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FULL TITLE  ·  The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Summary  · The Tragedy of Hamlet is a play originally done by Shakespeare and is set in the ancient kingdom of Denmark. The play is basically about the revenge of a prince after his family members including the king, King Hamlet, were murdered by his uncle, Claudius, so that he could inherit the throne as well as the wives of his kinsmen. The play culminates when the young king finally kills Claudius and manages to take back the thrown of his father. The theme of the play is that of revenge, family ties and corruption. It is Shakespeare’s longest play.

AUTHOR  · William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in 1564. Very little is known about his life, but by 1592 he was in London working as an actor and a dramatist. Between about 1590 and 1613, Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated on several more. Many of these plays were very successful both at court and in the public playhouses. In 1613, Shakespeare retired from the theatre and returned to Stratford-upon-Avon. He died and was buried there in 1616.


GENRE  · Tragedy, revenge tragedy

LANGUAGE  · English

TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN  · London, England, early seventeenth century (probably 1600–1602)

DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION  · 1603, in a pirated quarto edition titled The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet; 1604 in a superior quarto edition


MAJOR CONFLICT · Hamlet feels a responsibility to avenge his father’s murder by his uncle Claudius, but Claudius is now the king and thus well protected. Moreover, Hamlet struggles with his doubts about whether he can trust the ghost and whether killing Claudius is the appropriate thing to do.

RISING ACTION  · The ghost appears to Hamlet and tells Hamlet to revenge his murder; Hamlet feigns madness to his intentions; Hamlet stages the mousetrap play; Hamlet passes up the opportunity to kill Claudius while he is praying.

CLIMAX  · When Hamlet stabs Polonius through the arras in Act III, scene iv, he commits himself to overtly violent action and brings himself into unavoidable conflict with the king. Another possible climax comes at the end of Act IV, scene iv, when Hamlet resolves to commit himself fully to violent revenge.

FALLING ACTION  · Hamlet is sent to England to be killed; Hamlet returns to Denmark and confronts Laertes at Ophelia’s funeral; the fencing match; the deaths of the royal family

SETTING (TIME)  · The late medieval period, though the play’s chronological setting is notoriously imprecise


FORESHADOWING  · The ghost, which is taken to foreshadow an ominous future for Denmark

TONE  · Dark, ironic, melancholy, passionate, contemplative, desperate, violent

THEMES  · The impossibility of certainty; the complexity of action; the mystery of death; the nation as a diseased body

MOTIFS  · Incest and incestuous desire; ears and hearing; death and suicide; darkness and the supernatural; misogyny

SYMBOLS  · The ghost (the spiritual consequences of death); Yorick’s skull (the physical consequences of death)

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