globe [2017]). 

Considering the context and afterlives of Hamlet is a worthy pursuit. I certainly consulted the above books for my essays, yet the confidence that comes from introducing context obscures the sharp panic we feel when confronting Shakespeare’s text itself. Even as the excellent recent book from Sonya Freeman Loftis, Allison Kellar, and Lisa Ulevich announces Hamlet has entered “an age of textual exhaustion,” there’s an odd tendency to avoid the text of Hamlet —to grasp for something more firm—when writing about it. There is a need to return to the text in a more immediate way to understand how Hamlet operates as a literary work, and how it can help us understand the world in which we live. 

That latter goal, yes, clings nostalgically to the notion that literature can help us understand life. Questions about life send us to literature in search of answers. Those of us who love literature learn to ask and answer questions about it as we become professional literary scholars. But often our answers to the questions scholars ask of literature do not connect back up with the questions about life that sent us to literature in the first place—which are often philosophical, ethical, social, and political. Those first-order questions are diluted and avoided in the minutia of much scholarship, left unanswered. Thus, my goal was to pose questions about Hamlet with the urgency of a Shakespeare lover and to answer them with the rigor of a Shakespeare scholar. 

In doing so, these essays challenge the conventional relationship between literature and theory. They pursue a kind of criticism where literature is not merely the recipient of philosophical ideas in the service of exegesis. Instead, the creative risks of literature provide exemplars to be theorized outward to help us understand on-going issues in life today. Beyond an occasion for the demonstration of existing theory, literature is a source for the creation of new theory.

Chapter One How Hamlet Works

Whether you love or hate Hamlet , you can acknowledge its massive popularity. So how does Hamlet work? How does it create audience enjoyment? Why is it so appealing, and to whom? Of all the available options, why Hamlet ? This chapter entertains three possible explanations for why the play is so popular in the modern world: the literary answer (as the English language’s best artwork about death—one of the very few universal human experiences in a modern world increasingly marked by cultural differences— Hamlet is timeless); the theatrical answer (with its mixture of tragedy and comedy, the role of Hamlet requires the best actor of each age, and the play’s popularity derives from the celebrity of its stars); and the philosophical answer (the play invites, encourages, facilitates, and sustains philosophical introspection and conversation from people who do not usually do such things, who find themselves doing those things with Hamlet , who sometimes feel embarrassed about doing those things, but who ultimately find the experience of having done them rewarding).

Chapter Two “It Started Like a Guilty Thing”: The Beginning of Hamlet and the Beginning of Modern Politics

King Hamlet is a tyrant and King Claudius a traitor but, because Shakespeare asked us to experience the events in Hamlet from the perspective of the young Prince Hamlet, we are much more inclined to detect and detest King Claudius’s political failings than King Hamlet’s. If so, then Shakespeare’s play Hamlet , so often seen as the birth of modern psychology, might also tell us a little bit about the beginnings of modern politics as well.

Chapter Three Horatio as Author: Storytelling and Stoic Tragedy

This chapter addresses Horatio’s emotionlessness in light of his role as a narrator, using this discussion to think about Shakespeare’s motives for writing tragedy in the wake of his son’s death. By rationalizing pain and suffering as tragedy, both Horatio and Shakespeare were able to avoid the self-destruction entailed in Hamlet’s emotional response to life’s hardships and injustices. Thus, the stoic Horatio, rather than the passionate Hamlet who repeatedly interrupts ‘The Mousetrap’, is the best authorial avatar for a Shakespeare who strategically wrote himself and his own voice out of his works. This argument then expands into a theory of ‘authorial catharsis’ and the suggestion that we can conceive of Shakespeare as a ‘poet of reason’ in contrast to a ‘poet of emotion’.

Chapter Four “To thine own self be true”: What Shakespeare Says about Sending Our Children Off to College

What does “To thine own self be true” actually mean? Be yourself? Don’t change who you are? Follow your own convictions? Don’t lie to yourself? This chapter argues that, if we understand meaning as intent, then “To thine own self be true” means, paradoxically, that “the self” does not exist. Or, more accurately, Shakespeare’s Hamlet implies that “the self” exists only as a rhetorical, philosophical, and psychological construct that we use to make sense of our experiences and actions in the world, not as anything real. If this is so, then this passage may offer us a way of thinking about Shakespeare as not just a playwright but also a moral philosopher, one who did his ethics in drama.

Chapter Five In Defense of Polonius

Your wife dies. You raise two children by yourself. You build a great career to provide for your family. You send your son off to college in another country, though you know he’s not ready. Now the prince wants to marry your daughter—that’s not easy to navigate. Then—get this—while you’re trying to save the queen’s life, the prince murders you. Your death destroys your kids. They die tragically. And what do you get for your efforts? Centuries of Shakespeare scholars dumping on you. If we see Polonius not through the eyes of his enemy, Prince Hamlet—the point of view Shakespeare’s play asks audiences to adopt—but in analogy to the common challenges of twenty-first-century parenting, Polonius is a single father struggling with work-life balance who sadly choses his career over his daughter’s well-being.

Chapter Six Sigma Alpha Elsinore: The Culture of Drunkenness in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Claudius likes to party—a bit too much. He frequently binge drinks, is arguably an alcoholic, but not an aberration. Hamlet says Denmark is internationally known for heavy drinking. That’s what Shakespeare would have heard in the sixteenth century. By the seventeenth, English writers feared Denmark had taught their nation its drinking habits. Synthesizing criticism on alcoholism as an individual problem in Shakespeare’s texts and times with scholarship on national drinking habits in the early-modern age, this essay asks what the tragedy of alcoholism looks like when located not on the level of the individual, but on the level of a culture, as Shakespeare depicted in Hamlet. One window into these early-modern cultures of drunkenness is sociological studies of American college fraternities, especially the social-learning theories that explain how one person—one culture—teaches another its habits. For Claudius’s alcoholism is both culturally learned and culturally significant. And, as in fraternities, alcoholism in Hamlet is bound up with wealth, privilege, toxic masculinity, and tragedy. Thus, alcohol imagistically reappears in the vial of “cursed hebona,” Ophelia’s liquid death, and the poisoned cup in the final scene—moments that stand out in recent performances and adaptations with alcoholic Claudiuses and Gertrudes.

Chapter Seven Tragic Foundationalism

This chapter puts the modern philosopher Alain Badiou’s theory of foundationalism into dialogue with the early-modern playwright William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet . Doing so allows us to identify a new candidate for Hamlet’s traditionally hard-to-define hamartia – i.e., his “tragic mistake” – but it also allows us to consider the possibility of foundationalism as hamartia. Tragic foundationalism is the notion that fidelity to a single and substantive truth at the expense of an openness to evidence, reason, and change is an acute mistake which can lead to miscalculations of fact and virtue that create conflict and can end up in catastrophic destruction and the downfall of otherwise strong and noble people.

Chapter Eight “As a stranger give it welcome”: Shakespeare’s Advice for First-Year College Students

Encountering a new idea can be like meeting a strange person for the first time. Similarly, we dismiss new ideas before we get to know them. There is an answer to the problem of the human antipathy to strangeness in a somewhat strange place: a single line usually overlooked in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet . If the ghost is “wondrous strange,” Hamlet says, invoking the ancient ethics of hospitality, “Therefore as a stranger give it welcome.” In this word, strange, and the social conventions attached to it, is both the instinctual, animalistic fear and aggression toward what is new and different (the problem) and a cultivated, humane response in hospitality and curiosity (the solution). Intellectual xenia is the answer to intellectual xenophobia.

Chapter Nine Parallels in Hamlet

Hamlet is more parallely than other texts. Fortinbras, Hamlet, and Laertes have their fathers murdered, then seek revenge. Brothers King Hamlet and King Claudius mirror brothers Old Norway and Old Fortinbras. Hamlet and Ophelia both lose their fathers, go mad, but there’s a method in their madness, and become suicidal. King Hamlet and Polonius are both domineering fathers. Hamlet and Polonius are both scholars, actors, verbose, pedantic, detectives using indirection, spying upon others, “by indirections find directions out." King Hamlet and King Claudius are both kings who are killed. Claudius using Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet mirrors Polonius using Reynaldo to spy on Laertes. Reynaldo and Hamlet both pretend to be something other than what they are in order to spy on and detect foes. Young Fortinbras and Prince Hamlet both have their forward momentum “arrest[ed].” Pyrrhus and Hamlet are son seeking revenge but paused a “neutral to his will.” The main plot of Hamlet reappears in the play-within-the-play. The Act I duel between King Hamlet and Old Fortinbras echoes in the Act V duel between Hamlet and Laertes. Claudius and Hamlet are both king killers. Sheesh—why are there so many dang parallels in Hamlet ? Is there some detectable reason why the story of Hamlet would call for the literary device of parallelism?

Chapter Ten Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Why Hamlet Has Two Childhood Friends, Not Just One

Why have two of Hamlet’s childhood friends rather than just one? Do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have individuated personalities? First of all, by increasing the number of friends who visit Hamlet, Shakespeare creates an atmosphere of being outnumbered, of multiple enemies encroaching upon Hamlet, of Hamlet feeling that the world is against him. Second, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not interchangeable, as commonly thought. Shakespeare gave each an individuated personality. Guildenstern is friendlier with Hamlet, and their friendship collapses, while Rosencrantz is more distant and devious—a frenemy.

Chapter Eleven Shakespeare on the Classics, Shakespeare as a Classic: A Reading of Aeneas’s Tale to Dido

Of all the stories Shakespeare might have chosen, why have Hamlet ask the players to recite Aeneas’ tale to Dido of Pyrrhus’s slaughter of Priam? In this story, which comes not from Homer’s Iliad but from Virgil’s Aeneid and had already been adapted for the Elizabethan stage in Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragedy of Dido, Pyrrhus – more commonly known as Neoptolemus, the son of the famous Greek warrior Achilles – savagely slays Priam, the king of the Trojans and the father of Paris, who killed Pyrrhus’s father, Achilles, who killed Paris’s brother, Hector, who killed Achilles’s comrade, Patroclus. Clearly, the theme of revenge at work in this story would have appealed to Shakespeare as he was writing what would become the greatest revenge tragedy of all time. Moreover, Aeneas’s tale to Dido supplied Shakespeare with all of the connections he sought to make at this crucial point in his play and his career – connections between himself and Marlowe, between the start of Hamlet and the end, between Prince Hamlet and King Claudius, between epic poetry and tragic drama, and between the classical literature Shakespeare was still reading hundreds of years later and his own potential as a classic who might (and would) be read hundreds of years into the future.

Chapter Twelve How Theater Works, according to Hamlet

According to Hamlet, people who are guilty of a crime will, when seeing that crime represented on stage, “proclaim [their] malefactions”—but that simply isn’t how theater works. Guilty people sit though shows that depict their crimes all the time without being prompted to public confession. Why did Shakespeare—a remarkably observant student of theater—write this demonstrably false theory of drama into his protagonist? And why did Shakespeare then write the plot of the play to affirm that obviously inaccurate vision of theater? For Claudius is indeed stirred to confession by the play-within-the-play. Perhaps Hamlet’s theory of people proclaiming malefactions upon seeing their crimes represented onstage is not as outlandish as it first appears. Perhaps four centuries of obsession with Hamlet is the English-speaking world proclaiming its malefactions upon seeing them represented dramatically.

Chapter Thirteen “To be, or not to be”: Shakespeare Against Philosophy

This chapter hazards a new reading of the most famous passage in Western literature: “To be, or not to be” from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet . With this line, Hamlet poses his personal struggle, a question of life and death, as a metaphysical problem, as a question of existence and nothingness. However, “To be, or not to be” is not what it seems to be. It seems to be a representation of tragic angst, yet a consideration of the context of the speech reveals that “To be, or not to be” is actually a satire of philosophy and Shakespeare’s representation of the theatricality of everyday life. In this chapter, a close reading of the context and meaning of this passage leads into an attempt to formulate a Shakespearean image of philosophy.

Chapter Fourteen Contagious Suicide in and Around Hamlet

As in society today, suicide is contagious in Hamlet , at least in the example of Ophelia, the only death by suicide in the play, because she only becomes suicidal after hearing Hamlet talk about his own suicidal thoughts in “To be, or not to be.” Just as there are media guidelines for reporting on suicide, there are better and worse ways of handling Hamlet . Careful suicide coverage can change public misperceptions and reduce suicide contagion. Is the same true for careful literary criticism and classroom discussion of suicide texts? How can teachers and literary critics reduce suicide contagion and increase help-seeking behavior?

Chapter Fifteen Is Hamlet a Sexist Text? Overt Misogyny vs. Unconscious Bias

Students and fans of Shakespeare’s Hamlet persistently ask a question scholars and critics of the play have not yet definitively answered: is it a sexist text? The author of this text has been described as everything from a male chauvinist pig to a trailblazing proto-feminist, but recent work on the science behind discrimination and prejudice offers a new, better vocabulary in the notion of unconscious bias. More pervasive and slippery than explicit bigotry, unconscious bias involves the subtle, often unintentional words and actions which indicate the presence of biases we may not be aware of, ones we may even fight against. The Shakespeare who wrote Hamlet exhibited an unconscious bias against women, I argue, even as he sought to critique the mistreatment of women in a patriarchal society. The evidence for this unconscious bias is not to be found in the misogynistic statements made by the characters in the play. It exists, instead, in the demonstrable preference Shakespeare showed for men over women when deciding where to deploy his literary talents. Thus, Shakespeare's Hamlet is a powerful literary example – one which speaks to, say, the modern corporation – showing that deliberate efforts for egalitarianism do not insulate one from the effects of structural inequalities that both stem from and create unconscious bias.

Chapter Sixteen Style and Purpose in Acting and Writing

Purpose and style are connected in academic writing. To answer the question of style ( How should we write academic papers? ) we must first answer the question of purpose ( Why do we write academic papers? ). We can answer these questions, I suggest, by turning to an unexpected style guide that’s more than 400 years old: the famous passage on “the purpose of playing” in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet . In both acting and writing, a high style often accompanies an expressive purpose attempting to impress an elite audience yet actually alienating intellectual people, while a low style and mimetic purpose effectively engage an intellectual audience.

Chapter Seventeen 13 Ways of Looking at a Ghost

Why doesn’t Gertrude see the Ghost of King Hamlet in Act III, even though Horatio, Bernardo, Francisco, Marcellus, and Prince Hamlet all saw it in Act I? It’s a bit embarrassing that Shakespeare scholars don’t have a widely agreed-upon consensus that explains this really basic question that puzzles a lot of people who read or see Hamlet .

Chapter Eighteen The Tragedy of Love in Hamlet

The word “love” appears 84 times in Shakespeare’s Hamlet . “Father” only appears 73 times, “play” 60, “think” 55, “mother” 46, “mad” 44, “soul” 40, “God" 39, “death” 38, “life” 34, “nothing” 28, “son” 26, “honor” 21, “spirit” 19, “kill” 18, “revenge” 14, and “action” 12. Love isn’t the first theme that comes to mind when we think of Hamlet , but is surprisingly prominent. But love is tragic in Hamlet . The bloody catastrophe at the end of that play is principally driven not by hatred or a longing for revenge, but by love.

Chapter Nineteen Ophelia’s Songs: Moral Agency, Manipulation, and the Metaphor of Music in Hamlet

This chapter reads Ophelia’s songs in Act IV of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the context of the meaning of music established elsewhere in the play. While the songs are usually seen as a marker of Ophelia’s madness (as a result of the death of her father) or freedom (from the constraints of patriarchy), they come – when read in light of the metaphor of music as manipulation – to symbolize her role as a pawn in Hamlet’s efforts to deceive his family. Thus, music was Shakespeare’s platform for connecting Ophelia’s story to one of the central questions in Hamlet : Do we have control over our own actions (like the musician), or are we controlled by others (like the instrument)?

Chapter Twenty A Quantitative Study of Prose and Verse in Hamlet

Why does Hamlet have so much prose? Did Shakespeare deliberately shift from verse to prose to signal something to his audiences? How would actors have handled the shifts from verse to prose? Would audiences have detected shifts from verse to prose? Is there an overarching principle that governs Shakespeare’s decision to use prose—a coherent principle that says, “If X, then use prose?”

Chapter Twenty-One The Fortunes of Fate in Hamlet : Divine Providence and Social Determinism

In Hamlet , fate is attacked from both sides: “fortune” presents a world of random happenstance, “will” a theory of efficacious human action. On this backdrop, this essay considers—irrespective of what the characters say and believe—what the structure and imagery Shakespeare wrote into Hamlet say about the possibility that some version of fate is at work in the play. I contend the world of Hamlet is governed by neither fate nor fortune, nor even the Christianized version of fate called “providence.” Yet there is a modern, secular, disenchanted form of fate at work in Hamlet—what is sometimes called “social determinism”—which calls into question the freedom of the individual will. As such, Shakespeare’s Hamlet both commented on the transformation of pagan fate into Christian providence that happened in the centuries leading up to the play, and anticipated the further transformation of fate from a theological to a sociological idea, which occurred in the centuries following Hamlet .

Chapter Twenty-Two The Working Class in Hamlet

There’s a lot for working-class folks to hate about Hamlet —not just because it’s old, dusty, difficult to understand, crammed down our throats in school, and filled with frills, tights, and those weird lace neck thingies that are just socially awkward to think about. Peak Renaissance weirdness. Claustrophobicly cloistered inside the castle of Elsinore, quaintly angsty over royal family problems, Hamlet feels like the literary epitome of elitism. “Lawless resolutes” is how the Wittenberg scholar Horatio describes the soldiers who join Fortinbras’s army in exchange “for food.” The Prince Hamlet who has never worked a day in his life denigrates Polonius as a “fishmonger”: quite the insult for a royal advisor to be called a working man. And King Claudius complains of the simplicity of "the distracted multitude.” But, in Hamlet , Shakespeare juxtaposed the nobles’ denigrations of the working class as readily available metaphors for all-things-awful with the rather valuable behavior of working-class characters themselves. When allowed to represent themselves, the working class in Hamlet are characterized as makers of things—of material goods and services like ships, graves, and plays, but also of ethical and political virtues like security, education, justice, and democracy. Meanwhile, Elsinore has a bad case of affluenza, the make-believe disease invented by an American lawyer who argued that his client's social privilege was so great that it created an obliviousness to law. While social elites rot society through the twin corrosives of political corruption and scholarly detachment, the working class keeps the machine running. They build the ships, plays, and graves society needs to function, and monitor the nuts-and-bolts of the ideals—like education and justice—that we aspire to uphold.

Chapter Twenty-Three The Honor Code at Harvard and in Hamlet

Students at Harvard College are asked, when they first join the school and several times during their years there, to affirm their awareness of and commitment to the school’s honor code. But instead of “the foundation of our community” that it is at Harvard, honor is tragic in Hamlet —a source of anxiety, blunder, and catastrophe. As this chapter shows, looking at Hamlet from our place at Harvard can bring us to see what a tangled knot honor can be, and we can start to theorize the difference between heroic and tragic honor.

Chapter Twenty-Four The Meaning of Death in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

By connecting the ways characters live their lives in Hamlet to the ways they die – on-stage or off, poisoned or stabbed, etc. – Shakespeare symbolized hamartia in catastrophe. In advancing this argument, this chapter develops two supporting ideas. First, the dissemination of tragic necessity: Shakespeare distributed the Aristotelian notion of tragic necessity – a causal relationship between a character’s hamartia (fault or error) and the catastrophe at the end of the play – from the protagonist to the other characters, such that, in Hamlet , those who are guilty must die, and those who die are guilty. Second, the spectacularity of death: there exists in Hamlet a positive correlation between the severity of a character’s hamartia (error or flaw) and the “spectacularity” of his or her death – that is, the extent to which it is presented as a visible and visceral spectacle on-stage.

Chapter Twenty-Five Tragic Excess in Hamlet

In Hamlet , Shakespeare paralleled the situations of Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras (the father of each is killed, and each then seeks revenge) to promote the virtue of moderation: Hamlet moves too slowly, Laertes too swiftly – and they both die at the end of the play – but Fortinbras represents a golden mean which marries the slowness of Hamlet with the swiftness of Laertes. As argued in this essay, Shakespeare endorsed the virtue of balance by allowing Fortinbras to be one of the very few survivors of the play. In other words, excess is tragic in Hamlet .


Anand, Manpreet Kaur. An Overview of Hamlet Studies . Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2019.

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William Shakespeare: Hamlet’s Actions and Inactions Essay (Critical Writing)

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“Hamlet” is a play for all times. Its protagonist is a contradictory and mysterious person. If he is guided by blind revenge or righteous feel of justice, why he hesitates and lingers to punish culprits if he is prudent or light-minded – these adages may be united under two maxims:” Look before you leap” and “He who hesitates is lost”. This paper is an attempt to analyze Hamlet’s actions and inactions to prove the authenticity of the application of these maxims to the protagonist.

Although the scene of the play is laid in the Danish Kingdom, the problems involve the whole of mankind to think over this play. In the first act, we get acquainted with Hamlet and it gives us some intellectual challenge. The protagonist is a noble hero, he has a philosophical set of minds, he judges everything from the height of moral virtues, but he has found himself in a complicated and even tragic predicament after having known about his mother and uncles betray. The old world is destructed, and the Ghost asks Hamlet to take responsibility and revenge for his father’s death and restore universal justice. Hamlet obeys the Ghost and is careless of consequences. Here we see the first “leap” of Hamlet because he takes too much upon himself. But this proves the Prince to be an ideal person of the Renaissance.

Hamlet disguises himself as a madman. He should convince everybody that he has gone insane. Being a jester gives an opportunity to tell everything he thinks about. The Prince gives praise to Human beings, calls him perfect, but here we hear the disappointment in life values. All Universal lacks any sense. Hamlet became animated when remembering an old play about the murder of Priam by Pyrrhus. This scene has a very emotional moment when the Prince remembers Priam’s wife Hecuba. For Hamlet it is very important: Hecuba is a faithful wife and Queen Gertrude – not. Anguish comes to the surface again, but reproaches about inaction mingle with this anguish. Why does he linger? Why not avenge his father’s death? He is angry with himself and calls himself pejorative names: “what a rogue and peasant slave am I” (Hamlet, Act II). This is an example of his hesitations.

The famous soliloquy “To be or not to be” is the culmination of Hamlet’s doubts. “To suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Hamlet, Act III) directly refers to the situation Hamlet is in: to fight against evil or avoid struggle. Desires controvert virtues. Hesitation is grounded on fear. The Prince is afraid to suffer a defeat. His views on life are destructed, and his goddess Justice is blind. Does he have enough powers to resist the temptation of inactivity and sleep peacefully? Once again, the Prince is prevented from action by his hesitancy. Hamlet does not moralize. He is lost in the world, lost in his hesitations. He cannot draw a demarcation line between reality and his feigned insanity. Hamlet chooses “to be”, but “to be” means to die. He claims that death is inevitable, but hesitates because it is unknown as well. The soliloquy expresses Hamlet’s torment of mind. He is determined to kill the King, but he is unsure if it will bring good or harm.

Now nothing can stop Hamlet and there is a right moment. Hamlet finds Claudius praying, but he cannot kill him. The prayer defends the King and Hamlet does not want him to die sinless. It leads to Heaven, but Claudius does not deserve it. And here Hamlet should think before he leaps. The Prince just excuses his hesitation by waiting for some other appropriate fatal occasion. He wants his revenge to be perfect and edifying. If not – he refuses it completely. He has no time to consider the circumstances and kills Polonius, once more “leaping” before thinking.

Laertes wants to compete in fencing with Hamlet and kill him during this duel. Laertes’ sword will be poisoned and the Prince will die from the wound. Hamlet is tortured by forebodings of evil. Horatio suggests declining the duel. But Hamlet’s response astonishes by its wisdom. Come what may, what must be will be, there exists some Divine power that rules the world – such thoughts occur in Hamlet’s mind for the first time.

Hamlet is uncertain whether he can believe the Ghost. He scruples to trust everybody: Ophelia, Horatio, Gertrude. He is even unsure of himself. When a troupe of actors comes, he gets inspired with his new intention. To re-act, the murder of his father means to punish the culprits. Hamlet mocks the evils of life, thus trying to delete them from reality. He is just satisfied when everybody sees that it is his uncle who has killed Hamlet’s father. His suspicions are confirmed, but he never tries to return for evil. And it happens but by an accident. Hamlet makes no attempt to punish the King. So Hamlet “leaps” into the struggle, but with much hesitation. On one hand, he is a loser, because he died, on the other – a winner, because culprits endured the punishment. He reflects upon his infirmity but does not try to put his intentions into practice. He is obsessed with thinking, not acting. This is his essence and escapes from reality. Only death can bring deliverance and oblivion from uncertainty.

Hamlet is not remarkable for willpower or determination, foresight and deep consideration. But we enjoy refined thoughts and genuine sentiments of his. The Prince lacks deliberateness in actions; he rushes to the whirl of life on the spur of the occasion. If Hamlet were a man of action, he might have killed Claudius at once together with the Queen. And everybody would think him to be a cruel murderer. If he were more prudent, he could have avoided his death and become a King himself. But could he be a good King for his people? A hesitating and indiscreet king can ruin his kingdom. He could save Ophelia, innocent victim of his indifference, Laertes, noble and loving brother. But Hamlet breaks the equilibrium of imaginative and authentic worlds, and reality turns out to be crueler than his fictional insanity. Skepticism, accompanying Hamlet, makes him vulnerable, as only strong beliefs can bring to actions. What if Hamlet has not believed the Ghost at all? Maybe it is conscience that came to him, and if he had not listened to it, his life would be full of scruples of remorse facing his father’s memory. Hamlet, the flesh and blood of his mother, wanted to sentence her to death, and if he had not been stopped by the Ghost, a fatal mistake could have been made.

It is controversial if Hamlet is a hero or a pure madman with judicious observations; his motives are mixed and vague. But we can find Hamlet in ourselves. Like him, we hesitate before an important decision and overestimate our powers. It is in human nature and when Hamlet speaks, he speaks on behalf of all people.

Works Cited

Shakespeare William. Hamlet. NY: Dover Publications, 2004.

  • Summary & Analysis
  • Genre & Literary Analysis
  • Important Quotes
  • Essay Topics
  • Essay Samples
  • Hesitation and Indeterminacy of Hamlet
  • Hamlet And Laertes: A Comparison
  • Hamlet: The Circumstances That Lead Hamlet to Soliloquy
  • “Oedipus the King” Drama by Sophocles
  • “Journey’s End” by Robert Cedric Sherriff
  • Friar Lawrence in “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare
  • People Get What Deserve. “Oedipus the King” Play
  • “Oedipus the King”: Life Is Ruled by Fate Alone
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

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Hamlet thesis statement, what do you think?

So for my English midterm, I either have to write a soliloquy in iambic pentameter for a character other than hamlet or Claudius, or write a conclusive essay. So I decided that I would write about how hamlets "insanity" was a state of mind rather than descent of sanity. My introductory paragraph starts.... William Shakespeare is a masterful craftsman of the human psyche. Although many characters represent an idealistic role of corruption in political and social class, Prince Hamlet strays from these characters "normality" by feigning a madness so dynamic and natural-- that, to this day, critics disagree if this were truly a hoax or reality. With that in mind, there were many factors that built up Hamlet's insanity, including the haunting death of his father, loss of love for Ophelia, and the forsaking of his mother. Was Hamlet truly insane, or was it but a hormonal vengeance that simply washed over his meticulous judgement?

Anyways just some feedback or criticism would greatly be appreciated. Not asking you to write my paper, just peer edit fellow Shakespeare-ians!


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