Areas of study

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Areas of study

The following are all ways of looking at the text. They may be the subject of a question or they may simply be a part of an answer. Whichever, they are interesting and useful starting points for a close reading of the play. You will need to know quotes to support and develop your ideas. This will allow you then to explore and analyse the sub-text more fully. You can use the questions here as essay questions too.

Hamlet is a Revenge Tragedy. Hamlet wants revenge for his father's death but is too much the Renaissance scholar to pursue it single-mindedly. Laertes and Fortinbras provide a dramatic contrast to Hamlet. While Fortinbras will go to war over an "eggshell", Hamlet worries himself to death over every step of his revenge, leading to prolonged inaction.

What questions about the place of revenge in Renaissance society are raised through these contrasts?

How sympathetic are the audience to Hamlet's dilemmas?

To what extent do the soliloquies explore the moral questions of revenge?

To what extent is revenge the driving force behind the drama of the play?

The nature of duty to the state and to family is explored on many different levels. Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras are all engaged in demonstrations of filial duty; Ophelia is the victim of the same demands; Gertrude is torn in two; and even Claudius sees he has a duty to the State. The central problem for all these characters, except for Fortinbras, is that their sense of duty conflicts with the amoral and complex world in which they exist.

How do different characters perceive and act on their idea of duty?

How does the end of the play leave the audience feeling about Duty?

How effective is the use of contrast in the play's exploration of this theme?

This is a huge area in the play. It's rife with imagery of rot and canker and the action of the play demonstrates the same corruption. Denmark is described as "rotten"; Hamlet's nature has "a vicious mole"; and Claudius can be described as the cancer at the heart of Denmark, spreading disease through the whole body politic. Sex and sexuality are nearly always described in terms and imagery connected to disease and bestiality.

Trace the use of disease imagery through the play.

In what ways are disease and madness linked in the play?

In what ways does the corruption in Denmark manifest itself?

Is Hamlet mad? This question is, in fact, irrelevant. Hamlet's behaviour verges on madness for much of the play, and events conspire to turn the wits of Ophelia later on. In many ways this can be seen as a reasonable response to the madness of the world around them and the grief they suffer. Passages of seeming madness often contain insight and clear understanding. The clashes between madness and sanity, and illusion and truth, lie at the heart of much of the play's dramatic conflict.

How sympathetic are we to Hamlet's "antic disposition"?

How convincing do you find Ophelia's madness and in what ways is it important to the play?

In what ways might Hamlet's madness actually be seen as the "canker" at the centre of Denmark?

Illusion and reality

Natural and unnatural


The play within the play

Death and the afterlife - inc. the Ghost


Hamlet's soliloquies

The Court

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern