Hamlet by William
There is something rotten in the state of
Prince Hamlet returns home from university to
discover that his father is dead and mother married to
his uncle Claudius, who has declared himself king
To make matters worse, the ghost of his father appears
to Hamlet and tells Hamlet that he has been murdered.
Hamlet’s dead father demands that Hamlet get revenge
What should he do?
Instead of jumping into action, Hamlet broods over his
options and starts acting very strange
He starts talking in riddles
He acts cruelly to Ophelia, a girl who loves him
He becomes suspicious of everyone
Why is he acting like this?
Is he insane or faking insanity?
Will he make up his mind to take action?
Should he kill his uncle?
Author Background
In 1563, Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, a small
town about 75 miles northwest of London, England
His family was middle class. When he was young, most people
were not educated and could neither read nor write
He went to free grammar school in Stratford where he learned to
speak and write Latin
In 1582, at 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the daughter
of a local farmer. In 1583, Susanna was born and in 1585
Hamnet and Judith were born.
As early as 1586 Shakespeare may have worked in theaters, first in
small jobs, then as an actor and finally as a writer of plays
In 1594, Shakespeare formed a theater company called The Lord
Chamberlain’s Men
General Background
1600 – Sometime around 1600, William Shakespeare, already a
successful playwright, wrote Hamlet.
1601 – The play was probably first performed in 1601 on the stage
of the Globe Theater on London’s Bankside.
The Globe was a sixteen-sided polygon open to the sky
Costumes were elaborate (donations from wealthy patrons) but the
stage sets were very modest.
The clues to time of day or place are included in the language
The theater had two trapdoors, one above the stage and one
below, the lower trap-door is where Hamlet’s father appears
General Background
The period in which Shakespeare wrote is the Elizabethan period,
part of the Renaissance (was influenced by classics and optimistic
forward-thinking approach to human potential)
Queen Elizabeth saw many of Shakespeare’s plays in special court
To the Elizabethans, social order was very important. As in any
time, political and religious conflicts were a part of the national
Hamlet depicts a conflict over what to do when an orderly state is
actually corrupt inside and there seems to be no civilized answer
Shakespeare’s Sources for Hamlet
Hamlet is based on a twelfth-century story about an early Prince of
Denmark, Amleth. The tale, by Saxo Grammaticus, was published
in Latin in 1514, but most scholars believe that Shakespeare read a
1570 French version of the story by Francois Belleforest. The old
story has many similarities with Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Tragedies of the Roman dramatist, Seneca
Thomas Kyd’s hugely popular play The Spanish Tragedy
Play, now lost, which is known as the Ur-Hamlet (Ur means early)
– a play of Hamlet that existed at least 10 years before
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but Shakespeare transformed the genre as
well as the character of Hamlet.
Major Themes
Corruption (individual, political, personal)
Subordination of women
Major Themes
Fate - are the characters actually in charge of their own lives and actions?
Corruption (political, personal) – what characters are corrupt personally?
Are all political systems corrupt? Is there anything any character can
personally do?
Ambition – is it good to be ambitious (strive for more power)? What
characters have ambition and what characters do not?
Revenge – is revenge justified for certain crimes?
Guilt – What characters feel guilt for what actions? Should some of the
characters feel guilt who do not? What does guilt do to some of the
characters over time?
Subordination of women – What role do women play in politics and in
the family? Should women be held to a higher moral standard than men
in some regards?
Theater – Who is acting? What characters can be trusted? Why can these
be trusted and not others?
Shakespeare’s Language (stylistic devices)
Blank verse – iambic pentameter without rhyme
Iambic Pentameter – a line ten syllables long that is
accented on every second beat.
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks/ It is the east and
Juliet is the sun.
O that this too too solid flesh would melt/Thaw and resolve itself into
a dew
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day/Thou art more lovely and
more temperate
Imagery (decay and death; reality and unreality)
Doubling (pairing of characters and situations)
Use of a foil – creation of a character whose primary purpose is to
contrast another character
Soliloquy (abounds in this play)
Shakespeare’s language cont.
Antithesis – the opposition of words or phrases against each other
“To be or not to be:”
“I must be cruel only to be kind.”
“Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned.”
Antithesis powerfully expresses conflict through its use of opposites,
and conflict is the essence of all drama.
In Hamlet conflict occurs in many forms. Claudius vs. Hamlet,
revenge vs. justice, appearance vs. reality, son vs. mother etc.
Antithesis intensifies that sense of conflict, and embodies its different
Shakespeare’s language cont.
Apostrophe - Most often, apostrophe occurs when one
addresses oneself to an abstraction, to an inanimate
object, or to the absent. (tool of hyperbole)
“O God, God/How (weary), stale, flat, and
unprofitable/Seem to me all the uses of this world.”
Metafiction It is a kind of fiction that comments on the very
devices of fiction it employs. It usually involves irony and is selfreflective.
Metadrama is similar. It is drama that calls attention to itself as a
play or has occasion to comment on its own actions and devices.
These devices are most apparent in the play-within-the play in
Hamlet but also subtlety throughout the play as a whole in the
constant juxtaposition of appearance vs. reality as well as the many
faces of Hamlet, himself.
Discussion Starters
Hamlet is concerned by the marriage of his uncle to his mother
and by his uncle becoming king
Who would you expect to be king after Hamlet’s father dies?
If Hamlet were your friend, what would you advise him?
How does power shift in Hamlet’s family after his father’s
Discussion Starters
Hamlet believes that his father’s ghost is asking him to get
revenge for his murder.
How would you react in this situation? Why?
Do you think revenge is a good response to criminal
acts? Why or why not?

Hamlet by William Shakespeare - Garnet Valley School District