Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Willian Shakespeare, Hamlet (c. 1599−1601)

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c. 1599−1601) is a tragedy set in the Danish court in the Middle Ages where the tragic hero, Prince Hamlet, is prone to over-philosophise or be governed by tumultuous passions, which results in procrastination and indecisiveness when decisive action was required, and this led to his downfall and destruction. 

Although trained in martial arts and court politics, Prince Hamlet had the soul of an intellectual and the disposition of a sensitive young man who was struck by a profound melancholy over the recent loss of his father in suspicious circumstances, with this being swiftly followed by his mother’s sinful incestuous (by the Christian standards of the time) marriage to his uncle Claudius who has been crowned the new king.   

When Hamlet was confronted by the ghost of his dead father and given the responsibility to avenge his death and remove the rottenness that plagued the kingdom of Denmark to thereby restore the natural moral order, he was daunted, and his character flaws came to the fore.  Over-philosophising and seeking more than the necessary proof in order to feel confident enough to act, Hamlet forfeited his chance to cleanly smite his foe, Claudius.  As a consequence, Claudius mobilised against him.  Even though Hamlet outmanoeuvred several attempts to destroy him, his procrastination and indecisiveness had fatal consequences and he became ensnared in a web of assassination and counter-assassination plots that eventually destroyed him. His display of noble courage at the end was not enough to save him from his tragic fate. 

Secondly, the play puts forward an argument on what constitutes good governance, this being a combination of Machiavellian realism and moral rectitude.  Prince Hamlet was not up to the task.  Although he kills his uncle Claudius, the dishonourable usurper to the throne, it is only when Fortinbras is endorsed to become the king after the demise of Prince Hamlet that the natural moral order is restored to the realm. 

There is also a subtheme where Shakespeare uses his play to comment on the aesthetics of good theatre, in particular on the need for the actors to be faithful to the script.  While exploring this subtheme, Shakespeare also comments on the role theatre can play in providing a critique of government. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Hamlet meaning, Hamlet themes, Hamlet analysis, Hamlet notes