Hamlet -- Theme Essay

1941 Words 8 Pages
Hamlet -- Theme

There is lively critical debate about the themes in the Shakespearean drama Hamlet and their proper ranking in importance. This paper hopes to discuss the some of the main themes and their significance in the play.

Is procrastination the main theme of the drama? D.G. James in his essay, “The New Doubt,” expresses his view:

But few of us will deny that Hamlet’s procrastination is the major fact in the play and that it was intended by Shakespeare to be so. But are we really to find his procrastination a mystery and to leave it a mystery? Is there really anything mysterious about a man who has come to no clear and practiced sense of life, and who in the face of a shocking situation which
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The end crowns the whole. The sarcasm of fate could go no further. Hamlet, who aspired to nobler things, is treated at death as if he were the mere image of his father: a warrior. Shakespeare knew what he was about in making the conclusion of his play martial. Its theme has been war as well as revenge. (23)

The interpretation of the main theme of the play as revenge is stated by Phyllis Abrahms and Alan Brody in “Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy Formula”:

There are ten deaths in Hamlet, if we include the death of Hamlet’s father and the “make-believe” death of the Player-King. The cause of each can be attributed directly to another character’s action – or lack of it. But if a play is to be a coherent work of art there must be some central action around which all the other parts revolve. What is the central, unifying action of Hamlet? Revenge. (43-44)

R.A. Foakes continues on the revenge theme in “The Play’s Courtly Setting”:

And where there is no legal punishment for his father’s death, he must stoop, driven by the universal wrong, and “being thus be-netted round with villainies”, to revenge. He must share the corruption of others in spite of his nobility, and recognize in himself the common features, "we are arrant knaves all." (53)

The opening of the play introduces the theme of supernatural influence on the present. Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes the opening scene:

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