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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is, perhaps, his iconic play and certainly his most cult tragedy, written in the late 16th century. The play is of the tragedy genre and follows the Prince of Denmark on a dramatic downward spiral into madness. Hamlet, the name of the prince, plots revenge on his uncle Claudius but he is often confronted with ghosts that cause him to question his actions and constantly muse on what he’s doing.
Hamlet is the longest play Shakespeare has written and is often considered to be one of the most powerful pieces of literature in the world. Its global status as a renowned play is largely due to Shakespeare’s ability to create a compelling drama with a gripping plot featuring well thought out and defined characters that add to every part of the story.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is, perhaps, one of the best places to write about and analyze because there is just so much to discuss. Before getting stuck in details, consider our advice about how to set up and write your perfect Hamlet essay.
Before you start writing and criticizing, get reading with your critical mindset engaged. There are a lot of different methods you can use for this purpose, so see which one works best for you and employ that to help you gather the relevant ideas you’ll need to prepare the perfect essay.
A simple highlighter can serve you well when you are engaging in the critical reading activity. Sure, this sounds a little basic (“Isn’t this what we did in school?” – You may ask.) but often the best ideas are the simplest. You can use different colors to tell you about various ideas in Hamlet, for instance, yellow could denote the use of symbolism and green could serve as a useful reminder about the most important themes. It’s up to you and makes the process of reading a play a little less taxing.
Not to mention, make sure there’s the key to the different colors. It sounds simple but you could get carried away otherwise! When you’re color coding something this helps your brain to make a mental note, reinforcing the idea so that you can use it in your analysis later. It’ll not only be helping you with useful reminders and references, it’ll be getting your brain engaged in fifth gear analysis mode.
Annotations can serve you well, especially, when you write something down, which is related to the words annotated. Not only have you reminded yourself of what is important, you can remind yourself of what you were thinking at that time. Highlighting something can show you what parts of the text are worth considering, and making an annotation can show you what is worth studying about them in particular.
While you’re reading Hamlet, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make a separate note page so that you can collect thoughts and ideas for a good plan, when the time comes to make one. It’s better to have yourself prepared for your plan as soon as possible, so why waste time re-reading Hamlet over and over to find what you’re looking for.
Having gathered together everything you need in terms of ideas, it’s now time to decide on what you want the essay to focus on. Do you have a topic in mind? If not, you will need to find one by picking something that’s interesting to you. If your topic has already been determined, you can go ahead and start planning the essay, hopefully, getting the text to a Shakespearean standard. Just joking! Although, get inspired by how well he has written.
To get you inspired into writing a well thought out plan, take note from this example with an essay based on the following title: What does the ghost of Hamlet’s father represent? Of course, this is just a rough idea – you’ll have many opinions of your own that you’ll want to flesh out the essay, but it’s not a bad choice to take a look at how a rudimentary plan should be written.
3. Advice on the Murder
This a brief note on how to plan correctly. The fun part of fleshing out the essay is up to you!
Without a simple and concise thesis statement, your essay isn’t going to be much. A thesis statement will show the audience exactly what has been set out to do, and what the rest of your essay will be about. It’s no use proceeding straight away with your arguments and points if a reader isn’t sure about what to expect. Getting a thesis statement in your introduction helps to bring your arguments to the forefront of the audience’s mind, stimulating the audience to understand what’s coming next.
A clear thesis statement, tying all your ideas together, can feature in your introduction and bring everything commonly in the conclusion. Don’t fret, the statement needn’t be a difficult task to write, it should be short and sweet. You can have plenty of time to flesh out the rest of your points in the main body of the essay.
Shakespeare is a master of writing and there’s a lot you can consider his work. As you read through Hamlet, hopefully, your mind becomes opened up to a whole world of literary discovery. There are more than enough topics to be written so if you’ve got to come up with your own, choose which part of the play appeals the most to you. The story alone is captivating enough to write a whole book on but also there are themes, literary devices and use of language too.
Just make sure you don’t ramble on about everything you know – it can be tempting for students to do this but be aware that it won’t necessarily score you marks for coherence, style, and structure. Focus on a key idea, character, theme, symbol or other topic and analyze it to your full potential.
Writing an essay on such a complex play may seem a little daunting at first, so let’s take a look at some ideas in order to take the edge off and get your writing going. We’ve prepared some examples of topics that you can discuss in your essay.
The theme of death, certainly, runs deep throughout the novel, after all, it is a tragedy, and what can be more tragic than unnecessary death?
After Hamlet’s father is murdered, the main hero becomes obsessed with the theme of death and gives it a great time of consideration and thought. He considers the spiritual implications of what happens next after you die, and the thought of becoming embodied in a ghost. Throughout the play, there are many reminders of how death is uncertain and holds great spiritual meaning, with attempts to unravel how it belongs in the world. As some characters try and carry out their revenge, people die and Shakespeare has got the audience understanding about how death can be very much linked to justice.
Hamlet examines and re-examines the ethics of suicide, wondering whether suicide can be a justified act and whether or not it is morally reprehensible. Shakespeare gives his play a grim and forbidding setting, bringing Hamlet into an unfortunate and uncomfortable life. Hamlet wonders if he can commit suicide in order to alleviate the pain and misery that he holds so deep. He frequently longs for something or someone to take him away from this and end his life on earth, but he fears that committing suicide will lead him to a life of eternal damnation in hell. The play deals with some of the more fundamental Christian ethics regarding suicide, life after death and the right to end life. It is clear that Hamlet is frightened by the prospect of what may happen to him after he dies, and this has a major influence on his actions.
Hamlet is very much nervous and indecisive character – many of the actions that he wants to take in the play are constantly postponed because he wants to be certain that he is going to do the correct thing. One example of such indecisiveness and constant analyzing of thoughts is that he doesn’t understand the action of ghosts, i.e. is a ghost who it appears to be or is it just trying to mislead him? Can he really trust what a ghost says and is what they say really solid enough?
Hamlet over thinks and analyses a lot of topics to determine certainty, often being over-scrupulous. Another great illustration is his thought on crime, i.e. how can one be certain that a crime was committed if there were no witnesses? It is easy to find of the immense amount of indecisiveness that Hamlet experiences throughout the play. The play makes us question our own decision making and how much we take for granted.
This play takes a tragic turn for the worse as the audience are taken through an account of Hamlet’s descent into madness. In the beginning, the main hero tries to feign madness in order to get Claudius’ guard to step down, however, it leads him to begin conversing with dead spirits, which no one else does. We are instantly brought into the theme of madness from the very start.
As Hamlet constantly opens up cans of worms in his mind about various issues with his indecisive attitude, this leads him to start going mad. The audience is given two sides of madness: the fake side that Hamlet initially tries to put on to his advantage, and real-life madness that he grows to experience that leads him to his tragic end.
In Hamlet, Yorick’s skull is a physical symbol used to represent different themes and ideas. Hamlet speaks to this skull and in doing this he becomes fixated with death and bodily disintegration. The skull serves as an object of attachment that he can express his innermost thoughts to and get them out other than by talking to himself. This links Hamlet’s actions to other themes of disintegration whereby he makes references to the decay of many characters’ bodies. Although this is not enough to write a whole essay on, it’s a good idea to reference Shakespeare’s use of symbolism in the play.
Shakespeare only gave his play two female characters, highlighting the unimportance of women in society at the time. These two female characters, Ophelia and Gertrude, are given much fainter plot lines than the male characters in the play, yet they still serve an important role in the plot.
Hamlet is most annoyed when talking to either Ophelia or Gertrude. He cares for both of them but has certain strong opinions about their lives, for instance thinking that his mother Gertrude remarried much too fast. Hamlet believes that Gertrude’s second marriage indicates she won’t love her next husband as much which grates on him.
Ophelia turns Hamlet mad as he discovers she is plotting with Claudius, Polonius, and Gertrude. Hamlet feels he’s been let down by the women in the play and, as a result, is very critical to them. Perhaps, Shakespeare has represented women as unfortunate characters in this play as to make a social commentary about how women were represented at the time.
So as we approach our guide to the perfect Hamlet essay, get inspired and put your thinking cap on. Think about how you can make this the best analytical essay possible by going deep into understanding not only the plot but also the meaning and use of language. How do all these things come together to form Hamlet?