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Themes in Hamlet

Powerful Essays
Themes in Hamlet

Within the Shakespearean tragic drama Hamlet there are a number of themes. Literary critics find it difficult to agree on the ranking of the themes. This essay will present the themes as they are illustrated in the play – and let the reader prioritize them.

Michael Neill in “None Can Escape Death, the ‘Undiscovered Country’” interprets the main theme of the play as a “prolonged meditation on death”:

How we respond to the ending of Hamlet – both as revenge drama and as psychological study – depends in part on how we respond to [the most important underlying theme] of the play – that is, to Hamlet as a prolonged meditation on death. The play is virtually framed by two encounters with the dead: at one end is the Ghost, at the other a pile of freshly excavated skulls. The skulls (all but one) are nameless and silent; the Ghost has an identity (though a questionable one) and a voice; yet they are more alike than at first seem. For this ghost, though invulnerable “as the air,” is described as a “dead corse,” a “ghost . . . come from the grave,” its appearance suggesting a grotesque disinterment of the buried king. The skulls for their part may be silent, but Hamlet plays upon each to draw out its own “excellent voice” just as he engineered that “miraculous organ” of the Ghost’s utterance, the “Mousetrap.” (112-13)

The interpretation of the main theme of the play as revenge is popular among literary critics: Phyllis Abrahms and Alan Brody in “Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy Formula” decide on revenge as the dominant theme:

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 ...

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...eath, the ‘Undiscovered Country’.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from “Hamlet: A Modern Perspective.” The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. N. P.: Folger Shakespeare Lib., 1992.

Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Excerpted from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html

West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.
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