Hamlet Themes

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Themes

Revenge

Deals with Hamlet’s inner struggles to take action - he delays his revenge Foils - Laertes and Fortinbras both take swift and immediate action that sets off and highlights Hamlet's infamous delay. Questions the validity and usefulness of revenge by the end of the play; while seeking revenge, both Laertes and Hamlet die. Difficult to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys”, as many characters are plotting immoral plans and attempting to execute them.

Lies and Deceit

Guildenstern and Rosencrantz - try to trick Hamlet into telling them what is wrong, by order of the king. They also don’t tell him that, as he is going to England, the King was ordered to kill him immediately. They are being fake “friends” to him King Claudius - kills King Hamlet and tries to conceal this crime. Also, attempts to pray, but cannot because he is remorseful of his crime, but does not want to give up all that he has gained from it. He also plots to kill Hamlet by sending him to England, a sword dipped in poison and a poisoned drink. Hamlet is miserable in Denmark not just because of his father's death, but because he craves honesty while everyone else around him is engaged in deception and manipulation.

Madness

Hamlet's "antic disposition" sparks a debate: Does Hamlet truly go "mad" or is it all an act? The ambiguity of Hamlet's mental state and erratic behavior is compelling and seems to speak to the play's overall atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt. Ophelia's clear descent into madness (and subsequent drowning) is somewhat of a different issue. Ophelia seemingly cracks under the strain of Hamlet's abuse and the weight of patriarchal forces, which has important implications for the play's portrayal of gender and sex.

Mortality and Death

Hamlet's musings on suicide continue to direct discussions of the value of life and the mystery of death, though he never commits suicide himself. Ophelia, who never...
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