Hamlet written by Williams Shakespeare is a significant work in British literature. Its setting is in Denmark, it starts when the old king Hamlet died and in the first Act the Ghost of the old king, Hamlet’s father appears. He wants to speak to Hamlet because of his murder, and Claudius took his throne. He wants Hamlet to take revenge on his uncle. First, Hamlet struggles whether he can trust this ghost, but he wants to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet experiences feelings of indecisiveness but also grief and disgust by his mother’s remarriage. The ghost of old Hamlet can be considered as a symbol of death and supernatural powers. It also foreshadows how though times are coming ahead in the country.
The old king Hamlet was portrayed as a strong ruler under whose rule the state of Denmark flourished; meanwhile, the new ruler Claudius is a corrupt politician. Hamlet is considered a tragedy within the genre of drama. The hero of a tragedy generally fails because of his or her actions or a sin committed against him or her. In this case it portrays the tragedy and failure of a whole country so it is considered as a political drama. Furthermore, Hamlet can be categorised as a revenge play in which the protagonist’s main motive is to take revenge. There are many symbols appearing in the play for example the skull, ghost, graveyard, gravediggers and poison.
The discovery of Yorick’s skull is an important moment in the play. “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio” (Act V, scene I, Line 174) Hamlet realises that the skull he is holding belongs to his father’s former court jester, Yorick. The skull symbolises death, decay and that all people are equal after death, and it reminds him of what living beings have to face after death. The gravediggers philosophy about how death makes all people equal in the graveyard whether they committed suicide or not. The poison is a recurring symbol in the drama, when the ghost of former king Hamlet appears, he explains how they poured poison into his ears to kill him.
Poisoning symbolises betrayal, deceit and evilness. In the entire play Hamlet has used archaic diction to suit the era. Many similes and metaphors can be found in the play; for example, “Pale as his shirt”- Act II, Scene I, Line 85. Hamlet is described as being pale like a ghost. On the other hand, a direct metaphor is the following sentence, Denmark is a prison, which means that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. Throughout the play the characters drew connections between the legitimacy of the ruler and the wellbeing of the state. Hamlet speaks a famous soliloquy which begins with the phrase “To be or not to be” in Act III, Scene I, Line 58-90. He tells his monologue when he is alone, which has a lot of different interpretations in literature. Hamlet is meditating about the unfairness of life, to be or not to be. At a number of points in the play Hamlet has contemplated death and suicide.
Another important character in the play is Gertrud, Hamlet’s mother and the Queen of Denmark. She was married to the murdered king, her close relationship to the male characters shows she is a key figure. King Hamlet’s death and the Gertrude’s wedding to Claudius happened immediately prior to the start of the play’s events. Therefore, Hamlet is disgusted and angry at his mother’s actions because he married too soon after the death of his father. Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship is bad at the start of the play because of these events. After that Gertrude is considered to be neither a positive nor a negative character.
Hamlet was disappointed because of his father’s sudden death and these events disturbed Hamlet’s development into an adult, and it led to a regression in his life. This meant that he had suicidal thoughts and indecisiveness about his actions to help restoring the balance in the kingdom. However, Hamlet was not considered a passive character, later on, he found his mission and fulfilled his duty.
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Leipzig Tauchnitz, 1843
- Hamlet: A Study Commentary, The Wordsmith Guides, H. S. Toshack, WordSmith, 2003
- Hamlet, Or, Shakespeare’s Philosophy of History: A Study of the Spiritual Soul and Unity of Hamlet, Mercade, Williams and Norgate, 1875