Hamlet's Struggle with Time out of Joint

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Hamlet's Struggle with "time out of joint"

The time is out of joint./O curséd spite, that I was ever born to set it right. This essay will examine Hamlet’s dramatic struggle to “set time right”. The issue will be divieded in two parts, one the upset to Denmark and Elsinore, the other the struggle to repair it; each shall be dealt with in turn. From the opening few lines of Hamlet we know that things are not 'right' in Denmark. The opening Act of the play is an unfolding litany of portents and signs until in Scene 5 the Ghost tells Hamlet of the murder by Claudius. We have already heard, in his first soliloquy, of Hamlet's struggles; in this case his depression and suicidal thoughts. This is typical of Hamlet's struggle in the first part of the play, the struggle is an internal one. It is only later that the struggle becomes an external, physical one. We will also see that Hamlet's struggle is more than just one of revenge, it also encompasses life over death and love over hate before returning to revenge.

The first line of Hamlet, Barnardo's peremptory "Who's there?" when he approaches Francisco's guard post, rather than the more usual challenge of the guard, tells us that the soldiers are nervous in their duties. When Horatio and Marcellus arrive they also give us signs of upset with their talk of the war with Fortinbras of Norway. Marcellus enquires :-

Why this same strict and most observant watch

So nightly toils the subject of the land,

And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,

And foreign mart for implements of war,

Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task

Does not divide the Sunday from the week:

What might be toward that this sweaty haste

Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day,...

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...ue to his 1948 film version of the play, "This is the story of a man who cannot make up his mind." In the final analysis that may well be Hamlet's struggle.


1 Germaine Greer, Shakespeare (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986), p. 58

2 Laurence Olivier(Director), Hamlet (Rank Film Distributors, London, 1948)


Bradley, A.C., Shakespearean Tragedy. London:Macmillan, 1957.

French, Marilyn, Shakespeare's Division Of Experience. New York:Summit Books, 1981

Greer, Germaine, Shakespeare. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1986

Kott, Jan, Shakespeare Our Contemporary. London:Methuen, 1695

Olivier, Laurence (Director), Hamlet. London:Rank Film Distributors, 1948

Rowse, Alfred Leslie, The Annotated Shakespeare. London:Orbis Publishing, 1978

Shakespeare, William, Hamlet. London:Macmillan Education, 1973
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