William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragic story entangled in a web of deceit and vengeance. Hamlet provides some insight into modern society, as the play involves many issues which are still very relevant in today’s world. Although Hamlet is by now over 400 years old, its interpretation of the human mind is timeless.
The key themes behind Hamlet are the price of vengeance, effects of deception, madness and the consequences of corruption. The themes that Shakespeare expresses in Hamlet are just as relevant to today’s society, perhaps even more so.
Hamlet Themes - Revenge
The cover of Hamlet in 1605
The theme most prominent in Hamlet is revenge. Hamlet’s fierce desire to avenge his father’s murder is what drives the play.
Modern day society is obsessed with a belief in revenge. The media constantly bombards society with depictions of supposedly "sweet" revenge. Films and novels are often based entirely around the heroic figure’s quest for revenge, while newspapers portray stories of vengeance such as wars, law suits and murder.
"Revenge is Sweet"? Well, according to many movies and television shows, revenge is indeed very sweet. But in Hamlet Shakespeare challenges common beliefs about revenge. Is revenge always sweet or is it, as in the case of Hamlet, a bittersweet affair attained at a high price?
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the hero is the representation of society and mankind, blinded by a lust for revenge which steers him down the path of evil. Inevitably, this path leads not only to his own death but the death of his family, the woman he loves, and ultimately the destruction of the throne of Denmark.
Hamlet Themes - Deception
Deception is a large aspect of Hamlet, as every character is very seriously affected by it in one form or another. Hamlet illustrates the dangerous influences that deception can have on relationships and family trust. Shakespeare demonstrates direct and very harsh consequences to deception throughout Hamlet.
Two of the character’s lives are taken in the play purely because of a lie. Things turn against Claudius, the new King, who is the first to deceive the people around him, and in the end he pays very dearly for it too. And relationships are ruined between Hamlet and most of the characters because of the web of lies strung around each character.
Hamlet Themes - Madness and Suicide
Madness can be a state of mind a person enters when unable, or unwilling, to tolerate real life anymore. In Hamlet, Ophelia turns to madness when she can no longer tolerate the confusion all around her and the turmoil of her own mind. We then see how a person who is mad or depressed, may begin to contemplate suicide, as a final escape from confusion, as is the case with Ophelia.
Hamlet Themes - Immorality and Consequences
In Hamlet, Shakespeare illustrates the theme of man facing consequences for misdeeds, strongly reinforcing a sense of "reaping what is sowed". Man’s continual struggle with morals has been a classic example used in stories ever since the beginning of history.
Hamlet, the hero and representation of humanity, is thus tempted similarly through his blindness towards wrong doing. He sows murder and deceit in the name of vengeance, but, ironically, is himself deceived and then murdered by a similar character to himself as an act of revenge.
Hamlet Themes - Conclusion
Hamlet challenges many of today’s conventional thoughts and beliefs, particularly about vengeance and deceit, and the consequences of doing wrong. One of the morals of the play Hamlet is to forgive and forget rather than plotting revenge. Another lesson from Hamlet concerns avoiding starting down a path of evil where deeds slowly becomes worse and worse without the person confronting their gradual corruption.
After the death of its king, the land of Denmark is left in a state of disorder and mayhem.
Young Prince Hamlet, the late King’s son, is left particularly distressed, not only because
of the King’s death, but also the sudden marriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to
Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, barely two months later. To add to Hamlet’s confusion, the late
King’s spirit returns to tell him that the late King was murdered by Claudius - Hamlet’s
uncle, his mother’s husband, and therefore the new King of Denmark!
Hamlet Characters - Hamlet
Prince Hamlet, whose quest for revenge shapes the story, is Shakespeare’s
representation of humanity. Thus his emotions, desires, and temptations can all be
related to by mankind. Although an intelligent scholar, Hamlet is blinded by a
revenge-driven bitterness that triggers the beginning of his journey down the path of sin
and results in tragedy. This path chosen by Hamlet symbolizes mankind’s own struggle
with temptation and corruption.
Hamlet Characters - Claudius
In his ambition to become the King of Denmark, Claudius, the villain of Shakespeare's Hamlet, weaves a
web of deceit and betrayal. However, his reign comes to an abrupt end when he must
reap the consequences of his path of wrongdoing.
Hamlet Characters - Gertrude
Queen Gertrude is similar to Ophelia in that she is a victim of the tragic events in Hamlet.
However, unlike Ophelia, she is not without blame since she forgets her loyalty to her late
husband and allows herself to be deceived into marriage by Claudius. Yet Gertrude pays
dearly for her mistakes in the end.
Hamlet Characters - Ophelia
The innocent victim in Hamlet is Ophelia, the young lady who Hamlet loves but who loses
her life as a consequence of Prince Hamlet’s tragic path. Her unwavering integrity is lost
in tragedy as a result of both her father’s and Hamlet’s sowing of deceit.
Hamlet Characters - Polonius
Polonius plays the accomplice to the villain, King Claudius. In a quest for the King’s
favour, Polonius attempts to bring about Hamlet’s downfall, even going so far as to use
his daughter, Ophelia’s, continuing obedience to betray him. However, Polonius’
misdeeds soon take their toll. His dishonourable death, stabbed by Hamlet while hiding
behind a curtain, was an ironic and perhaps suitable ending to the man’s unscrupulous
Hamlet Characters - Laertes
Laertes is a similar character to Hamlet. Once the loving brother of Ophelia, he too seeks
revenge for the murder of his father, Polonius. Laertes’ blindness gives Claudius the
chance to infect his mind and perhaps be rid of Hamlet once and for all. Yet although
Laertes finds the revenge he seeks, he must also reap the costs.