This paper purports to analyze some of the themes and strategies used in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare.
The appearance of a ghost in the play may seem unconventional and out of place today, however, it was a widely used thematic strategy in the Elizabethan times. The supernatural were used to depict tragedy or to convey lessons. It not only impressed and inspired the audience, but also helped to create an aura of dramatics and stage magic. This would make the play larger than life. Using a rampant and commonly accepted phenomenon in the play helped the writer to connect with the audience.
The ghost of King Hamlet, however, has a more important role in the play than being a mere thematic apparatus. It forms the backbone of the play, and lays down the reason for the tragedy and the action of the characters. Additionally, ghosts have commonly been used in the theater and even in the television and films to convey the message that foul play cannot be concealed forever, and that sooner or later the truth is revealed and the sinner punished, as it is said in the play, “Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes” (I. II. 276, 277). In such cases, the ghost often terrorizes and drives the culprits insane. Had the play been written today, the ghost would probably have been replaced by a diary entry or a revealing letter left irresponsibly by the culprit and read accidentally by the protagonist. This also highlights the difference in the perception and the expectations of the audience of the Elizabethan times and of today.
In his soliloquy, Hamlet utters the most popular single phrase of the literature, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question” (III. I. 63). This soliloquy is essentially a musing of Hamlet on the possibility of taking his life due to the pains and burdens of this life, and at the same time of being unsure about what might lay ahead after he kills himself. The notions of a life after death and of punishment after this life due to the sins committed here are in accordance with the common religious beliefs, although such inferences are not explicitly made in the play. However, Hamlet gives voice to the general doubts and thoughts of the masses when he wonders about what he might experience if he ends his life. While narrating the many problems of this world, he concludes that it is still safer to bear with them as the advent of a punishing life after death and of the unknown is scarier and riskier, and he might end up being in a greater trouble than he is at the moment. At the end, out of despair and dread for the punishment of his sins, he pleads with Ophelia to ask for forgiveness for him, when he says, “The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons, be all my sins remembered” (III. I. 96, 97). This act of seeking forgiveness from a higher power, or God, is also religious in context, and is a means of connecting with the audience, by drawing on mutual beliefs.
Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” Enotes.com, 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.