True or False • 1. If someone hurts one of your family members, you should hurt them back.
Basic Plot • Hamlet is the son of the late king of Denmark (who dies two months before the play starts). • After his father’s death, his Uncle Claudius becomes king and marries his mother, Gertrude • Hamlet thinks Claudius may have murdered Hamlet Sr. to become king.
Basic Plot • Two officers of the king, Marcellus and Bernardo, beckon Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, and later Hamlet himself to see the late King Hamlet’s ghost appear at midnight. • Privately, the ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius really did kill him by pouring poison into his ear while he was sleeping. • Hamlet gets angry and devises a plan for revenge.
HAMLET: Prince of Denmark • The prince of Denmark, and a student at the University of Wittenberg. • Hamlet is melancholy, bitter, and cynical, full of hatred for his uncle and disgust at his mother for marrying him. • Hamlet becomes obsessed with avenging his father’s death but keeps thinking of reasons why he should wait before killing Claudius—then chastises himself for failing to act boldly. • Hamlet is a character of contradictions. • At times Hamlet is indecisive, but at other times he is prone to impulsive acts of violence. • Hamlet can be compared to Simba from The Lion King
CLAUDIUS: The Evil Uncle • Claudius can be compared to Scar from The Lion King • The new king of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle. • The villain of the play, Claudius is a calculating, ambitious politician, adept at manipulating others for his own ends and willing to execute, assassinate, or murder to stay in power. • He doesn’t understand Hamlet or Hamlet’s motives, but he is quick to perceive Hamlet as a threat and take decisive action against him. • Claudius does occasionally show signs of remorse and human feeling—his affection for Gertrude, for instance, seems sincere.
GERTRUDE: The Queen of Denmark • The queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother, recently married to Claudius. • She seems clearly to love Hamlet, but Hamlet sees her as a weak, even depraved, woman motivated wholly by lust. • Hamlet has such strong feelings about her sex life that he becomes momentarily distracted from his revenge quest, urging her toward a life of chastity. • Gertrude can be compared to Sarabi in The Lion King
POLONIUS: Ophelia’s pompous father • The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, and the father of Laertes and Ophelia. • Polonius has good intentions, but he tends to be somewhat underhanded. • He frequently leaps to the wrong conclusions, and his speeches are comically pompous and long-winded. • He is completely incapable of figuring out what Hamlet is up to. • Polonius can be compared to Zazu in The Lion King
HORATIO: Hamlet’s One True Friend • Studied with the prince at the University of Wittenberg. • Hamlet trusts Horatio above any of the other characters, valuing him for his even temper and equanimity—qualities that Hamlet seems to despise in himself. • Horatio is loyal and helpful to Hamlet throughout the play. • Horatio can be compared to Timon or Pumba from The Lion King
OPHELIA: Hamlet’s girlfriend • Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love. • A sweet and innocent young girl, Ophelia dutifully strives to obey her father and her brother, Laertes, allowing Polonius to use her in his scheme to spy on Hamlet. • Ophelia can be compared to Nala from The Lion King.
LAERTES: Ophelia’s brother • Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother, a young man who spends much of the play in France. • Passionate and quick to action, Laertes is a foil for the reflective and agonized Hamlet.
FORTINBRAS: Prince of Norway • The young prince of Norway, whose father the king (also named Fortinbras) was killed by Hamlet’s father (also named Hamlet). • Now Fortinbras wishes to attack Denmark to avenge his father’s honor, making him another foil for Prince Hamlet. • Hamlet admires Fortinbras for his willingness to fight for no good reason.
THE GHOST: Hamlet’s Father • The specter of Hamlet’s recently deceased father. • The ghost, who claims to have been murdered by Claudius, calls upon Hamlet to avenge him. • However, it is not entirely certain whether the ghost is what it appears to be. • Hamlet speculates that the ghost might be a devil sent to deceive him and tempt him into murder, and the question of what the ghost is or where it comes from is never definitively resolved. • The dead king can be compared to Mufasa from The Lion King.
ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN • Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior. • The silly yet dangerous hyenas from The Lion King have been compared to these characters, who are also pawns of a villain (Claudius/Scar).
OTHERS • OSRIC: A foolish courtier • VOLTIMAND and CORNELIUS: Courtiers sent to Norway to prevent Fortinbras from attacking Denmark • MARCELLUS and BARNARDO: Officers who see the ghost • FRANCISCO: A soldier • REYNALDO: Polonius servant and spy
Commentary • Hamlet is perhaps the closest of Shakespeare’s tragedies to modern sensibility. Its hero’s doubt and indecisions are familiar to modern man, equally tormented by a lack of certainties and the inability to communicate.
Commentary cont. • As the Romantic critic August W. von Schlegel noted, Hamlet is the tragedy of will: in it, thought kills action. • Hamlet’s indecision must be placed against the background of the revenge tragedy, a very popular genre at the time. • According to its conventions, Hamlet should have sought revenge with all his force and as soon as possible. But he does not do so. He is full of hesitation.
Themes • Impossibility of Certainty • Complexity of Action • Mystery of Death and After Life • Nation as a Diseased Body • Revenge • Class Issues • Love
Meaningful Excerpts To be, or not to be- that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them… Yorick’s Skull
To be, or not to be- that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them… The question is: is it better to be alive or dead? Is it nobler to put up with all the nasty things that luck throws your way, or to fight against all those troubles by simply putting an end to them once and for all? NO FEAR Translation
To die, to sleep- No more- and by sleep to say we end The heartache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to- ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream- ay, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause. There’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life Dying, sleeping- that’s all dying is- a sleep that ends all the heartache and shocks that life on earth gives us- that’s an achievement to wish for. To die, to sleep- to sleep, maybe to dream. Ah, but there’s the catch, in Death’s sleep who knows what kinds of dreams might come, after we’ve put the noise of life behind us. That’s something to worry about. That’s what makes us stretch out our sufferings so long. Meaningful Excerpts II NO FEAR Translation
LEGACY • Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most famous play. • The popularity of Hamlet has been constant through the centuries, and its story is one of the most frequently filmed.