Dr. Gates: Hamlet Study, page
Strategy for organizing the play and study of the play
A: Study the soliloquies and
This is a play which (like Richard III, Othello), is dependent upon soliloquies.
Besides the soliloquies telling us the usual, information that main characters do not reveal to others, the nature of Hamlet’s soliloquizing is unique.
For Hamlet, examine what occasions each soliloquy. What has just happened? What is Hamlet responding to?
His philosophizing is his main trait. His moods change. He attacks his mother and when ordered not to blame her, pledges to follow the Ghost’s call for revenge. Later he questions the morality of the ghost.
Examine where Shakespeare uses both asides and soliloquy to expose Claudius’ own sense of his guilt,
His hope he can still get away with his crime,
His plans to censure, ship away, and murder Hamlet.
B: The main and foil characters.
This is a rich text to examine the main character against his many foil characters.
Laertes, Fortinbras, Ophelia, Horatio
First three contrast in ways they react to father’s death
Horatio like Hamlet is a student; he also functions as confidant.
Foil Characters, cont’d.
Laertes like Hamlet in act one is presented as a young man at court who should get on with his life after these court affairs.
Polonius’s overconcern for Laertes as compared to Claudius attempting to play the stepfather.
Laertes as foil.
When Laertes returns after the death of Polonius, Shakespeare presents us with a character who goes about revenge for his father’s death in a bold and defiant way.
Fortinbras, too, has lost a father, and Hamlet in his last soliloquy measures his own hesitant revenge against Fortinbras’s over military bearing.
Ophelia as foil
Like Hamlet, she loses her father, but her would be lover has killed her father.
She goes mad, from what? From Hamlet’s mistreatment of her? From Polonius’ over control in his banning Hamlet from her? From having her lover kill her father?
Hamlet’s disguise of madness of course must be measured against the disintegration of Ophelia.
Other Strategies (C)
Interlocking action, the subplots as tangent to, but part of, the main plot
Renaissance English Drama is most often multi- or double-plotted. Shakespeare’s King Lear combines two separate sources to counterpoint Lear and Gloucester’s mistreatment by their immoral children.
Like other playwrights, Shakespeare in Hamlet uses humor in subplots to counter the tragic action.
Interlocking action, cont’d.
Polonius’ obsession with parenting and Hamlet’s distraction.
Claudius using R & G as spies.
old friends whom Hamlet enjoys
directed to act a play Hamlet knows has parallel to his father’s murder.
Other strategies (D)
Nature of tragedy in the play
excess of virtue vs. tragic flaw
self-recognition but too late.
Political & family drama
Religion in the play
One of Hamlet’s dilemmas: is revenge Christian?
Other Strategies (E)
imagery of decay
Shakespeare plays upon the concept of decay (“Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark”) with infinite variety.
Hamlet uses garden imagery and the ghost tells him of corruption in the garden.
This culminates in the Act five, scene one graveyard scene. Hamlet’s first appearance after his return.
Kermode and refutation
Numerous strategies for developing a counter argument for Kermode’s claim that Hamlet is too overwritten a “multiple play.”
How I use this in class each semester varies, but read the key paragraphs of the Introduction.
In choosing your own refutations, avoid Jones and Freudian readings (explain)
Hamlet and Tragedy
Be thinking about constructing a final exam essay on comparative study of tragedy, using Hammersmith, Aristotle, how Hamlet departs from tragedy typical of revenge (studied later in Titus Andronicus).
Consider especially, the interpretive challenges: How is the potential for catharsis set up; how is self-recognition handled, how is Claudius both villain and tragic figure.