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Hamlet -- Theme

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Hamlet -- Theme

There is lively critical debate about the themes in the Shakespearean drama Hamlet and their proper ranking in importance. This paper hopes to discuss the some of the main themes and their significance in the play.

Is procrastination the main theme of the drama? D.G. James in his essay, “The New Doubt,” expresses his view:

But few of us will deny that Hamlet’s procrastination is the major fact in the play and that it was intended by Shakespeare to be so. But are we really to find his procrastination a mystery and to leave it a mystery? Is there really anything mysterious about a man who has come to no clear and practiced sense of life, and who in the face of a shocking situation which quite peculiarly involves him, shuffles, deceives himself, procrastinates, and in his exasperation cruelly persecutes the person he loves best in the world? (46)

Perhaps the most popular theme in the play is that of revenge. R.A. Foakes in “The Play’s Courtly Setting” explains the burden of revenge which the protagonist must carry for the duration of the play:

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 must share the corruption of others in spite of his nobility, and recognize in himself the common features, "we are arrant knaves all." (53)

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 ...

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... and Production. No. 9. Ed. Allardyce Nicoll. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Univ. P., 1956.

James, D.G. “The New Doubt.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Ed. David Bevington. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

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. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html No line nos.
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