In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, doubt is one of the most important themes. In fact, the whole play is based on the story of a ghost who claims to be Hamlet’s father, and nobody can be sure if what he says is the truth. In this essay, I am going to focus on the theme of doubt throughout the play. I will first speak about the opening scene, and then I will talk about the ghost, which is a supernatural element used by Shakespeare to create doubt in the play. I will also analyse the passage in which Hamlet declares his love to Ophelia. Finally, I will briefly discuss Hamlet’s sanity.
What happens in the opening scene is very relevant and foreshadows the atmosphere of the whole play. The sentinel Bernardo comes to relieve Francisco. After an exhausting night of guarding, and because of the dark night, they cannot see each other properly at first. With the first question of the play asked by Bernardo, “Who’s there?” (1.1.1), the audience is directly sent into an atmosphere where everything seems uncertain. Moreover, this is a scene in which “what we are aware of is the frosty night, the officers keeping watch on the battlements, and the foreboding of a tragic action.” And I think that when the audience knows the reasons of the presence on stage of these characters, the impression of uncertainty and doubt about what is going to happen is reinforced.
The presence of the ghost, which is a supernatural element, adds something to the mood of suspicion which was already introduced in the very first lines. The supernatural element is a very good way to introduce the doubt that is going to haunt Hamlet during the whole play.
At first, Horatio seems to be the only one to be doubtful of the existence of the ghost: “Tush, tush, ‘twill not appear” (1.1.28). When Hamlet sees the ghost and listens to him, we can see in his speech that he is directly convinced. When he says “O my prophetic soul!” (1.5.41), we can
Bibliography: Hattaway, Michael, Hamlet (Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987) Jump, John Davies, Shakespeare: Hamlet: a casebook (London: Macmillan, 1968) Shakespeare, William, Hamlet / edited by Harold Jenkins (London; New York: Methuen, 1982) The Norton Shakespeare / Stephen Greenblatt, general editor; Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, [editors]; with an essay on the Shakespearean stage by Andrew Gurr (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997) -------------------------------------------- [ 1 ]. All the quotations I am going to refer to in this essay are from The Norton Shakespeare (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997). [ 2 ]. John Davies Jump, ‘The Opening Scene of Hamlet’, in Shakespeare: Hamlet: a casebook, ed. by T.S. Eliot (London: Macmillan, 1968), p119. [ 3 ]. Michael Hattaway, ‘Moral and Metaphysical Uncertainty in Hamlet’, in Hamlet, ed. by D.G. James (Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987), p82. [ 4 ]. William Shakespeare, Hamlet / edited by Harold Jenkins (London; New York: Methuen, 1982), p125.