Themes within Hamlet Essay

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Themes within Hamlet

Regarding the themes in Shakespeare’s tragic drama Hamlet, there is a divergence of opinion among literary critics about which should be called the dominant theme and which should be classed as secondary. This essay will discuss the various themes and their ranking.

Perhaps the most popular theme in the play is that of revenge. R.A. Foakes in “The Play’s Courtly Setting” explains the burden of revenge which the protagonist must carry for the duration of the play:

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
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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:

For two nights in succession, just as the bell strikes the hour of one, a ghost has appeared on the battlements, a figure dressed in complete armor and with a face like that of the dead king of Denmark, Hamlet’s father. A young man named Horatio, who is a school friend of Hamlet, has been told of the apparition and cannot believe it, and one of the officers has brought him there in the night so that he can see it for himself. [. . .] Whatever the message is that has wakened the ghost, it refuses to share it with them (35).

Meanwhile Claudius is conducting some items of business:
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