Key Themes

Quick revise

Ghosts

  • The ghost of Hamlet’s father, the dead King Hamlet, appears several times in the play.
  • He is a credible figure as there was strong belief in ghosts at the time the play was written.
  • He exists as several characters see him, so he is not a figment of Hamlet's imagination.
  • He demands revenge for his death and basically is responsible for Hamlet’s agonies throughout the play.
  • Hamlet tests the ghost by staging the play and it confirms that what the ghost says is true.

Politics

  • The play is played to a political backdrop and there is always the threat of war in the background.
  • The clearest political theme is that of power and Claudius has gained his through murder. He must now keep that power.
  • Set in Denmark but written for an English audience.

Religion

  • It been suggested that Hamlet's hesitation to kill Claudius may be as a result of the religious beliefs of Shakespeare's time.
  • The Reformation had generated discussion about the existence of purgatory (where the Ghost of King Hamlet claims he currently is).
  • The concept of purgatory (a place between heaven and hell) is a Catholic one, and was frowned on in Protestant England.
  • The play questions such matters and manipulates the audience’s views on religion.
  • Contextually this period is one of great religious confusion, which the play exploits.

Truth, lies, acting and disguise

  • This is a key theme.
  • The play within the play is the most obvious form of acting where the play re-enacts the death of King Hamlet and allows Hamlet to see Claudius’ reaction, confirming his guilt.
  • Many of the characters act throughout the play, not being their true selves. Claudius pretends to be sad for King Hamlet’s death and he also pretends to like Hamlet. Hamlet plays a variety of roles to suit the situation he is in or the people he is with.
  • Hamlet feigns madness to put others off their guard and not take him as a serious threat.