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Themes of Hamlet

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Themes of Hamlet  

    The themes within the Shakespearean drama Hamlet are several. Let us discuss in this essay some of the more commonly recognized themes.


In the essay “Hamlet: His Own Falstaff,” Harold Goddard makes a statement of the two main themes of the play, namely war and revenge, relating them to the final scene:


The dead Hamlet is borne out “like a soldier” and the last rites over his body are to be the rites of war. The final word of the text is “shoot.” The last sounds we hear are a dead march and the reverberations of ordnance being shot off. The end crowns the whole. The sarcasm of fate could go no further. Hamlet, who aspired to nobler things, is treated at death as if he were the mere image of his father: a warrior. Shakespeare knew what he was about in making the conclusion of his play martial. Its theme has been war as well as revenge. (23)


The interpretation of the main theme of the play as revenge is stated by Phyllis Abrahms and Alan Brody in “Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy Formula”:


 There are ten deaths in Hamlet, if we include the death of Hamlet’s father and the “make-believe” death of the Player-King. The cause of each can be attributed directly to another character’s action – or lack of it. But if a play is to be a coherent work of art there must be some central action around which all the other parts revolve. What is the central, unifying action of Hamlet? Revenge. (43-44)


R.A. Foakes continues on the revenge theme in “The Play’s Courtly Setting”:


And where there is no legal punishment for his father’s death, he must stoop, driven by the universal wrong, and “being thus be-netted round with villainies”, to revenge. He mu...

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...on Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of “Hamlet and the Court of Elsinore.” Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearean Study and Production. No. 9. Ed. Allardyce Nicoll. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Univ. P., 1956.


Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.


Neill, Michael. “None Can Escape Death, the ‘Undiscovered Country’.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of “Hamlet: A Modern Perspective.” The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. N. P.: Folger Shakespeare Lib., 1992.


Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. No line nos.



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