A pivotal scene in Hamlet is the “play within a play,” designed to entrap Claudius. But many of the characters are “play-acting,” and many other scenes echo the dominant theme of illusion and deceit. Trace the motif of acting, seeming, illusion, and deceit as opposed to sincerity, being, reality, and honesty, as these qualities are evidenced throughout the play.
I. Thesis Statement: Many of the characters in Hamlet are involved in duplicity designed to deceive, betray, or destroy others. The recurring motif of acting, seeming, illusion, and deceit as opposed to sincerity, being, reality, and honesty illustrates this underlying duplicity throughout the play.
II. Act I
A. The sentinels debate whether the Ghost is real or “but our fantasy.”
B. Hamlet tells Gertrude his grief is genuine: “I know not ‘seems.’”
C. Laertes and Polonius both warn Ophelia that Hamlet’s words and “tenders of love” toward her may be false.
D. The Ghost refers to Gertrude as “my most seeming-virtuous queen.”
III. Act II
A. Polonius instructs Reynaldo to use indirection to learn how Laertes is comporting himself in Paris.
B. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Polonius and Claud¬ius are all trying to find out through devious means what is bothering Hamlet.
C. Hamlet notes the fickle nature of the populace, who once ridiculed Claudius, but who now pay dearly for his “picture in little.”
D. Hamlet laments that he, who has cause, cannot avenge his father, while the actor is able to convincingly portray the emotions over imaginary characters and actions.
IV. Act III
A. Claudius and Polonius set Ophelia as bait to Hamlet, to try to learn the cause of his madness.
B. Claudius refers to the discrepancy between his deed and “[his] most painted word.”
C. Hamlet instructs the Players to “hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature.”
D. Hamlet is totally honest with Horatio about the Mousetrap plot because Horatio is beyond flattering, or being beguiled by falseness.
E. “The Mousetrap” and dumb show are “acting” or “seeming,” and Hamlet’s motive in having it performed is ulterior.
F. Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that they are “playing” him like a flute, and are not being honest with him.
G. Hamlet says his “tongue and soul in this be hypocrites” as he goes to speak with Gertrude, with whom he is very distraught.
H. Claudius discovers that his true thoughts cannot give way to his desired action of praying; yet Hamlet is fooled by the appearance of Claudius at prayer and does not murder him.
I. Hamlet tells Gertrude that her deeds have belied her vows; he urges her to “assume a virtue” if she does not actually have it.
V. Act IV
A. Claudius tells Gertrude of the necessity of making themselves appear blameless in Polonius’ death.
B. Hamlet continues the pretense of madness as he teases Claudius about Polonius’ corpse and his own departure for England.
C. Claudius reveals the fencing plot to Laertes, and says even Hamlet’s mother will be convinced his death is an accident.
D. Claudius asks Laertes if he loved Polonius, “Or are you like the painting of a sorrow, / A face without a heart what would you undertake / To show yourself in deed your father’s son More than in words?”
E. Claudius says they would be better off not to attempt the plot against Hamlet, since if it fails “And . . . our drift look through our bad performance.”
VI. Act V
A. Hamlet and Horatio, discussing the similarity of all skulls despite the owner’s station in life, says not even makeup can keep a lady from looking just like Yorick’s skull.
B. Hamlet criticizes Laertes’ show of grief as inferior to his own grief and love for Ophelia, and leaps into the grave also, so that his actions match his feelings.
C. Hamlet’s use of his father’s signet made the letters appear to be legitimate.
D. The sword fight appears to be legitimate, but is rigged against Hamlet’s success.
Characters who parallel yet contrast one another are said to be foils. Authors often use foils to clarify character traits as well as issues in stories and plays. Discuss Shakespeare’s use of foils, focusing on the parallels and contrasts of any one of these pairs of characters: Hamlet and Laertes; Hamlet and Horatio; Hamlet and Fortinbras; Laertes and Horatio; Claudius and Hamlet’s father; Gertrude and Ophelia; Polonius and Claudius; Polonius and Hamlet.
I. Thesis Statement: Shakespeare clarifies character traits as well as central issues in Hamlet by the use of foils, characters who parallel yet contrast one another. One such pair is ________.
II. Hamlet and Laertes
A. Both men seek to avenge a father’s death.
B. Both love Ophelia and mourn her death.
C. Laertes moves to seek immediate redress, while Hamlet hesitates.
D. Laertes is fooled by Claudius’ duplicity, and endures Polonius’ pomposity; Hamlet sees Claudius’ treachery, and mocks Polonius.
III. Hamlet and Horatio
A. Hamlet praises Horatio as a just and temperate man, who “is not passion’s slave,” who suffers life’s ups and downs with equanimity.
B. Hamlet is tormented, confused, and appears insane to nearly everyone who witnesses his behavior or hears him speak.
C. Although Horatio does not have the elements to contend with that Hamlet does, the suggestion is that Horatio would have responded very differently and more effectively, had he faced them.
IV. Hamlet and Fortinbras
A. Like Laertes, Fortinbras seeks immediate redress for his father’s death, and is curbed only by the intervention of his uncle, King of Norway.
B. Hamlet must be prompted and later reminded by his father’s Ghost to get on with the task of avenging the murder.
C. Hamlet’s endorsement of Fortinbras as the new king of Denmark indicates Hamlet’s approval of Fortinbras’ character and demeanor.
V. Laertes and Horatio
A. Laertes is a lesser version of Horatio, made so because of Laertes’ gullibility in the face of Claudius’ manipulative flattery.
B. Hamlet notes that Horatio is above flattery, and thus unable...
HAMLET ESSAY TOPICS
"Hamlet" is Shakespeare's perpetual masterpiece of all centuries and generations. Its main character, Hamlet, is a person who rises above the grey mold of his time, philosopher, who possesses unrivalled power of eloquence, true poet, who struggles against injustice and stands up for truth. This unique image of the Denmark prince, created by William Shakespeare, has no equal in the world literature.
It is considered to be impolite not to know whom the phrase "To be or not to be" belongs to. So every person with respect for himself should be acquainted with this literary work.
Choosing one of a great diversity of Hamlet essay topics always presents a lot of difficulties, as you never know where to begin with, when writing a Hamlet essay. With this list of Hamlet essay topics you won't be at a loose end, as you can choose from a broad spectrum of approaches for Hamlet essay writing.
Hamlet Essay Topics
- Aristotle said that consistency and probability are the two most important elements in the drama. Does Shakespeare, in creating the characters in Hamlet, follow or ignore this idea? You may consider both major and minor characters.
- Write an essay on the function of the soliloquies in Hamlet.
- Discuss the function of a particular trope, such as Shakespeare's use of the military or theatrical.
- Discuss Shakespeare's use of figures from nature (weeds, worms, et al.) or of sickness, rot and contagion.
- Examine how Shakespeare makes use of classical allusions.
- Discuss Hamlet's "antic disposition." Is his madness feigned or real?
- Conflict is essential to drama. Show that Hamlet presents both an outward and inward conflict.
- Is Hamlet primarily a tragedy of revenge?
- Discuss Hamlet's relationship with Gertrude.
- How important is the general setting of Denmark to the overall play?
- Why does Hamlet delay taking revenge on Claudius?
- The character Claudius has been compared to Macbeth. How similar are these two characters? In what ways are they similar?
- Compare Laertes with Hamlet: both react to their fathers' killing/murder. Is the reaction of either right or wrong?
- Compare and contrast the characters of Hamlet and Horatio. How alike or dislike are they and why?
- Hamlet remarks, "His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy." Explain Hamlet's motivation behind this comment and examine how true his remark is.
- How important is the Ghost in the triangular relationship of Hamlet, Gertrude, and Claudius?
- Although Hamlet ultimately rejects it at the end of the play, suicide is an ever-present solution to the problems in the drama. Discuss the play's suggestion of suicide and imagery of death, with particular attention to Hamlet's two important statements about suicide: the "O that this too, too solid flesh would melt" soliloquy and the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy.
- Why did Ophelia commit a suicide? What was the reason of this deed?
- Select one of Hamlet soliloquies and by a detailed attention to the poetry discuss the nature of Hamlet's feelings as they reveal themselves in this speech. What insights might this speech provide into the prince's elusive character?
- Select a particular scene in and discuss its importance in the play. How does this particular part of the action contribute significantly to our response to what is going on? What might be missing if a director decided to cut this scene (e.g., Claudius at prayer, the scene between Polonius and Reynaldo, the gravedigger scene)
- Discuss Hamlet's treatment of and ideas about women. How might these help to clarify some of the interpretative issues of the play? You might want to consider carefully the way he talks about sexuality.
- Hamlet's flaw is that he fails to act on instinct - he thinks too much.
- Discuss the importance of appearance and reality in Hamlet.
- Reveal the philosophy of Hamlet by his affectionate love to theater.
- Hamlet and Orestes have similar challenges, and their stories are, in many respects, quite alike. In what ways are the heroes significantly different?
- What is the role of symbolic image of the Yorik's skull in the play?
- Is something rotten in the state of Denmark? If so, what precisely is it? Is anyone in particular responsible or is the rottenness simply a condition of life?
- Write an essay defending one of the following options. "Hamlet is . . . -a noble prince who suffers from a corrupt world that is not suitable to his sensitive moral nature; -a true poet."
- Think about Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia. Does he love her? Does he stop loving her? Did he ever love her? What evidence can you find in the play to support your opinion?
- Consider Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's role in the play. Why might Shakespeare have created characters like this? Are they there for comic relief, or do they serve a more serious purpose? Why does the news of their deaths come only after the deaths of the royal family in Act V, as if this news were not anticlimactic? Is it acceptable for Hamlet to treat them as he does? Why or why not?
- Analyze the use of descriptions and images in Hamlet. How does Shakespeare use descriptive language to enhance the visual possibilities of a stage production? How does he use imagery to create a mood of tension, suspense, fear, and despair?
- Analyze the use of comedy in Hamlet, paying particular attention to the gravediggers, Osric, and Polonius. Does comedy serve merely to relieve the tension of the tragedy, or do the comic scenes serve a more serious thematic purpose as well?
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