Hamlet Sample Essay

Hamlet Sample Essay

To what extent has your personal understanding/response to the play, Hamlet, been shaped by the enduring powers of Shakespeare’s characterisation of Hamlet?

The characterisation of Hamlet has greatly shaped my (Unless you have been told you can, do not use ‘my’ for an essay.) understanding of the play and its enduring qualities. “Hamlet” (1601) is a Shakespearean tragedy and is a play impressively built through its clever content, construction and language that achieves status of textual integrity and has remained as a classic in English literature. The play depicts a young prince who seeks vengeance over his uncle’s murder of his father, the king, and captures complex ideologies through the character of Hamlet. Hamlet evolves as a character, starting off as a noble and emotionally deep son who is considered to have appropriate behaviour in society in the given circumstances, however over the course of the play, his obsession with revenge troubles him with procrastination and uncertainty, and leads to eventual madness. (You don’t need to provide a summary) Shakespeare cleverly expresses the characterisation of Hamlet with key scenes through aspects such as the structure of the play, contextual influences, dramatic and language rhetoric such as soliloquies and dramatic irony, genre and text-type conventions, themes and Hamlet’s relationship with other characters in the play.

As the play begins, Hamlet is presented as a respectful, noble prince who shows melancholy attitudes over his father’s death and his mother’s rapid remarriage. In comparison to other characters in the play, Hamlet is seen to respond with appropriate behaviour. In Act 1 Scene 2, Gertrude asks, “If it be, why seems it so particular with thee?” in which Hamlet responds, “seems madam? Nay it is, I know not it seems. ‘tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother.” Hamlet’s diction suggests that he “is” depressed, more extensively than what his appearance shows or “seems”. The rhetorical question expresses his angry attitude to his mother. In this scene, the theme of appearance against reality is introduced, where appearance can deceive what one is truly feeling. The metaphor in, “’tis not alone my inky cloak.” Expresses this theme, that what he appears to be, does not show to any extent of how frustrated and depressed he really is while the other characters like Claudius and Gertrude desire to accept the situation and move on with life, Hamlet is unable to do so. In the same scene, Hamlet’s “O that this too too solid flesh would melt.” Soliloquy, he expresses his true emotions and opinions. “She married. Oh most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets.” The context of this play is the Elizabethan era where incestuous marriage was forbidden by the church. This reference shows its enduring qualities as a universal text, because as a 21st century audience, we are able to comply with our moral ethics and agree to view the marriage wrongly in a similar way to the preceding contexts. This leads to the belief that Hamlet is an intellectual character with behaviourally correct perceptions. The fact that Hamlet is a son who is emotionally and ethically attached to his father is reinforced, “Nor customary suits of solemn black, Nor windy suspiration of forced breath, No, Nor the fruitful river in the eye, Nor the dejected haviour of the visage.” The comparisons he makes of his state of mind to things like, “suits of solemn black: and the “dejected haviour of the visage.” Reveal his class status as an educated noble prince, however the repetition of “nor” suggest an attitude of complaining and child-like behaviour. The emotionally detached character of Hamlet allows the audience to empathise his frustrating position as the son of King Hamlet.

Over the course of the play, Shakespeare emphasises the characterisation of Hamlet’s obsession over revenge troubles him with procrastination and uncertainty. Although Hamlet has a clear goal, his moral and religious perceptions detour him from killing Claudius. In act 3 scene 3, Hamlet says, “am I then revenged to take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and seasoned for his pages? No.” The structure of a play dictates the plot to climax in act 3, however Hamlet continues to procrastinate. Shakespeare deliberately uses the structure of a play, to show that the climax refers to Hamlet’s procrastination and emphasises this as a significant part of Hamlet’s character. This unconventional structure filters in to its textual integrity as an outstanding text. The main cause of Hamlet’s procrastination and uncertainty is his views on the irrational society. His father’s request for revenge causes the death of others which conflict with the concept of murder as a sin. Hamlet is trapped in the conflicting intertwinement of religion and respect, which leads to his existential crisis shown through Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” Through the antithesis, Shakespeare is able to portray the uncertain and unstable nature of Hamlet. The fact that he could’ve killed Claudius in this act, but decided not to, and how he is contemplating on suicide, reveals that he is over-thinking everything. The genre conventions of a Shakespearean tragedy show that the tragedy could have easily been avoided. Hamlet’s over thinking and contemplation is the factor that could’ve prevented any deaths, however the play’s genre convention emphasise Hamlet’s procrastination and uncertainty.

The character of Hamlet is always mad throughout the entire play after hearing from the ghost. Critics argue that Hamlet pretends to be mad and then eventually becomes mad, however I believe Hamlet is constantly mad throughout the play. In Act 2 Scene 2, Hamlet’s soliloquy reveals his shock that the players can act false emotions and expressions, “In a dream of passion, could force his soul so to his own conceit… and his whole function suiting with forms to his conceit? And all for nothing?” Soliloquies reveal the truth, and the rhetorical questions show Hamlet’s frustration and anger that he himself cannot deceive by appearance, like the players. The theme of appearance versus reality is applied again and Hamlet’s shock towards the player’s ability to shadow his reality reveals that Hamlet could not have been pretending to be mad, in fact he was mad from the ghost scene. The genre conventions of a Shakespearean tragedy consist of the concept that the mad characters are the wisest and those who speak the truth. The conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia in Act 3 Scene 1 shows Hamlet’s aware and wise reception, “I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in… Where is your father?” Hamlet presents psychological and philosophical ideologies that depicts his wisdom. He questions Ophelia, “Where is your father?” which has been received differently by many critics. Particularly in productions and appropriations to Hamlet, Claudius makes a noise that Hamlet picks up and realises that someone is present. However even then it is difficult for Hamlet to pinpoint that it was Polonius that was spying on him. In the original play, (You only need to discuss the text you have. Extras and other players are choices made by a director in production, the scene of the playwright is the blueprint we as readers interpret) there is a lack of stage direction or action or the presence of other characters in the scene other than Ophelia and Hamlet, and Hamlet wisely, almost unrealistically questions Ophelia about her father. Shakespeare combines these dramatic techniques or lack thereof, and genre conventions to identify Hamlet as a mad character. The negative connotations of a ‘mad’ character coincides with another negatively portrayed identity, that is the villain. Hamlet is the villain of the play. This is reinforced by the conventions of a Shakespearean play, in which usually the villain is the protagonist and is the one who drives the plot. The other character, Claudius, who is usually perceived as the villain, takes a much smaller role in the progression of the plot. It is Hamlet whose is mostly committing the murders and actions. We know from the beginning of Hamlet’s characterisation that he has no sinful intentions, even though he has committed a lot of sins, which attract the audience to lean towards the conclusion that Hamlet is mad.

The tragedy play, “Hamlet”, presents complex characterisation of Hamlet. It leaves questions that allow for the audience’s opinion to control the character of Hamlet and gives the text a high degree of universality. This enduring power of the characterisation of Hamlet that Shakespeare has presented makes the text a classic and is still popular today with the evolving values of different contexts.


Some very detailed discussion and analysis of both Hamlet and the play. You have got some valuable insights into the meaning of the play. Discussion is mostly excellent, you have really elaborated on each quote. You have discussed Hamlet’s characterisation effectively.

The question has only been partly answered here, albeit, the question is a little vague in.  You haven’t really answered how these are ‘enduring powers’ which affected your personal understanding of the text. The point about universality was good and it would have fulfilled this.

You have summarised the play a bit, which is not necessary.

Avoid writing claims by ‘critics’ whose names and faces you do not provide. This response is about your analysis, not theirs. You also don’t need to talk about productions of the play, because you are not studying those. Your only focus is the text itself.

Your work could be improved by sharpening your discussion:

  1. Have a clear, re-phrased version of the question which utilises its keywords
  2. Trim some of your discussion down – ask ‘is this line adding something’
  3. Edit your work and rephrase sentences to shorten where possible

A very good attempt, but your response does not address the question as deeply as it could do.

You have written a clear outline, which for the most part is excellent. You do, however, vaguely discuss sections of the play and you elaborate on others a bit too much. You need to constantly evaluate what you write and trim where you can. With a good edit, you could easily cut about 500 words from this response.

With some revision and some extra focus on Hamlet’s ‘enduring powers’, you have the makings of a potent essay response.

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