The Major Themes in Hamlet Essay

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The Major Themes in Hamlet

Hamlet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare and is believed to be one of the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English language. The play takes place in Denmark where Prince Hamlet seeks revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering his father King Hamlet Claudius's brother. The ghost of Hamlet's father appears to him and tells him that Claudius has poisoned him. He kills the eavesdropping Polonius in the court chamberlain. Polonius's son Laertes returns to Denmark to avenge his father's death. Polonius's daughter Ophelia loves Hamlet but his behavior drives her to madness. Ophelia dies by drowning. A duel takes place and ends with the death of Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet. In Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet explores themes of revenge, death, deception, and loyalty.
Revenge is a dominant theme that is seen throughout the whole play. Hamlet’s fierce desire to avenge his father’s murder is what drives the play. The main part of the play deals with Hamlet's ultimately successful vengeance on his father's murderer, but with Hamlet's inner struggle to take action. Hamlet promises his father to revenge his murder but laments the responsibility he now bears (rsc). This becomes Hamlet’s sole purpose and he seems to forget all other aspects of his life, even his love for Ophelia. He spends a great deal of effort thinking and analyzing and far less acting on his dead father’s request for revenge. Hamlet’s delay of action is a direct result of his attempts to obtain more certain knowledge about what he needs to do as well as the circumstances of his father’s death. His actions become insignificant to him, even though they mean the ruining of his own life. In the story, it is Hamlet’s inability to avenge the murder of his father that drives the plot forwards and the deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern all result from Hamlet’s delay (Lee Jamieson). There are at least three examples of characters seeking revenge in the play. Young Fortinbras seeks revenge against Denmark because Old King Hamlet killed his father and took his father’s lands. Hamlet wants revenge against Claudius for his own father’s murder. Laertes wants revenge against Hamlet for killing his father, Polonius and for his sister Ophelia
Death appears in the play as a main theme, and takes on many different forms (usq.edu). Death permeates Hamlet right from the opening scene of the play, where the ghost of Hamlet’s father introduces the idea of death and its consequences. “Hamlet” is a play filled with death. However, many of the characters in the play are responsible for their own deaths (sjfn). The idea of death is closely tied to the motifs of spirituality, truth, and uncertainty as death may bring answers to Hamlet’s uncertainty. Since death is both the cause and consequence of revenge, it is also tied to the theme of revenge. According to Lee Jamieson, “Hamlet is fascinated by death throughout the story” (Lee Jamieson). He ponders the spiritual aftermath of death and the physical aftermath of death. Throughout, the idea of death is closely tied to the themes of spirituality, truth, and uncertainty in that death may bring the answers to Hamlet’s deepest questions, ending once and for all the problem of trying to determine truth in a confusing world.
The question of his own death worries Hamlet as well, as he repeatedly contemplates whether or not suicide is a morally legitimate action in an unbearably painful world. Hamlet’s grief and misery is so much that he frequently longs for death to end his suffering, but he fears that if he commits suicide, he will be sent to eternal suffering in hell because of the Christian religion’s prohibits suicide. The “To be or not to be” soliloquy shows how his obsession with death turned him on himself to the point where he is considering taking his own life (sjfn). Hamlet concludes that no one would choose to endure the pain of life…