William Shakespeare’s
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Basic Background Information
1600-01 first performed
 1603 first printed
 The plot of the play is not complex. It
progresses in a linear fashion, with all
events happening in chronological
Detailed Background Information
Loosely based on Danish history, the play
most likely has its origins in Histoires
Tragiques, written by Belle-Forest in 1570;
much of Belle-Forest's information is
drawn from the Historica Danica, written
by Saxo Grammaticus in 1208.
Basic Plot Structure
The basic structure of the plot of Hamlet is
remarkably simple; a wrong occurs and the hero
seeks revenge to make it right. In the process,
everyone is destroyed.
 Shakespeare develops the plot of his "revenge"
tragedy in classical form.
Act I is largely expository in nature, introducing the
main characters and the conflict.
Acts II, III, and IV contain the rising action of the plot as
the conflict develops, largely in Hamlet's mind.
Act V contains the climax, a short period of falling
action, and the denouement, or conclusion, in which
Fortinbras takes control of Denmark to bring order to
the country once again.
Themes in Hamlet
Religion & the Otherworldly
 Disease and Corruption
 Fortune, Fate, Providence
Impossibility of Certainty
 Mortality
 Complexity of Action
Motifs are recurring
structures, contrasts,
or literary devices that
can help to develop
and inform the text's
major themes.
Motifs & Questions:
The Theme of Vengeance
 Appearance vs. Reality
 Some things to consider:
 Is
Hamlet Crazy?
 Why does Hamlet Hesitate?
 Is life worth living?
 What is love?
 What is Hamlet’s tragic flaw?
Motif of Misogyny
Hamlet becomes extremely cynical, even
neurotic, about women in general, showing a
particular obsession with what he perceives
to be a connection between female sexuality
and moral corruption.
This motif of misogyny, or hatred of women,
occurs only sporadically throughout the play,
but it is an important inhibiting factor in
Hamlet's relationships with Ophelia and
Motif of Ears and Hearing
One facet of Hamlet's
exploration of the difficulty of
attaining true knowledge is
slipperiness of language.
Words are used to
communicate ideas, but they
can also be used to distort the
truth, manipulate other people,
and serve as tools in corrupt
quests for power.
The sinister uses of words are
represented by images of ears
and hearing, from Claudius's
murder of the king by pouring
poison into his ear to Hamlet's
claim to Horatio that "I have
words to speak in thine ear will
make thee dumb".
Symbols are objects,
characters, figures, or
colors used to
represent abstract
ideas or concepts.
Yorick’s Skull
Aspects of
Decay of the
Human Body
Hamlet Characters
The Prince of Denmark,
the title character, and
the protagonist. About
thirty years old at the start
of the play, Hamlet is the
son of Queen Gertrude
and the late King Hamlet,
and the nephew of the
present king, Claudius.
The King of Denmark,
Hamlet's uncle, and the
play's antagonist. The
villain of the play,
Claudius is a calculating,
ambitious politician,
driven by his sexual
appetites and his lust for
power, but he
occasionally shows signs
of guilt and human
feeling—his love for
Gertrude, for instance,
seems sincere.
The Queen of Denmark,
Hamlet's mother, recently
married to Claudius.
Gertrude loves Hamlet
deeply, but she is a
shallow, weak woman
who seeks affection and
status more urgently than
moral rectitude or truth.
The Lord
Chamberlain of
Claudius's court, a
pompous, conniving
old man. Polonius is
the father of Laertes
and Ophelia.
Hamlet's close friend,
who studied with the
prince at the university in
Wittenberg. Horatio is
loyal and helpful to
Hamlet throughout the
play. After Hamlet's
death, Horatio remains
alive to tell Hamlet's
Polonius's daughter,
a beautiful young
woman with whom
Hamlet has been in
love. Ophelia is a
sweet and innocent
young girl, who obeys
her father and her
brother, Laertes.
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
clearly a foil for the
reflective Hamlet.
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.
The Ghost
The specter of
Hamlet's recently
deceased father. The
ghost, who claims to
have been murdered
by Claudius, calls
upon Hamlet to
avenge him.
Rosencrantz and 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 Acts!
Hamlet, Act I
Scene 1: The Ghost,
the setting & context
 Scene 2: Claudius,
Gertrude, & Hamlet
 Scene 3: Laertes,
Ophelia, & Polonius
 Scenes 4 & 5:
Hamlet and the Ghost
Hamlet, Act II
Scene 1: Polonius and Reynaldo
 Scene 2:
 Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern
 Polonius, Gertrude, and Claudius
 Polonius and Hamlet
 Hamlet and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern
 Hamlet and the Players
Hamlet, Act III
Scene 1: The plot thickens;
Hamlet and Ophelia
 Scene 2:
Hamlet and the Players
Hamlet and Horatio
Hamlet and Ophelia
The Play within a Play
Scene 3: Claudius’s Prayer
 Scene 4: Hamlet & Gertrude;
Polonius slain
Hamlet, Act IV
Scene 1: Disposing of the corpse
 Scene 2: Hamlet and Rosencrantz &
 Scene 3:
 In
search of the corpse
 Hamlet and Cladius
 Hamlet departs for England
Hamlet, Act IV
Scene 4: Fortinbras marches; Hamlet reflects
 Scene 5:
Ophelia’s “madness”
Laertes “storms” the castle
Laertes and Ophelia
Scene 6: Letter from Hamlet re: pirate ship
 Scene 7:
Cladius and Laertes conspire
 Ophelia dies
Hamlet, Act V
Scene 1:
Clown and gravedigger
Hamlet and Yorick
Ophelia’s burial
Scene 2:
Hamlet explains his trick
 Osric invites Hamlet to fencing
 Madness and mayhem ensue
 Fortinbras claims Denmark

Hamlet - Upper Canada District School Board