Hamlet is among the most respected and prominent works by William Shakespeare. The scene is set in the ancient kingdom of Denmark. The play depicts the vengeance Prince Hamlet performs towards his uncle Claudius for killing King Hamlet, his uncle’s brother and the main character’s father. After that Hamlet takes over the throne and marries Gertrude, his own mother. The play brilliantly depicts both real and pretended insanity – from devastating anguish to furious fury – and deals with deceit, vengeance, incest, and ethical corruption (Rice 5).
Outline of Aristotle’s “Theory of Tragedy” in his Poetics defines tragedy as an act that is solemn, whole, and of a sure scale; it is composed in language overwhelmed with imaginative adornment, the numerous varieties found in separate sections of the play; in the structure of action, not of the story; with incidents provoking pity and fear in order to achieve its ‘katharsis’.
According to critics, the play is the most filmed after Cinderella. It is ranked among the most influential and powerful plays written in English. The play begins on a dark winter night where a ghost, which resembles the recently dead king Hamlet, appears. The first people to witness the ghost are the two watchmen and the scholar Horatio. They call prince Hamlet and the ghost speaks to him and reveals the truth. Through this encounter the prince learns about the details of his father’s assassination. The ghost expects to see revenge. The phantom declares that it is indeed his father; therefore, it orders Hamlet to seek revenge on Claudius who took his throne through corrupt ways and married his wife; then the ghost disappears with the dawn (Brook et al. 36).
Prince Hamlet, being a thoughtful, contemplative person in nature, hesitates to be consumed by the thoughts of avenging his father’s death. However, he is still concerned about the recently learnt truth. Therefore, he begins to investigate the whole affair. He cannot directly blame his uncle, King Claudius, as this would be considered a crime. King Claudius and Queen Gertrude notice the prince’s strange behavior and try to find out what caused it. Because of this, the king and queen employ two of Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on him. In the midst of all these actions Polonius, the pompous Lord Chamberlain, claims that Hamlet and his daughter Ophelia are in love. Despite Hamlet looks mad, he is not in love with Ophelia; on the contrary, at one point he orders her to go to the nunnery and claims that he wishes to ban all the marriages.
In terms of themes, the most open theme is love and deceit; the main characters in the play appear to be either in love or to be deceitful. For example, Claudius might be considered to be a thief of love as he kills the king and takes the widow as his wife. On the other hand, despite Hamlet is in deep thoughts concerning his father, he does not show Ophelia any love at all (Ellie et al. 24).
The mystery of death can also be considered as one of the principal themes in this play. Death plays a principal role when Hamlet tries to prove that the current king killed his father. He is infatuated with the thought of death, and all along the play he critically evaluates death from vast points of view. He witnesses death both spiritually, personified in the ghost, and physically, presented by Yorick’s skull and the decomposing dead body in the graveyard (Rice 34).
Throughout the play, death integrates with other subjects such as spirituality, truth, and uncertainty, which somehow provide answers to Hamlet’s troubling questions. Death is the cause of the revenge theme that has consumed Hamlet; it also brings forward the issue of justice. The readers witness this when Hamlet tries to solve his inner struggle and execute justice for the murder of his father. Hamlet in his own words contemplates suicide, therefore, he tries to question if suicide is moral in a world that is full of pain. Hamlet faces much pain and grief that leads him frequently to think of his own death. However, he does not commit suicide because of the strong Christian background. He believes that he will be doomed to languish in hell and suffer eternally. Most vividly this dilemma is depicted in his soliloquy and the famous phrase – “To be or not to be”. Hamlet thoughtfully concludes that no one can bear the pain of life if he or she is not afraid of the aftermath. It is this dread that causes multifaceted moral deliberations on the way of the ability for action (Brook et al. 43).
The ‘impossibility of certainty’ is yet another theme in this play; it is depicted through the questions that are often left out in other plays. However, in this play they are not left out. For example, can we believe ghosts? Is the spirit what it seems to be, or is it a deceptive fiend? Can the ghost provide reliable information concerning its death, or is the ghost fooled or fooling others? Or, looking at more real matters: can one be accused of a crime with no witnesses? Can one know if a person is guilty by just observing his or her behavior? It is through these questions that Hamlet’s indecisiveness comes out as his failure to act appropriately. The play also shows the readers how many uncertainties our lives are based on and how many things people take for granted (Rice 59).
William Shakespeare’s mastery is witnessed in the way he uses his characters to send out the necessary messages to the readers. It is surprising to see how Hamlet is enigmatic in his role; there is more to this character than in any other. It is evident to any reader that there is more in Hamlet that surprises the play’s audience. With his charisma and wit, Hamlet has for a long time fascinated the readers; his enigma is the first thing a reader notices about this character. Hamlet, a university student, is contemplative and philosophical; however, his studies are cut short due to the death of his father. He is predominantly strained to difficult questions or questions that do not have definite answers. Hamlet’s main rival is an astute, immoral, manipulative king, who vastly differs from other characters in the play. However, while other men in the play are consumed with the ideas of justice, moral balance and revenge, Claudius is busy fighting to maintain his power. Such behavior depicts Claudius as a corrupt leader who manipulates others through his skillful eloquent language (Ellie et al. 78).
This play is a masterpiece. The work is perfectly organized, and the readers are left to choose the side they like. Therefore, the idea of a tragedy is skillfully depicted, and it is crafted to fit every reader’s imagination. Suspense and a sad mood are well balance to offer the continuity in the play.