Background

  • Elsinore Castle
    • Home of the royal family in Denmark
    • Well guarded, but not from the ghost
  • Sentinel
    • The position that stands guard at the gate
  • Armor, Beaver, Truncheon
    • Elements that help Horatio recognize king Hamlet
  • Wittenberg
    • City in Germany where Hamlet and Horatio go to school
    • Expensive (home of the first printing press bible)
  • Confession
    • Religious ritual to clean the soul of sin
    • Because the last king died without the chance to go through the ritual, he is doomed to punishment
    • Similar to Polynesian need to be buried
  • Arras
    • The tapestry used in wall hangings and curtains
    • Polonius hides behind one to spy on Gertrude talk with Hamlet
  • The Mousetrap Play
    • Similar to the mousetrap board game where you go piece by piece to trap the mouse
    • Hamlet is doing this in the play to trap and test Claudius’s guilty conscience
  • Recorder
    • Wind instrument with a tube like shape and eight finger holes
  • Chalice
    • Cut that holds poison, intended for Hamlet
  • Willow tree
    • Where Ophelia falls to her death
    • Symbol of weeping and love
  • Skull
    • The gravediggers give it to Hamlet
    • As he is sitting there talking to this skull, you wonder whether he is actually acting weird as he told the others, or if he is actually going crazy
  • Signet
    • Seal that gives authority to a document
    • Hamlet uses it in is order of execution for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
  • Nunnery
    • House for nuns, Hamlet orders Ophelia to go
    • Elizabethan slang word
  • Rapier
    • Fencing sword with a poisoned blunt edge

Themes

Fate vs Free will

  • Common theme in Shakespeare
  • Hamlet questions whether it is better to act decisively or let nature take its course (follow the ghost)
  • Asks if anything we do has an impact

Madness

  • Hamlet kills Polonius thinking he is Claudius
  • His famous soliloquy “To be o not to be” is where the contemplates suicide and the meaning of life
  • Hamlet tells Guildenstern that his is only mad sometimes, that he knows the hawk from a handsaw
  • He pretends to be mad in front of Claudius and Polonius
  • Hamlet follows the ghost
  • Ophelia goes mad after her father’s death and Hamlet’s rejections
    • She sings songs and gives flowers to people

Revenge

  • There are three young men who seek revenge for their fathers
    • Foils for each other
  • The play shows how they can act impulsively and blindly

Death

  • The ghost is the first thing we meet which is a depiction of death
    • Symbol of disruption to the accepted social order
    • “Something’s rotten in Denmark”
    • King murdered, queen marries in 2 months
    • People are scared they are going to be like Norway (king died, son takes over and goes to war)
  • Hamlet’s indecision is reflected in the instability of Denmark
  • Hamlet becomes fascinated by death
    • When he discusses Polonius’s death body he says, “We eat in life, we are eaten in death”
    • When burying Ophelia he talks to the skull

Religion

  • His “to be or not to be” soliloquy he decides not to kill himself because it is against his religion
  • He doesn’t kill Claudius while he is killing because he thinks Claudius will go to heaven when he wants him to go to hell
  • Protestant Reformation is currently happening when Sophocles was writing this
    • Shakespeare (Protestant) might have started to question religion
    • Lived in Wittenberg where the Ninety-five thesis
  • The Ghost is doomed to walk the earth which is purgatory a Catholic idea

Lies and Deceit/Corruption

  • Heath of a nation is connected to the legitimacy of the king
    • Hitler
  • External rot and internal rot is connected
  • Ghost are a sign of bad things happening

Gender/Women

  • Gertrude and Ophelia are forced to do things to survived
  • Their social position is based solely on their behavior
  • Ophelia is forced to follow what her father says and spy on Hamlet
    • Loses her sanity with the death of her father
    • After this she is seen passing our flowers and signing nursery rhymes (her only purpose)

Family

  • Ultimate dysfunctional families
  • Hamlet’s family
    • Father dies
    • Mother remarries quickly
    • Claudius kills his brother for the thrown
    • Hamlet is unable to act upon his father’s murder
  • Polonius’s family
    • Polonius forces Ophelia to choose whether Laertes leaves or Polonius dies