Story Symbols and Themes

Elsinore—The castle wherein the drama unfolds symbolizes a kind of microcosm of the world. It provides the perfect atmosphere for the kind of claustrophobic action that takes place: Hamlet walking for hours in the lobby, pacing back and forth; Polonius and Claudius spying upon the prince as he meets with Ophelia and with Gertrude; the appearance of a supernatural being like a visitor form another world; the descent into madness; the obsessive thought patterns; and the gloomy setting. Elsinore symbolizes a world on the verge of being invaded by outside forces (Norway literally, and modern thought and Protestant theology figuratively). On the inside it symbolizes a world torn apart by corrupt leaders and generations out of touch with one another.

Doubt—Doubt plays a dominant role in Hamlet’s psyche. Having been schooled at the university where Martin Luther famously taught, Hamlet might be said to have been raised to doubt. This doubt may be what is beyond his intense introspection. Its negative consequences, however, are seen in his inability to pursue justice as readily as Laertes pursues revenge. As Hamlet yields more and more to the doubt in his own mind, he begins to doubt the point of suffering existence at all. Doubt, in other words, leads Hamlet to a slippery slope that ends with his impulsive slaughter of Polonius.

Conception—Conception is an image that fills the drama throughout. It is also one that disturbs the hero of the tragedy as he begins to descend into anxiety, rage and madness. It is during one of his most impassioned rants that he decries procreation as an act in which sinners are bred. For Hamlet, the problem of conception is the problem of life, and the problem of life is the problem of evil. As Hamlet struggles to understand how evil can exist alongside good, the notion of new life becomes something repugnant to him. However, once the prince is restored to a proper sense of balance, the image of conception (uttered by Gertrude at the grave of Ophelia) is...

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Essays About Hamlet