Themes in Hamlet: Doubt, Revenge, and More

Themes

The diversity of themes in Hamlet impresses the readers with its multifacetedness and relevance for modern times. Even though William Shakespeare wrote the play several centuries ago, it remains popular due to the issues it explored. These themes convey the author’s intentions, ideas, and thoughts.

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Want to explore Hamlet’s themes in detail? Let’s do it together! Stay on this page prepared by our experts and learn a lot of valuable insights.

Theme of doubt in Hamlet.Theme of death in Hamlet.Revenge theme in Hamlet.Theme of deception in Hamlet.Theme of misogyny in Hamlet.Theme of religion in Hamlet.Theme of corruption in Hamlet.Family theme in Hamlet.Theme of madness in Hamlet.
DoubtDeathRevengeAppearance vs. RealityMisogynyReligionCorruptionFamilyMadness

🤷🏻 Theme of Doubt

Theme of doubt in Hamlet.

If you decide to count how many times Hamlet doubts throughout the play, you will probably get lost. He does it all the time! Therefore, one of the leading themes of Hamlet is doubt.

There are two main issues that the protagonist cannot decide upon:

  • whether to kill Claudius and avenge his father;
  • whether to commit suicide and escape the problem.

The play starts with the Ghost’s appearance. It claims that Claudius murdered Old Hamlet to take the throne. If it was a typical revenge tragedy, Hamlet would get furious and murder his uncle immediately. However, Shakespeare decides to make his protagonist indecisive. Therefore, instead of killing the King instantly, Hamlet starts questioning the Ghost’s words.

Why does Hamlet delay murdering Claudius?

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Prince is indecisive and full of doubts. On the one hand, he seeks revenge for his father. On the other hand, Hamlet is afraid to make a mistake and kill the wrong person. Prince is unsure whether Claudius is a murderer as he doesn’t trust the Ghost on the spot. Hence, he decides to conduct an investigation and prove Claudius’s guilt.

Ultimately, Hamlet makes sure that Claudius is an actual murderer. However, Prince still cannot take action.

Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius even knowing that he is guilty?

Prince is waiting for an appropriate time. He could kill Claudius immediately after discovering his guilt, but Hamlet did not do that. The King was praying. Prince decided that the person killed while doing so may go to heaven, which is not fair for a murderer:

“Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.”

Act 3 Scene 3

But is it a solid reason? Or did Hamlet’s hesitation just take over him?

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With the progress of the play, the readers can notice that Hamlet’s doubts become destructive for him. Prince even starts questioning life’s essence.

Hamlet’s fourth soliloquy, “To be or not to be,” becomes iconic. It discusses the painfulness and miserableness of human life and the dark uncertainty that comes after death. After an intense inner dispute, Hamlet realizes that suicide is not a solution. He is afraid of eternal suffering:

“who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;”

Act 3 Scene 1

So, he decides to avenge Claudius no matter what it would cost him.

Meanwhile, Laertes and Claudius are not hesitating. They act actively and plot Hamlet’s murder. But does it help them? Not really. At the end of the play, they still die.

Is decisive action better than doubt?

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Shakespeare insists that it doesn’t matter as long as it’s tied to vengeance. At the very end, everyone who is somehow connected to revenge ends tragically.

💬 Quotes about Doubt

“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?”

Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1

“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love”

Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2

“This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder’d,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A scullion!”

Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2

⚰️ Death & Mortality Theme

Theme of death in Hamlet.

The play is written in a pessimistic and dark tone. Therefore, the themes of death and mortality in Hamlet are two of the leading ones.

The most tragic element of the play is numerous deaths. From the very beginning, the Ghost appears at the castle and tells about the King’s unnatural demise. Here is when the storyline devoted to the mystery of death in Hamlet starts.

The theme is touched upon regularly:

In Act 1, Prince is tortured by grief and misery from the death of his father. He even considers suicide as a solution. However, this idea fades away from his mind because he is afraid of the dark uncertainty and eternal suffering of death.

Moreover, in Act 1, Shakespeare describes the decay and the flourishing of corruption caused by Old Hamlet’s death. The death theme is evident through the country that is gradually dying at the hands of the selfish ruler.

In Act 3, Hamlet accidentally stabs Polonius. Prince did not intend to murder him, but Polonius’s recklessness plays a fatal joke on him.

“Wretched, rash, intruding fool”

Act 3, Scene 4

– that is how Hamlet calls Polonius after wounding him. So, Hamlet kills a person. Does it mean that he is ready to commit another murder after that? We cannot say for sure because Prince still delays his revenge on Claudius.

In Act 4, the theme of death in Hamlet becomes even more critical. Unable to deal with Poloniu’s demise, Ophelia, his daughter, commits suicide. The readers witness one more tragic end.

In Act 5, a sequence of tragic actions leads to Hamlet’s obsession with death. At Ophelia’s funeral, the gravediggers discover the skull of Yorick. He was a joyful person who Hamlet remembers from early childhood. Analyzing the essence of life, Prince comes up with a solid conclusion. He claims that no matter how good you are at life, at the very end, your body will inevitably decay, and your soul will fade away. All the people are equal after death, and it comes for all of us.

Analyzing the concept of mortality in Hamlet, we can conclude that the scene with the skull of Yorick became a critical one for the main character. Hamlet finally accepts death and indicates that “the readiness is all” (Act 5, Scene 2). From now on, his reflections on the topic are neither a matter of fear nor longing. He fully accepts that without death, there cannot be life.

After the fatal injury, Hamlet asks Horatio to save his legacy so that he can live as long as the story lives.

💬 Quotes about Death & Mortality

“Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.”

Gertrude, Act 1 Scene 2

“I am thy father’s spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night
And for the day confined to fast in fires
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid”

The Ghost, Act 1 Scene 5

“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 wished.”

Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1

⚔️ Theme of Revenge

Revenge theme in Hamlet.

By its genre, Hamlet is a revenge tragedy. Therefore, it is a given that the revenge theme plays an essential role.

Shakespeare modified this genre. In a typical revenge tragedy, the protagonist seeks immediate vengeance. However, here the main character does not take any instant actions. Hence, the theme of revenge in Hamlet is discovered from an unusual perspective.

By his nature, the protagonist is a thoughtful, decent, brilliant young man who would not do anyone any harm. Therefore, Hamlet and revenge wouldn’t normally go in the same line. However, when it comes to his family’s honor, Prince is supposed to take action against his father’s offender. Yet, Hamlet is unable to perform the violence that his call to revenge demands.

As the play unfolds, Hamlet plunges deeper and deeper into existential musings. His revenge does not happen immediately after talking to the Ghost. Prince makes sure that it was his uncle who murdered his father.

“I’ll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle: I’ll observe his looks;
I’ll tent him to the quick: if he but blench,
I know my course.”

Act 2 Scene 2

Even after an investigation that proved Claudius’s guilt, Hamlet is still full of doubt. He cannot understand whether he should or can commit a crime or not. It is a highly unusual path for revenge tragedies.

Overall, exploring the theme of revenge in Hamlet, we can conclude that Shakespeare masterfully conducted a psychological study of a character who is full of hesitance and fear. Hamlet is not a typical protagonist of a revenge tragedy. Yet, in the end, he completes his mission. The father’s insulter, Claudius, dies from Hamlet’s sword.

💬 Quotes about Revenge

“Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimprovèd mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Shark’d up a list of lawless resolutes
For food and diet to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in ‘t; which is no other
(As it doth well appear unto our state)
But to recover of us, by strong hand
And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands
So by his father lost”

Horatio, Act 1 Scene 1

“Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”

The Ghost, Act 1 Scene 5

“O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wanned,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit—and all for nothing!”

Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2

🤥 Appearance vs. Reality

Theme of deception in Hamlet.

Appearance vs. reality is a major theme in Hamlet. It is discovered in the play multiple times through different lenses and under various circumstances. Let’s examine the brightest examples of deception in Hamlet together:

Claudius

Claudius is seen as a national hero. He saved the country by becoming a new king after his brother’s sudden death. But is he that honorable in reality? Not really.

Even though Claudius pretends to be a wise ruler of the country, in reality, he is the main villain in the play. This character causes all the significant lies and deceit in Hamlet. He mercilessly kills his brother to take the throne. Attempting to hide his terrible deed, Claudius starts manipulating everyone around.

The primary victim of his villainy is, of course, Prince. Trying to establish total control over his nephew, Claudius starts spying on Hamlet. The King also involves many other people, like Ophelia, Gertrude, Laertes, Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, in his evil plan. As a result, all of them suffer from the negative consequences of his spoiled nature.

Overall, Claudius pretends to be a wise governor of Denmark, a loving husband for Gertrude, and a caring stepdad for Hamlet. In reality, he is a liar, manipulator, and merciless murderer.

Polonius

Polonius is a prime example of the theme of appearance vs. reality as he really strives to appear a loving parent and a nice person. In fact, he is the opposite.

His relationship with his children is quite controversial. Polonius tries his best to pretend to be a caring father. However, in reality, he does not care about his kids’ feelings and ambitions.

Laertes, the older son, is studying in France. Trying to be a good father, Polonius advises him how to live life honorably. But what happens in reality? He sends Reynaldo to France to spy on his son. This proves Polonius’s disrespect and mistrust towards Laertes.

Ophelia, the younger daughter, also becomes a victim of his selfishness. Trying to gain Claudius’s respect, Polonius starts spying on Hamlet. For this reason, he ensures Ophelia that Prince does not love her. Polonius also prohibits his daughter from having any kind of interaction with him. Even though Ophelia is in love with Hamlet, she remains loyal to her father and follows his command.

Later, Claudius and Polonius ask Ophelia to talk to Hamlet so that they could spy upon their conversation. For a young lady, it is a real emotional challenge. However, Polonius does not care about his daughter’s feelings. He only desires to gain the King’s respect. Therefore, his appearance as a caring parent does not correspond to the reality of a selfish and deceitful man.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pretend to be Hamlet’s good friends. Yes, they indeed were friends in childhood, but not now. In reality, they work with Claudius.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are spying on Hamlet so that the new King knows what Hamlet’s deal is. Though, Prince sees through them:

“Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me.”

Act 3 Scene 2

He understands their rotten nature and orders to kill them later in the play. Thus, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s naivety and silly desire to gain Claudius’ respect lead them to death.

Gertrude

Gertrude is quite an unusual and intriguing figure in the play. The majority of the time, the readers are incapable of determining whether she is lying or not:

  • Did she know that Claudius murdered King Hamlet?
  • Does she lie to Claudius about Hamlet’s insanity after Polonius’ murder? Or does she truly believe in it?
  • Does she lie that she didn’t see the Ghost when he was in the room?

Shakespeare leaves these questions hidden by the veil. Therefore, the readers do not know whether Gertrude’s deception in Hamlet is real or not. The only option for us is to interpret the Queen’s behavior in our own way.

Hamlet

The main character of the play also reflects the appearance vs. reality theme. Hamlet masterfully convinces everyone around that he is insane. In fact, he sees everyone’s true nature and uses his status to investigate Claudius.

Though, Hamlet’s deception is apparent through his communication with Ophelia. During their conversation, he is cruel and mean to her. Yet, after her death, Prince confesses that he loved her.

Overall, the theme of appearance vs. reality is a primary one in Hamlet. Shakespeare skillfully explored it through different characters in the play.

💬 Quotes about Deception

“This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Polonius, Act 1 Scene 3

“How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience!
The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plastering art,
Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it
Than is my deed to my most painted word:
O heavy burthen!”

Claudius, Act 3 Scene 1

“I am justly killed with mine own treachery.”

Laertes, Act 5 Scene 2

👭 Theme of Misogyny

Theme of misogyny in Hamlet.

The issue of gender roles in Hamlet is another topic that should be discussed in detail. There are two women in the play – Ophelia and Gertrude. However, they create a solid ground for the discussion of feminism in Hamlet. Let’s dive deeper and explore the examples of misogyny in the play in detail.

Gertrude

The theme of misogyny in Hamlet takes its roots in Prince’s attitude towards his mother. He is disgusted by Gertrude’s decision to marry Claudius right after her husband’s demise. Therefore, he accuses his mother of being two-faced and insincere:

“Ears without feeling, feeling without sight
Ears without hands or eyes, smellings sans all
Or but a sickly part of one true sense
Could not so mope.”

Act 3, scene 4

Yet, let’s analyze this situation from Gertrude’s perspective. Being a woman in Hamlet’s time meant lacking freedom and independence. A woman was supposed to be under a man’s strict supervision and protection. Hence, Gertrude does not have a lot of options. In her situation, marrying Claudius was a reasonable decision since this marriage would guarantee her social security.

Nevertheless, Hamlet does not understand his mother’s position. His hatred reaches its peak when Prince starts believing that all women are deceitful and unloyal. Hamlet thinks that there is a strong connection between female sexuality and moral corruption. He claims that women are simply slaves to their sexual desires, and thus, they are too weak to be loyal.

Ophelia

Ophelia becomes a victim of Hamlet’s hatred as well. She sincerely loves Prince. However, his actions and words towards a young lady are insulting. During their intense conversation, Hamlet tells her:

“Get thee to a
nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs
marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough
what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go,
and quickly too. Farewell.”

Act 3 Scene 1

In other words, Hamlet is accusing Ophelia of pretending to be innocent when in fact, she is promiscuous.

Female Sexuality

The role of women in Hamlet can also be discovered through the lens of female sexuality. Paradoxically, women’s sexuality is controlled by men.

For example, Laertes and Polonius act like they are guardians of Ophelia’s innocence and virginity. They insist that she rejects Hamlet’s advances, despite her love for him. Clearly, there’s a double standard for women where sexuality is concerned.

Hamlet also interferes in Gertrude’s sexual relationship with Claudius while overlooking his uncle’s role in the relationship. The explanation is probably a combination of women’s passive role in society and Hamlet’s overpowering feelings for his mother.

It is also worth mentioning that women are perceived as puppets in men’s hands. Claudius and Polonius use Ophelia and Gertrude when it comes to spying on Hamlet. In fact, these two characters love Hamlet. However, since women’s status in society was too low, they did not have a right to go against men. Hence, Ophelia and Gertrude were involved in Claudius’s evil plan against their will.

💬 Quotes about Misogyny

“Frailty, thy name is woman!”

Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 2

“Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.
The chariest maid is prodigal enough,
If she unmask her beauty to the moon:
Virtue itself ‘scapes not calumnious strokes:”

Laertes, Act 1 Scene 3

“I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God
has given you one face, and you make yourselves
another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and
nick-name God’s creatures, and make your wantonness
your ignorance.”

Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1

⛪ Religion in Hamlet

Theme of religion in Hamlet.

Exploring the theme of religion in Hamlet, it is worth mentioning that the play was written during the 16th century’s religious anxieties in England. Thus, Shakespeare reflects the realities of his time in Hamlet.

What happened in 16th-century England?

The Religious Reformation occurred. As a result, a significant number of people converted from Catholicism to Protestantism. This led to tension between two religious branches: Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

In Hamlet, this tension is reflected through the characters of Old Hamlet and Young Hamlet.

We can assume that the King is Catholic. Why? Because when the Ghost appears, he claims that he is stuck in some kind of purgatory. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father tells that he is:

“Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg’d away.”

Act 1 Scene 4

Here we can notice the reflection of the culture in Hamlet. According to cultural and religious norms, purgatory is an element of the Roman Catholic Church. As Old Hamlet’s spirit claims that his soul is stuck there, we can conclude that the recently departed King was Catholic.

In contrast, Hamlet’s religion is Protestantism. He studies at Wittenberg University, where Protestant reformation leader Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses. Thus, Wittenberg is considered to be home to the movement. Hamlet shares fresh views and innovative ideas. He perceives the world around him from the perspective of Protestantism. It becomes challenging for him to confront old Catholic traditions and prejudices.

How does religion affect Hamlet?

Of course, Hamlet’s belongingness to Protestantism influences his personality. Firstly, he considers suicide as an option to get rid of all of his problems. For the Protestant worldview, it is not a solution. At the end of his famous monologue, Hamlet decides against suicide as he’s unsure about his soul’s place after death.

Secondly, Hamlet’s hesitance can be explained by his belongingness to religion. We can assume that the protagonist doubts whether to kill his uncle as he fears eternal damnation. When Prince finally stabs Claudius, the readers observe the failure of religion in Hamlet. Even though murder is immoral and unacceptable by faith, he ultimately avenges his father.

💬 Quotes about Religion

“O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will.”

Claudius, Act 3 Scene 3

“To my sick soul, as sin’s true nature is,”
Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss:
So full of artless jealousy is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.

Gertrude, Act 4 Scene 5

“Well, God ‘ild you! They say the owl was a baker’s
daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not
what we may be. God be at your table!”

Ophelia, Act 4 Scene 5

🙈 Corruption, Poison, and Decay

Theme of corruption in Hamlet.

An atmosphere of corruption, poison, and decay lingers over Hamlet from the play’s very first scene and continues till the very end. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” notices Marcellus in Act 1 Scene 4. What does he mean? How does this quote set the tone of the play? Let’s figure out the meaning of the poison metaphor in Hamlet and discover the themes of corruption and decay.

The general feeling of disease and decay appears in Hamlet act 1. In the first lines of the play, Francisco tells Barnardo:

“For this relief much thanks: ’tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.”

Act 1, scene 1

But what is this sickness? And is it only Francisco who feels terrible inside? Or is there somebody else in Hamlet with a disease?

The entire play is built upon the idea of the corruption of the body and the soul. After the death of Old Hamlet, Claudius takes the throne. However, the new King only pretends to be a good ruler. In fact, he is the cause of the country’s decay and the flourishing of corruption in Hamlet.

Shakespeare highlights the negative consequences of Claudius’s governance by describing nature’s decay. The author shows that weeds are overwhelming healthy plants, and everything is rotting in the gardens.

A significant symbol in Hamlet is poison. Throughout the play, several characters die because of it. This adds extra meaning to the concept of the play since poison corrupts people from the inside.

Shakespeare depicts a poisonous and gloomy atmosphere in Hamlet to argue that there is a link between internal rot and external decay. The state of Denmark experiences political corruption. Shakespeare, however, invokes another kind of corruption — rotting, putrefying, and fouling — to prove to the readers that a corrupt kingdom is just as horrible as a decaying corpse.

💬 Quotes about Corruption

“Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.”

Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 2

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Marcellus, Act 1 Scene 4

“O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will.”

Claudius, Act 3 Scene 3

🏡 Family Theme

Family theme in Hamlet.

In his plays, Shakespeare frequently touches on the theme about family. The author masterfully depicts the relationships between parents and children, spouses, and other relatives. Let’s take a closer look at the family theme in Hamlet.

The story rotates around Hamlet’s family tree. His mother, Gertrude, marries his uncle, Claudius, very soon after his father’s demise. Firstly, Prince is disgusted and incredibly bothered by his mother’s affair and marriage with his uncle. He starts thinking that all the women are two-faced and deceitful.

Secondly, Hamlet realizes that Gertrude and Claudius commit incest. Though, he doesn’t blame Claudius for this. That’s why there is a common opinion that Hamlet has the “Oedipus Complex.”

What does “Oedipus Complex” means?

It is a state of sexual attraction towards a parent of the opposite sex. Does Зrince indeed desire his mother? Shakespeare does not reveal this secret. We, the readers, may only make our assumptions.

Another vivid example of family conflict in Hamlet is Polonius’s family. He takes too much control over his children, Laertes and Ophelia, trying to trace their actions. Pretending to be a caring father, Polonius spies upon his son and hurts his daughter’s sincere feelings towards Prince. Thus, Polonius is a representation of poor parenting in Hamlet and the symbol of weak family ties.

All the examples of family significance in the play lead to deaths:

  • Being a faithful son Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s death. This proves Prince’s honor and loyalty to his family.
  • Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine and dies, saving her son. It may demonstrate her unconditional love for Hamlet as she sacrifices herself for her child.
  • Ophelia gets insane as she learns about her father’s death and commits suicide.
  • Laertes becomes mad as well and decides to avenge Hamlet for Polonius’ and Ophelia’s demise.

Overall, the theme of family in Hamlet is somewhat controversial. Shakespeare demonstrates relationships in the play from different angles. Thus, the readers can evaluate the significance of family ties in people’s lives.

💬 Quotes about Family

“O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.”

Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 2

“Look you, sir,
Inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris;
And how, and who, what means, and where they keep,
What company, at what expense; and finding
By this encompassment and drift of question
That they do know my son, come you more nearer
Than your particular demands will touch it:
Take you, as ’twere, some distant knowledge of him;
As thus, ‘I know his father and his friends,
And in part him.'”

Polonius, Act 2 Scene 1

“How stand I then,
That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep?”

Hamlet, Act 4 Scene 4

💫 Theme of Madness

Theme of madness in Hamlet.

The theme of madness in Hamlet plays a crucial role and drives the plot of the play. Shakespeare depicted insanity through different characters. The primary ones are Hamlet, Ophelia, and Laertes.

Hamlet

If we conduct Hamlet’s madness analysis, we can assume that he only pretended to be insane in the beginning. His original intention was to fool everyone around and prove Claudius’s guilt. However, as the action unfolds, his madness partially turns into a real one since he becomes more vulnerable.

The reasons for Hamlet’s madness are apparent. The desperate desire to avenge his father by killing Claudius occupies his mind. Consequently, Hamlet’s mental illness progresses. He starts acting impulsively and even thinks of suicide as an option. Thus, Hamlet’s insanity plays a cruel joke: he becomes mentally unstable and unable to take full control of his actions.

Laertes

Shakespeare also discovers the theme of madness in Hamlet through the character of Laertes. After Prince stabs Polonius, Laertes gets too frustrated and seeks revenge. Due to rage and grief, he strives to avenge his father and kill Hamlet. With the progress of the play, he has even more reasons for revenge as Ophelia also dies.

In the end, Laertes’s madness is defeated. He considers the apology from Hamlet, proving he isn’t actually insane. His fury and rage made him blind, making him willing to pursue revenge.

Ophelia

Ophelia’s madness is another aspect that should be considered. If Hamlet’s and Laertes’s insanity is questionable, hers is real.

Ophelia is a fragile character. Being too overwhelmed by her father’s death, she loses her mind. Moreover, if we conduct an in-depth Ophelia’s madness analysis, we can conclude that her insanity comes from Hamlet’s betrayal. The lady is sincerely in love with Prince. However, he mistreats her and stabs her father. Being unable to resist such stress, Ophelia loses her mind.

The scene with the flowers proves that Ophelia’s madness in Hamlet is genuine. She commits suicide right after:

“but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”

Act 4 Scene 7

Overall, the significance of madness in Hamlet should not be underestimated since this theme drives the progress of the play. Amongst all the characters, Ophelia was the one person who was infected by true insanity. In contrast, the madness of Hamlet and Laertes is controllable. All the characters had one thing in common: their turmoil was driven and encouraged by a devastating loss in their lives.

💬 Quotes about Madness

“Though this be madness, yet there is method
in ‘t.”

Polonius, Act 2 Scene 2

“It shall be so:
Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.”

Claudius, Act 3 Scene 1

“Was’t Hamlet wrong’d Laertes? Never Hamlet:
If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away,
And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes,
Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it.
Who does it, then? His madness: if’t be so,
Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong’d;
His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy.”

Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 2

Thank you for reading! Check other articles about Hamlet via the links below.

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IvyPanda. "Themes." July 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/hamlet-study-guide/themes/.

References

IvyPanda. 2021. "Themes." July 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/hamlet-study-guide/themes/.

References

IvyPanda. (2021) 'Themes'. 15 July.