Doubt in Hamlet

1267 Words Mar 1st, 2013 6 Pages
‘Her death was doubtful.’ Analyse the theme of doubt in Hamlet.

In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, doubt is one of the most important themes. In fact, the whole play is based on the story of a ghost who claims to be Hamlet’s father, and nobody can be sure if what he says is the truth. In this essay, I am going to focus on the theme of doubt throughout the play. I will first speak about the opening scene, and then I will talk about the ghost, which is a supernatural element used by Shakespeare to create doubt in the play. I will also analyse the passage in which Hamlet declares his love to Ophelia. Finally, I will briefly discuss Hamlet’s sanity.
What happens in the opening scene is very relevant and foreshadows the atmosphere of the whole
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I think that the last scene of the first act is one of the most important ones because it is when the ghost demands Hamlet to “[r]evenge his [father] foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.25). By asking revenge, the ghost introduces here the main plot of the play, which is going to be based on that revelation. We do not know if Hamlet can trust the phantom’s accusations, if the ghost accuses Claudius because he has proof of Claudius’s guilt or just because he is deducing. Hamlet cannot be sure of any of those questions, and I think that it is this doubt introduced by the ghost that makes Hamlet incapable of action and revenge.
The plot of the play focuses on the one hand on the impossibility to know the truth, and on the other hand on the necessity to know the truth to act with justice and with honour. As D.G. James says in his essay, “[c]onscience requires that we do is right; but then, what is right or wrong in these circumstances?” We can thus say that Hamlet is right to hesitate. It is only in the second act that Hamlet begins to doubt, and begins to think that “[t]he spirit that [he] ha[s] seen/ May be the devil” (2.2.575-6). When Hamlet realizes that it “may be a deceiving spirit”, he decides to stage that play to trap Claudius. But “when his guilt was proved beyond any doubt, Hamlet still did not kill him; he left him alone, giving a reason, plausible enough in Hamlet’s eyes, in the eyes of his audience, and in our eyes […]” (Hattaway, p83). As I said before, the