Title: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Date of Publication: 1603, first performance in 1609
Biographical information about the author (for my knowledge only, but very helpful):
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories and these works remain regarded as some of the best work produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.
Shakespeare’s plays remain highly popular today and are constantly studied, performed, and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.
He wrote about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, of which the authorship of some is uncertain. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Information about the literary period (for my knowledge only, but very helpful):
Elizabethan literature, body of works written during the reign of Elizabeth I of England (1558–1603), probably the most splendid age in the history of English literature, with writers such as Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Roger Ascham, Richard Hooker, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare. Elizabethan is merely a chronological reference and does not describe any special characteristic of the writing.
Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. He returns home from school for his father’s funeral, and his mother’s marriage to his uncle Claudius, which enrages him. He learns (from the ghost of his father) that Claudius poisoned his father. Hamlet pretends to be insane to lure Claudius into a false sense of security, while he plots revenge. He tests the ghost’s sincerity by staging a lay, in which a man poisons his king brother the same way Claudius poisoned the older Hamlet. He determines the ghost was truthful. Hamlet struggles with killing Claudius, and has a monologue where he considers killing himself. He ends up killing Polonius (stabbing him through a curtain) thinking him to be Claudius. Polonius is the father of the love of his life, Ophelia, who rejected him at her father and brother Laertes behest. Claudius sends Hamlet to England with Rosencratz and Gildenstern, ordering Hamlet’s death. Hamlet intercepts the letter and alters the instructions to killing the other two. Ophelia, distraught over her father’s death, drowns herself, prompting her brother to challenge Hamlet to a duel. Laertes poisoned his sword, but the swords are switched in battle, both Hamlet and Laertes are nicked by the poison tip. Gertrude the Queen) drinks wine poisoned by Claudius intended for Hamlet. Hamlet kills Claudius finally in retaliation for him mother’s death. Everyone dies except Horiatio. The Prince of Norway, Fortinbras comes to claim the kingdom.
Memorable quotations significant to meaning:
“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;”
“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
“Conscience doth make cowards of us all.”
Significance of opening scene:
The opening scene shows guards witnessing the ghost of Hamlet the King, showing that Prince Hamlet is not the only one who sees the specter, lending to the credibility that his madness was pretend as he claimed.
Significance of closing scene:
The closing scene has virtually every named character not already decreased die, including Laertes, Hamlet, Gertrude, and Claudius. Horatio lives to tell their story, and Fortinbras claims Denmark for Norway.
Name Role in the story and significance Adjectives
- Hamlet – The prince of denmark. Protagonist. Depressed, pretending to be mad, may actually be mad. Plots revenge against Claudius, but slowly and deliberately. In love with Ophelia.
- Claudius – Hamlet’s uncle and stepfather. Killed King Hamlet, married Gertrude. Plots to kill Hamlet the prince as well.
- Ophelia – Hamlet’s love. Daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes. Listens to her family’s warnings and rejects Hamlet. Drowns herself after her father’s death, prompting Laertes to kill Hamlet.
- Laertes – Ophelia’s brother. Spends most of the play in France. Quicker to act than Hamlet, a foil to him. Immediately demands revenge. Is convinced by Claudius to poison his sword in a duel.
- Rosencratz and Gildenstern – Two of Hamlet’s best friends from school/childhood. He is excited to see them until they reveal that they only came to visit on Claudius’s orders. When Hamlet intercepts Claudius’s letter to the king of England ordering his death, Hamlet orders the death of Rosencratz and Gildenstern.
Setting: Denmark, early 1600s
Yorick’s Skull – Hamlet’s realizations about death and life; where everyone ends up
Ophelia’s flowers – Representations of the characters she gifts them to.
Poison – leads to many deaths, many accidental
The ghost – Hamlet is concerned if it really is his father or a specter meant to trick him into dooming his immortal soul. Initially the guards can see it, but later, when Hamlet is entrenched in his pretend madness, Gertrude can not.
Themes for discussion:
Revenge – Hamlet is deliberative, while Laertes is brash.
Death and the afterlife – Hamlet is fixated on death, purgatory, and what becomes of a person when they have passed.
Family and invest – Hamlet insists Claudius and Gertrude’s marriage amounts to incest.
Suicide – which Hamlet contemplates and Ophelia commits