HAMLET: General Points; Corruption; Uncertainty; Deception and Political Intrigue; Madness; Appearance and reality

General Points: ‘Hamlet was written in about 1600 / 1, at the height of Shakespeare’s creative power. It is arguable the most popular and famous play ever written, and its hero seems to have exerted a huge fascination over theatre audiences of every age, race, colour, creed, and time.

Corruption: the play contains a great deal of corruption, sickness, and disease imagery. Some critics link this to the supposed decline of the Elizabethan ‘golden age’. When Hamlet was written Queen Elizabeth was an old woman with no children of her own. The next in line to the throne was James VI of Scotland, King of England’s oldest enemy, and son of Mary Queen of Scots, executed on the order of Queen Elizabeth some years previously. Civil war, an unpopular king, and acts of revenge against the old order were all possibilities, and may have contributed to an atmosphere of corruption and decay in the play.

Uncertainty: of all Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet is the one in which the most question are asked and the fewest answered. Hamlet cannot be certain of how his father died, whether his mother knew or not of his father murder, if the Ghost is telling the truth, or if his friends are indeed on his side. Hamlet is caught in a web of uucertainty, confusion, and misunderstanding; the harder he struggles, the more he becomes entangled.

Deception and Political Intrigue: Deception and political intrigue are common features in the play, but even the musters of it, Claudius and Polonius , find that events run away with them , and all the intrigue and deception they can muster does not save than from death.

Madness: Madness is an excellent protection for Hamlet, because the madman is unpredictable, and is avoided by other people. With both Hamlet and Ophelia, madness is seen as a symbol or sign of a mind that has been pushed beyond the level of tolerance, and which can no longer cope.

Appearance and reality: Appearance and reality is a major theme in Hamlet. Is the Ghost what he appears to be, the spirit of Hamlet’s murdered father, or is he a spirit of evil sent to lure Hamlet to his distribution? Is Ophelia in love with Hamlet, or prepared to act merely as Polonius’s spy on her ex – lover? Did Gertrude know about the murder of old Hamlet? Is Polonius an old fool, or one of the most dangerous men in the play? Nothing in Hamlet is what it seems to be; almost everything could be interpreted in several different ways.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert,      
     2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta