Death is obviously one of the central themes of Hamlet. As a tragedy, death must play a starring role, with the entire cast dying at the end. While death is a part of any tragedy, it plays an especial role in Hamlet. One of the central themes of Hamlet is the inevitability of death, that death is essentially a part of life; to live is necessarily to die. There are several ways this theme is developed throughout the play, and to one degree or another every character pushes this theme forward. The most prominent character in the play, Hamlet, however, certainly does more to forward the theme of inevitable death than any other character. The character Hamlet develops and drives forward this theme throughout the entire course of the book through the imagery that surrounds him, dramatic irony, and his own dialogue.
Hamlet begins driving home the inevitability of death from nearly the very opening of the play, when he meets with and confronts his father’s ghost. Horatio begs him not to follow the ghost, and attempts to restrain him, but Hamlet pushes past and seeks out his father (Shakespeare I.iv). Hamlet immediately sharing the stage with the ghost of his father helps remind the audience that part of the process of having children and raising them is the replacement of one’s self when one passes away – it almost begs the viewer to imagine Hamlet’s son talking to his eventual ghost. Hamlet’s lack of fear of the otherworldly figure also serves to reinforce the universality of death: fearing death is as silly as fearing the sun rise, because both are equally guaranteed.
The dramatic irony surrounding Hamlet also serves to reinforce the inescapability of death. The audience knows that Hamlet is going to die – there is no suspense there. This is the tragedy of Hamlet. When his father tells him of the poisoning, the audience knows that this will begin a chain of events leading to Hamlet’s eventual demise – but Hamlet himself has no idea of this. The long process of watching someone slowly step towards their own guillotine forces the audience to question their own awareness of their impending deaths, and forces thoughts of inescapability on the viewer.
Finally, Hamlet’s dialogue resounds with death imagery and consciousness of death. His most famous soliloquy, “to be or not to be” (III.i), asks the audience to consider the degree to which life is actually better than death, and whether death might be a preferable alternative to life. By directly comparing death to life in this “pro/con” mentality, Shakespeare removes some of the terror from death and reinforces the degree to which it is a part of life – and might be better than it.
Hamlet drives forward one of the most important themes in his eponymous play. He, through the imagery that surrounds him, the dramatic irony that he takes part in, and his own dialogue, drives forward the idea that death is inevitable and all consuming, but not necessarily something to be feared – death is life, and vice versa.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Chelsea House, 1990. Print.