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Hamlet Essays Questions and Answers Grade 12 pdf

Hamlet Essays Questions and Answers Grade 12 pdf

Hamlet Essays Questions and Answers Grade 12 pdf: There are contextual questions as well as essay questions for The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark .

Quick FACTS about Hamlet

Who wrote Hamlet?

William Shakespeare

What is the Genre of the Story?

Tragedy; revenge tragedy

Who is the Protagonist?

Prince Hamlet

Explain the major conflict that happens in the story

Hamlet feels a responsibility to avenge his father’s murder by his uncle Claudius, but Claudius is now the king and this complicates matters for Prince Hamlet. Moreover, Hamlet has doubts about whether he can trust his father’s ghost, and whether killing Claudius is the appropriate thing to do.

Explain the rising of the action in the story

The ghost appears to Hamlet and tells Hamlet to avenge his murder; Hamlet pretends to be mad to his hide intentions; Hamlet stages the mousetrap play; Hamlet is reluctant to take the opportunity to kill Claudius while he is praying.

What happens in the climax?

When Hamlet violently stabs Polonius through the arras in Act III, scene iv, he brings himself into unavoidable conflict with the king (Claudius). Another possible climax comes at the end of Act IV, scene iv, when Hamlet resolves to commit himself fully to violent revenge.

What is falling action of a story?

Hamlet is sent to England to be killed; Hamlet returns to Denmark and confronts Laertes at Ophelia’s funeral; the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes; the deaths of the royal family.

What is the setting (time) for the story?

Elizabethan times . In and around the royal palace in Elsinore, a city in Denmark

Contextual question

In a contextual question, you are given an extract (about 25–30 lines) from the drama . You will then have to answer questions based on the extract. Some answers can be found in the extract. Other questions will test your understanding of other parts of the drama: plot, characters, symbols and themes. Some questions will require that you express your opinion about the drama.

Literary Essay Question

Writing literary essays is a skill requiring preparation, planning and practice. When answering literary essays, you do not re-tell the story. Instead , you need to focus on specific requirements of the set essay question. The number of paragraphs in your literary essay will depend on what the question requires.

Characters in Hamlet

Cl assification of characters according to social status

In Hamlet , the characters’ social standing plays an important role, especially in relation to the Great Chain of Being.

The nobility

This is the noble class, made up of the royal family and the courtiers, whose wealth and position in society were inherited. They had political power and owned most of the land. The nobles in the play include Prince Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, King Hamlet and the Fortinbrases.

The commoners

These are people who had no inherited titles or wealth. Most of them had little chance of improving their social status except through their relationships with the nobility. For example, Horatio, Hamlet’s university associates (Guildenstern and Rosencrantz), Polonius and his children, the guards and the grave diggers, all belong to this class.

Some of the commoners are used to provide humour and to comment on the actions of the other characters are doing , e.g. in the graveyard scene.

The clergy in Elizabethan times were given a special role in society. In Hamlet , the priest performs the last rites and burials, as seen during Ophelia’s burial.

Hamlet Essay Question 1

Hamlet’s behaviour throughout the play has unintended consequences. Critically discuss the extent to which you agree with the above statement. Your response should take the form of a well-constructed essay of 400–450 words (2–21⁄2 pages).

How to answer the above essay question: Answer Guide

Candidates might argue that this statement is not entirely true and discuss how Hamlet’s behaviour has either intended or unintended consequences or they might offer a mixed response.

Hamlet Essay Question 2

Hamlet is responsible for his own tragic fate. Assess the validity of this statement. Your response should take the form of a well-constructed essay of 400–450 words (2–21⁄2 pages).

A mixed response would demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the text.

Hamlet Essays Questions and Answers Grade 12 pdf Downloads

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hamlet essays grade 12 introduction

Free Hamlet Essays and Papers

hamlet essays grade 12 introduction

Hamlet and the Inner Hamlet

The character of Hamlet, although an archaic prince, demonstrates so many base human experiences and emotions. The motifs of experiencing loss, dealing with grief, coming of age and trying to claim a place in the world, are not constricted to any time period, culture or societal class. Madness is an occurrence of the masses. Any person could become afflicted by the “single minded and tragically doomed search for” identity after a certain course of events (Erikson 239). The play deals largely with

Hamlet Soliloquys In Hamlet

Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy ‘Hamlet’ composed during the height of the Renaissance has captured the interest of audiences resonating in our contemporary society across the parallels of time. Hamlet’s soliloquys manifest ideologies and values which underpin the texts contextual sphere and the broader concerns of the play. It is through the underlying issues that the playwright provides an insight into the moral dilemma of his protagonist who questions the nature and inescapability of death, mortality

soliloquies given by Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” are a crucial part of understanding what is happening throughout the story. They give readers insight to the plans of revenge of Hamlet, as well as showing his emotions and state of mind. As author Thomas MacCary puts it, “Hamlet as a character must reveal what is hidden, so the plot of Hamlet is a gradual revelation of what is rotten in the state of Denmark, and the soliloquies tell us how Hamlet thinks and feels

There are three appearances of the ghost in the play Hamlet, each occurrence a pivotal part in the consequential development of Shakespeare's play. The third occurrence significantly differs from the rest, in that it pushes an idea of the ghost being partially a figure of Hamlets own mind. The first present tense appearance of the ghost occurs at the wall of the castle Elsinore when the castle guards Marcellus and Bernardo bring Horatio to their watch. Marcellus and Bernardo have previously seen

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play full of sorrow and excitement, its full of gore and incest. The play has a large amount of betrayal and the person supplying most of that is Claudius, the king and Hamlets uncle. Claudius is cold-hearted, full of hate, and a coward. He is the king but, the ironic thing about that is he should not be and as Hamlet is the prince, the death of his father should put him at the throne. The play starts off with a tense setting, as the guards have seen a ghost

The Revenge of Prince Hamlet Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, is a wonderfully written play that has many tangled webs of lies, betrayal, and revenge. The play starts off with the death of Hamlets father, the king. One night Hamlet sees the ghost of his dead father. The ghost speaks to Hamlet and tells him that he was killed by Claudius. Claudius, who is Hamlets uncle, has recently become the new king and as well married Hamlets fathers wife, Gertrude. Prince Hamlet devotes himself to avenging his fathers

there are many ways that an actor can choose to interpret that particular speech in Hamlet. Many actors relish the opportunity to perform Hamlet, because of that particular speech. In a play, the actors’ interpretation of the character is what gives the audience the background and insights into the characters’ feelings, since there is not a narrator, like in a short story. Each actor’s version of Hamlet is different, and therefore the interpretation by the audience will be different

Hamlet William Shakespeare is seen to many as one of the great writers in history. More specifically, the characters in his plays are reviewed and criticized and have been so for nearly four centuries. The character that many have revered Shakespeare for is perhaps the greatest such character ever in literature, Hamlet from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The commentary and response to this legend of literature is of wide array and opinion, though most, such as Pennington, believe

play. Comedic relief commands a vital role in the William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. In order to maintain the audience’s interest, an author inserts puns and other comedic vices to enhance their work. Shakespeare constantly introduces characters to allay the strain on the audience from past events in the plot. This comedic relief usually contains a hidden meaning or message that augments the plot. In the play Hamlet Osric, Polonius, and the Gravedigger are used as these conduits of humor. The

Many people question the psychological condition of the character Hamlet in the sixteenth century play Hamlet written by William Shakespeare. One of the reasons that the mental health of hamlet is in question by many people is the result of hamlet's actions as well as his reactions to events that occur during the play. Some people argue that the character Hamlet is insane, while others may argue that his insanity can be justified by several means such as his need for justice of his father's murder

negative way, but not this special character. The infamous Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, more commonly known as Hamlet was created in 1905 by the well known William Shakespeare. Hamlet is the longest and most powerful play he’s ever written. In a quick instance Hamlet's life slowly began to crumble around him after his father was tragically murdered in the Kingdom of Denmark around 1602. But the biggest downfall that the Hamlet characters have to overcome is being involved in betrayal and revenge

There are many theories to why Hamlet, who plays the prince in the tragedy, Hamlet, delays in killing his Uncle, King Claudius. Hamlet feels the need to murder King Claudius because he is convinced that his uncle is the cause of Hamlet's father's death. Even though the action of killing Claudius is not carried out until the very end it dictates Hamlets every move in the play. Though he does not know for sure that Claudius is his father's murderer, it is his obligation to prove that he is the cause

soliloquies illustrate what really goes on in Hamlet’s mind, and also other characters in the play. Hamlet is a very complicating character, and the only way we can actually understand him is through his soliloquies. “O, that this too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew…”(page 31), in this soliloquy, its like he’s saying that he wants to melt inside earth like water into the ground. Hamlet expresses here his feelings towards his mother marrying his uncle, two months after the death

help people to be instructed in a general way and to purge their emotions through the laughing in comedy or the crying in the tragedy. Among the writers of tragic plays, there was Shakespeare with one of his most famous play The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Regarding comedy, John Lyly takes the myth of Endymion in his courtly comedy Endymion, the Man in the Moon. Starting from these two plays this essay will look at the boundaries that allow defining and distinguishing between tragedy

Shakespeare’s characterization of Hamlet changes through the course of the play. It is most evident in an examination of his soliloquies. The progression of Hamlet is from an innocent person to a murderous madman. In Act II, Hamlet is blaming himself for many problems. He is angry with himself because he has done nothing with his plan to kill Claudius. It also bothers Hamlet he is not as emotional as the actor on the stage, who is portraying him. “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!/Is it not

Hamlet is to be considered one of the greatest plays from, perhaps, the best writer that has ever lived William Shakespeare. In this play the author submerges the reader into a tragedy in which the themes of revenge, moral corruption, internal madness and self-restraint are constantly present. Besides the biggest and most studied character of Prince Hamlet, the protagonist of the story plot, one of the most intense and meaningful motifs is the depiction of women in this Shakespeare play and how their

In Hamlet, Shakespeare follows regular convention for a large part of the play. In the beginning, Shakespeare sets up the scene, having a ghost on a dark night. Everyone is working and something strange is happening in Denmark. It is as if Shakespeare is saying that some kind of foul play has been committed. This sets up for the major theme in the play which is of course revenge. The ghost appears to talk to Hamlet. It is quite obvious that the play had a gruesome, violent death and the sexual aspect

Pelin Ozbay D-Block Hamlet Essay Christianity and Hamlet Ecclesiastes 7: 17 said “Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” Suicide is an important part in the bible. It is one of the things that is considered a sin in Christianity. The bible has lessons and commandments for Christians to follow and those lessons are represented in books. In the early 1600’s religion was an important part of people’s lives and writers incorporated it into their writings. William

Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Demark, the main character Hamlet has a command to avenge his father-Old King Hamlet’s death. In other words, Hamlet has to kill the new King-Claudius. However, Hamlet misses three chances and experiences three times failures during the process of this revenge. The reason of this is because of Hamlet’s delay problems. According to the play, Hamlet’s problem of delay shows at the moment his fails to murder Claudius. First, Hamlet needs to find out Claudius

passage, Hamlet is filled with self-loathing. His feelings of worthlessness are made quite apparent as he questions himself with statements like “What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? A beast no more.” This metaphor clearly shows how unworthy Hamlet feels about the fact that he has been lying around doing nothing and his father remains unavenged. His use of unpleasant imagery like “bestial oblivion” and “fust” also contribute to his tone. Hamlet knows he


The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark aka Hamlet is a tragic play written by William Shakespeare. It comprises 30,577 words and is the longest play that Shakepeare has ever written. The story revolves around Prince Hamlet’s descent into madness as he harbors murderous revenge against his uncle for killing his father. It is said to have been written between 1599 to 1601.

The Story of Hamlet

The play follows a five act structure. Act 1 opens with King Claudius taking over the throne after killing his brother King Hamlet and marrying the queen Gertrude. Prince Hamlet witnesses his father’s ghost and he learns about his uncle’s betrayal. Act 2 revolves around Hamlet’s pretense of going crazy to convince Claudius that he is mentally unstable. He reenacts the murder of King Hamlet through the performane of Murder of Gonzago. Act 3 highlights Hamlet’s attempt to spy on Claudius. Hamlet accidentally kills his lover Ophelia’s father. In Act 4, Claudius tries to execute Hamlet by sending him on a diplomatic mission. After narrowly escaping death, Hamlet returns home to find Ophelia dead. In Act 5, Claudius pits Ophelia’s brother Laertes against Hamlet in an attempt to kill him. While Hamlet and Laertes fight, Gertrude drinks the poison that was meant for Hamlet. After his mother’s death, a revenge crazed Hamlet kills Claudius. Later, Hamlet succumbs to his wounds and dies.

Here’s some trivia about Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

Shakespeare really loved tragedies and that gets showcased through his plays such as Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet.

To learn more about Shakespeare’s Hamlet, read our rich collection of Hamlet essays and research papers:

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hamlet essays grade 12 introduction

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Review of hamlet by william shakespeare.

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How Hamlet is Faking Insanity: Appearance Vs Reality in Shakespeare's Play

The representation of madness in shakespeare's text, hamlet, the tragic story of hamlet, reality and appearance: a comparison of hamlet and the revenger"s tragedy, the patriarchal power and female norms in hamlet, misogyny and female representation in hamlet, "act": the theme of "acting" in hamlet, the question of hamlet's madness, analysis of ophelia's story through the context of gender and madness, death and revenge in hamlet, a play by william shakespeare, existentialism as a part of hamlet, revenge and its consequences in hamlet, claudius as the master of manipulation in hamlet, the important theme of madness in hamlet by william shakespeare, trickery and deception in hamlet by william shakespeare, the role of grief in shakespeare’s hamlet, reflection on the act 2 of shakespeare’s hamlet, hamlet by william shakespeare: the impact of parents on their children, the relationship between hamlet and horatio, revenge and justice in william shakespeare’s hamlet, justice and revenge in shakespeare's hamlet, hamlet's intelligence is the factor of his procrastination nature, the dishonesty of the ghost in hamlet, king lear and hamlet: freudian interpretation of the two plays, hamlet's procrastination: a study on his unwillingness to act, shakespeare's use of machiavellian politics in hamlet, roots of hamlet's procrastination and intensity, the theme of revenge in shakesphere's book hamlet, representation of catharsis in hamlet by william shakespeare, feeling stressed about your essay.

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1603, William Shakespeare

Play; Shakespearean tragedy

Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius

The play Hamlet is the most cited work in the English language and is often included in the lists of the world's greatest literature.

"Frailty, thy name is woman!" "Brevity' is the soul of wit" "To be, or not to be, that is the question" "I must be cruel to be kind" "Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me, it is a prison."

1. Wright, G. T. (1981). Hendiadys and Hamlet. PMLA, 96(2), 168-193. ( 2. Leverenz, D. (1978). The woman in Hamlet: An interpersonal view. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 4(2), 291-308. ( 3. Lesser, Z., & Stallybrass, P. (2008). The first literary Hamlet and the commonplacing of professional plays. Shakespeare Quarterly, 59(4), 371-420. ( 4. De Grazia, M. (2001). Hamlet before its Time. MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly, 62(4), 355-375. ( 5. Calderwood, J. L. (1983). To be and not to be. Negation and Metadrama in Hamlet. In To Be and Not to Be. Negation and Metadrama in Hamlet. Columbia University Press. ( 6. Kastan, D. S. (1987). " His semblable is his mirror":" Hamlet" and the Imitation of Revenge. Shakespeare Studies, 19, 111. ( 7. Neill, M. (1983). Remembrance and Revenge: Hamlet, Macbeth and The Tempest. Jonson and Shakespeare, 35-56. ( 8. Gates, S. (2008). Assembling the Ophelia fragments: gender, genre, and revenge in Hamlet. Explorations in Renaissance Culture, 34(2), 229-248. (

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hamlet essays grade 12 introduction

It can be argued that Hamlet, is one of the greatest tragedy pieces written by William Shakespeare throughout his life.  The play provides conflict between a variety of personalities all in the pursuit of power or their own interruption of moral justice. It encompasses the themes of deception, manipulation, and malevolence to create the “perfect storm” of exploitation, chaos, and perhaps insanity. 

One of the most puzzling elements though of this play is the personality of the protagonist, Hamlet, son of old king Hamlet and rightful heir to the throne. Although he receives supernatural assurance that Claudius secretly murdered his father, and witnesses with the questionable hasty re-marriage of his mother to his uncle, Hamlet remains incapable to take any physical revenge on the behalf of his father.

His own doubts about the ghost, uncertainties of his own ambitions, and his overanalyzing of the world around him are three of the many dissensions which keep him indecisive thus prolong his revenge and resulting in his ultimate dismay.

During the first act of the play, Hamlet’s friends encounter the spirit of Old King Hamlet roaming about the outer ramparts of the castle. Seeing the spirit as a bad omen they quickly report the appearance to his very distraught son, Hamlet.

The spirit explains to him that he had been murdered by his deceitful younger brother, Claudius and that Hamlet must take revenge on the spirit’s behalf. This incident initiates Hamlet’s investigation into his father’s murder; however, it is his doubt in the cause of this apparition that keeps him indecisive and prevents him from taking his revenge. 

First, Hamlet almost immediately questions the authenticity of his father’s spirit after its disappearance. “ The spirit that I have seen maybe the devil and the devil hath the power to assume a pleasing shame; yet, and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me.” (II, ii, 596- 601).

Hamlet grows unsure if the ghost’s story holds any authentication as he plunges deeper and deeper into his own melancholy; Hamlet wonders if this is the work of the devil praying on his weak state of mind. This uncertainty prompts Hamlet to test his Uncle Claudius’ conscience because of his own lack of faith in the ghost and himself; which only prolongs this revenge.

Second, because Hamlet is so doubtful about the story told to him by the ghost, he must test his Uncle’s reaction first. “Observe mine uncle, if his acute guilt. Do not itself unkennel in one speech. It is a damned ghost we have seen. And my imagination is on foul as Vulcan’s stithy.” (III, ii, 80- 84 Shakespeare).

This uncertainty in the ghost results in Hamlet prolonging his revenge on Claudius in an attempt to confirm the ghost’s story. This course of action leads to him being called upon by his mother, accidentally murdering Polonius, and then being poisoned by Laertes. Without this additional prerequisite to begin his revenge, Hamlet could have potentially avoided the resulting confrontations and his death.

Third, Hamlet’s trust in the story is only confirmed by seeing his Uncle’s reaction to the play. “O good Horatio, I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound..” (III, ii, 281- 282). Without Claudius’ reaction to the play Hamlet would probably remain in limbo about his own thoughts and the ghost and may never take revenge.

The play is the confirmation for Hamlet’s revenge scheme and its lengthy process was necessary to convince Hamlet of the ghost’s story; Nevertheless Hamlet’s continual indecisive behavior after the play gave Claudius amply time to plot Hamlet’s murder. However, an even greater conflict within Hamlet to prorogue his revenge and keep him unsure is his own doubts of what he really desires in terms of kingship and life in general.

After the loss of old King Hamlet, the people of Denmark are asked to choose between Hamlet or Claudius to rule in place of their lost king. The people choose Claudius to rule over them, who will be succeeded by a much older and perhaps wiser Hamlet. Knowing Claudius killed the old king, Hamlet understands he is the rightful king of Denmark; however Hamlet is unresolved about his desires for that position and makes him hesitant to take any action.

First, Hamlet confesses to Ophelia of traits that he is reprehensible of, one of which is ambitious. “I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it was better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious…”(III, ii, 132- 135). This personality presented by Hamlet provides a contradiction to his behavior. He wishes to remove Claudius from the thrown however states he would rather not be ambitious, about can be assumed, his right to be king.

At this moment it seems that Hamlet is unwilling to be king, which will keep him indecisive and hinder his revenge. Second, Hamlet does however reveal to Rosencrantz he is “distempered” because he “lacks advancement”. “Good my lord, what is your cause of distemper? You do, surely, bar the door upon your own liberty, if you deny your griefs to your friend……….. Sir, I lack advancement.”

Contrary to what he previously states during his conversation with Ophelia, Hamlet now reveals his desire to “advance”. This change in ambition could be seen as the possibility for his revenge to finally transpire, however, Hamlet may not be referring to his succession as king but his plans for his revenge; consequently not knowing if he desires both delays Hamlet from taking his revenge.

Finally, Hamlet tells Horatio of his desire to be king, and the disappointment of being denied this right. “Does it not, think’st thee, stand me now upon–   He that hath kill’d my king and whored my mother, Popp’d in between the election and my hopes,   Thrown out his angle for my proper life…” (V, I, 69- 72).

This final explanation by Hamlet reveals that he does have the intention to become king and therefore the expectation can be made that he will take his reveal shortly, which he prompted does in the next scene. However, by the time he finally discovers this truth about his ambitions, it is already too late and his murder has already been planned. Furthermore, all of this could have been avoided if Hamlet did not put so much thought into his revenge and just acted upon his feelings.

Throughout the play, Hamlet is constantly overanalyzing the world around him. Every action that he takes, Hamlet tediously examines all the potential outcomes and reasoning behind it. This overthinking of the world around him is a reason for his indecisiveness and consequently his downfall.

First, Hamlet argues to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about the philosophy of what is “good” and “bad”. “Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.” (II, ii, 260- 262). This point made by Hamlet only illustrates how critically he thinks of the world around him.

His insight of the objectiveness of all behavior, made only subjective through perspective displays he is character of deep thought who must analyze a problem from all angles before processing often resulting in him being indecisive on an issue. Second, Hamlet reveals in his soliloquy, his justification of why humans, and himself, fear death and anything related to it.

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pith and moment   with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action” (III, I, 91- 95). This over analyzing of death of what makes Hamlet question his right to kill another human and the fear that all humans have toward death.

This scrutinizing of his own plan, only makes Hamlet doubt himself and prolong his revenge even more. It also illustrates that Hamlet does fear killing another and inaction on his behalf is this awareness of his fear. Finally, Hamlet debates to himself what the reasoning behind his inaction on his father’s behalf.

Now whether it be b*stial oblivion, or some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on th’ event…” (VI, vi, 39- 46). This is a realization on Hamlet’s behalf that the cause of his inaction is indeed his overanalyzing of all his behavior just to establish his own excess thought and deliberations. The examination of so many situations of his life causes Hamlet to yet again prolong his revenge and seem indecisive to the reader.

In conclusion, there were many paths Hamlets could have taken throughout the course of the book, which his own indecisiveness prevented him from doing. Hamlet’s dismay is attributed to the hesitant behavior toward his father’s revenge due to several internal conflicts and personality traits Hamlets posses.

From the beginning of the play, Hamlet is in an indeterminate state about the validity of anything occurring around him. Furthermore, Hamlet’s doubts in the truthfulness of his father’s spirit, doubts of his own ambitions, and over-analyzing of the world around him left Hamlet a very indecisive man which ultimately led him to his own death.

Author:  William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)

Tutor and Freelance Writer. Science Teacher and Lover of Essays. Article last reviewed: 2020 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2022 | Creative Commons 4.0


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Mini Essays

Shakespeare includes characters in Hamlet who are obvious foils for Hamlet, including, most obviously, Horatio, Fortinbras, Claudius, and Laertes. Compare and contrast Hamlet with each of these characters. How are they alike? How are they different? How does each respond to the crises with which he is faced?

Horatio’s steadfastness and loyalty contrasts with Hamlet’s variability and excitability, though both share a love of learning, reason, and thought. Claudius’s willingness to disregard all moral law and act decisively to fulfill his appetites and lust for power contrasts powerfully with Hamlet’s concern for morality and indecisive inability to act. Fortinbras’s willingness to go to great lengths to avenge his father’s death, even to the point of waging war, contrasts sharply with Hamlet’s inactivity, even though both of them are concerned with avenging their fathers. Laertes’ single-minded, furious desire to avenge Polonius stands in stark opposition to Hamlet’s inactivity with regard to his own father’s death. Finally, Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras are all in a position to seek revenge for the murders of their fathers, and their situations are deeply intertwined. Hamlet’s father killed Fortinbras’s father, and Hamlet killed Laertes’ father, meaning that Hamlet occupies the same role for Laertes as Claudius does for Hamlet.

Many critics take a deterministic view of Hamlet ’s plot, arguing that the prince’s inability to act and tendency toward melancholy reflection is a “tragic flaw” that leads inevitably to his demise. Is this an accurate way of understanding the play? Why or why not? Given Hamlet’s character and situation, would another outcome of the play have been possible?

The idea of the “tragic flaw” is a problematic one in Hamlet . It is true that Hamlet possesses definable characteristics that, by shaping his behavior, contribute to his tragic fate. But to argue that his tragedy is inevitable because he possesses these characteristics is difficult to prove. Given a scenario and a description of the characters involved, it is highly unlikely that anyone who had not read or seen Hamlet would be able to predict its ending based solely on the character of its hero. In fact, the play’s chaotic train of events suggests that human beings are forced to make choices whose consequences are unforeseeable as well as unavoidable. To argue that the play’s outcome is intended to appear inevitable seems incompatible with the thematic claims made by the play itself.

Throughout the play, Hamlet claims to be feigning madness, but his portrayal of a madman is so intense and so convincing that many readers believe that Hamlet actually slips into insanity at certain moments in the play. Do you think this is true, or is Hamlet merely play-acting insanity? What evidence can you cite for either claim?

At any given moment during the play, the most accurate assessment of Hamlet’s state of mind probably lies somewhere between sanity and insanity. Hamlet certainly displays a high degree of mania and instability throughout much of the play, but his “madness” is perhaps too purposeful and pointed for us to conclude that he actually loses his mind. His language is erratic and wild, but beneath his mad-sounding words often lie acute observations that show the sane mind working bitterly beneath the surface. Most likely, Hamlet’s decision to feign madness is a sane one, taken to confuse his enemies and hide his intentions.

On the other hand, Hamlet finds himself in a unique and traumatic situation, one which calls into question the basic truths and ideals of his life. He can no longer believe in religion, which has failed his father and doomed him to life amid miserable experience. He can no longer trust society, which is full of hypocrisy and violence, nor love, which has been poisoned by his mother’s betrayal of his father’s memory. And, finally, he cannot turn to philosophy, which cannot explain ghosts or answer his moral questions and lead him to action.

With this much discord in his mind, and already under the extraordinary pressure of grief from his father’s death, his mother’s marriage, and the responsibility bequeathed to him by the ghost, Hamlet is understandably distraught. He may not be mad, but he likely is close to the edge of sanity during many of the most intense moments in the play, such as during the performance of the play-within-a-play (III.ii), his confrontation with Ophelia (III.i), and his long confrontation with his mother (III.iv).

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