Hamlet Critical Study Essay

Hamlet Resources

Please see the main Hamlet page for the complete play with explanatory notes and study questions for each scene.

 Introduction to Hamlet
 Hamlet: Problem Play and Revenge Tragedy
 The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot
 The Norway Subplot in Hamlet
 Introduction to the Characters in Hamlet

 Hamlet Plot Summary
 The Purpose of The Murder of Gonzago
 The Dumb-Show: Why Hamlet Reveals his Knowledge to Claudius
 The Elder Hamlet: The Kingship of Hamlet's Father
 Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost

 Philological Examination Questions on Hamlet
 Quotations from Hamlet (with commentary)
 Hamlet Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
 Analysis of I am sick at heart (1.1)
 Hamlet: Q & A

 Soliloquy Analysis: O this too too... (1.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!... (2.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: To be, or not to be... (3.1)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Tis now the very witching time of night... (3.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Now might I do it pat... (3.3)
 Soliloquy Analysis: How all occasions do inform against me... (4.4)

 Ophelia's Burial and Christian Rituals
 The Baker's Daughter: Ophelia's Nursery Rhymes
 Hamlet as National Hero
 Claudius and the Condition of Denmark

 In Secret Conference: The Meeting Between Claudius and Laertes
 O Jephthah - Toying with Polonius
 The Death of Polonius and its Impact on Hamlet's Character
 Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet

 Hamlet Essay Topics
 Hamlet's Silence
 An Excuse for Doing Nothing: Hamlet's Delay
 Foul Deeds Will Rise: Hamlet and Divine Justice
 Defending Claudius - The Charges Against the King
 Shakespeare's Fools: The Grave-Diggers in Hamlet

 Hamlet's Humor: The Wit of Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark
 All About Yorick
 Hamlet's Melancholy: The Transformation of the Prince
 Hamlet's Antic Disposition: Is Hamlet's Madness Real?

 The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
 The Significance of Ophelia's Flowers
 Ophelia and Laertes
 Mistrusted Love: Ophelia and Polonius

 Divine Providence in Hamlet
 What is Tragic Irony?
 Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
 Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet

 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers

In the Spotlight


Quote in Context

O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
                                                           Hamlet (2.2), Hamlet

In addition to revealing Hamlet's plot to catch the king in his guilt, Hamlet's second soliloquy uncovers the very essence of Hamlet's true conflict. For he is undeniably committed to seeking revenge for his father, yet he cannot act on behalf of his father due to his revulsion toward extracting that cold and calculating revenge. Read on...

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Hamlet History

King Claudius. Our son shall win.
Queen Gertrude. He's fat, and scant of breath.
                                                     Hamlet (5.2)

Gertrude's startling description of her son is not quite what we modern readers have in mind when envisioning the brooding young Prince Hamlet. But how can we explain the Queen's frank words? There is evidence to believe that Shakespeare had to work around the rotund stature of his good friend Richard Burbage, the first actor to play Hamlet. "As he was a portly man of large physique, it was natural that the strenuous exertion bring out the fact that he was fat or out of training, as well as scant of breath....He was the first and the last fat Hamlet" (Blackmore, Riddles of Hamlet). An elegy written upon Burbage's death in 1619 convincingly ties "King Dick", as he was affectionately called by his fellow actors, to the line in question:
No more young Hamlet, though but scant of breath, Shall cry Revenge! for his dear father's death.
                                            (A Funeral Elegy)
It is natural to wonder why the death of Burbage was a national tragedy, while the passing of Shakespeare himself just three years earlier received such little attention. There seems, however, to be a simple answer. Read on...
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Hamlet critical study essay

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In the context of your critical study, to what extent does your response to the closing scenes of Hamlet inform your judgement of this play as a whole? In your response, make detailed reference to Hamlet. Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Hamlet, (1601), redefined the genre by exploring universal and timeless themes such as honour, deception and love in the context of the political and social change which was occurring during England in the 17th century. Shakespeare uses the revenge tragedy to create conflict between characters that is dramatically involving for the audience and allows for multiple nterpretations of the significance of Hamlet avenging his father, his apparent madness and the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude. The final scenes do not ostensibly clarify these concerns however it is the cryptic nature of Hamlet which makes it such a timeless captivating play. In the first act, Hamlets encounter with the ghost establishes the struggle between avenging the honour of his murdered father and his own integrity. Hamlet is bound by his promise to “sweep to (his fathers) revenge” but for the majority of the play he is unable to carry out his duty, as “conscience does make owards of us all” The alliteration of this line emphasises Hamlets inaction, and this is juxtaposed with the immediate reaction of Laertes reaction to his own fathers death. He states that he would be willing to “cut (hamlets) throat i’ th’ church” for killing Polonius, a biblical allusion that conveys the extent of his rage. As he dies however, Laertes offers to “exchange forgiveness” with Hamlet and absolves him of Polonius death. Hamlet does eventually kill Claudius regaining his honour but he himself is also killed along with Gertrude. His request to

Horatio to “report me and my cause a right to the unsatisfied” suggests the unsettled political and social nature of the play, even in its final moments. Fortinbras’ arrival with the ambassadors, symbolically restoring order to Denmark, does little to resolve the question of Honour as “the sight is dismal and (their) affairs from England come too late” is contrasted by “bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage” which suggests that indeed Hamlet was an honourable man. Deception is demonstrated in the question of the legitimacy of Hamlets madness which is never conclusively proved.

His “antic disposition” in Act 1 forms the basis for the motif of pretence that recurs throughout the play. Polonius asks Ophelia if Hamlet is “mad for thy love? ” and his imitation of insanity is often so plausible that when the audience is presented with a plausible reason for his madness such as losing Ophelia that the distinction between appearance and reality become less definite. Deception is also evident in Hamlets self-reflexive nature, constantly drawing attention to its status as a play and the limitations of the form through the metatheatrical staging of “the mousetrap” in order to omment on the fallibility of human perception. Deception could be blamed for the denouement of the play, as Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet are punished, emphasised through the exclamations “villainy!…. Treachary! ” and Laertes repetition of “the king, the king’s to blame”. However the characterisation of Hamlet as an emotionally sensitive and delicate man with a “noble mind” uses pathos to subvert the audience’s traditional expectations of a traditional revenge hero. Thus his death is the final scenes do not bring the concern of deception to sufficient conclusion; rather it conveys a sense of injustice. This sense of ambiguity inherent throughout the play coupled with the exploration of human nature and its flaws serves to create an intriguing and timeless piece. The ambiguity of Hamlets relationship with Gertrude is maintained from the beginning of the play to the end as he vacillate s between affection and aggression for her. He is disgusted by her “incestuous” marriage of “most wicked speed” so soon after his father’s death when at the funeral she was “like Niobe, all tears”, a simile that alludes to Greek mythology.

Hamlets feelings for Gertrude are often interpreted differently in different productions however most commonly portrayed as an oedipal complex or jealousy of the throne. He does genuinely seem to love her as he resolves to metaphorically “speak daggers to her, but use none”. His final words in the closing scene as she dies “wretched queen, adieu” are a poignant conclusion to their relationship and expresses his grief. While it appears they are reconciled in death, the audience is left wondering whether Gertrude was a knowing participant in Claudius plan or an innocent victim.

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Her death adds to the confusion in the final scenes of the play and leaves Hamlets accusations of her “o’hasty marriage” unresolved. Hamlet is essentially an exploration of human nature and its flaws through a variety of characters, plot devices, theatrical and literary techniques that combine to form a coherent whole, however inconclusive it may be. The final scenes do little to inform a judgment on the play as a whole due to contrasting and ambiguous intricacies. This is done purposely and skilfully by Shakespeare to leave an individual with the task of interpreting the play for themselves.

Author: Brandon Johnson

in Hamlet

Hamlet critical study essay

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