‘Theme’ is an overarching idea, philosophy, and belief used in the literary works by a writer to show these concepts directly or indirectly. However, in the case of Hamlet, this single idea sometimes fail to cope with the issue in the face of various interpretations. Hamlet’s themes are pervasive and yet dominant that every reader has his own opinion. Some of the major ideas of Hamlet have been discussed below.
Themes in Hamlet
Madness is one of the dominant themes of Hamlet. Hamlet displays many sides of his personality since the death of his father. He appears as a philosopher, a sage, a mad as well as a mentally disturbed person. He also expresses that there is a “method in my madness.” It shows that he is insane but just in his pretensions to show his pain to others. He wanted them to see and understand that it was difficult for him to bear things like loss and betrayal. That is the very reason that King Claudius fears his madness as some pretention to have exposed his crime of assassinating Old Hamlet.
On the other hand, he shows such a face to Ophelia that she reports that his madness is true. Polonius, on his part, considers it a madness of love, while Gertrude considers it only madness. However, King Claudius does not accept any of these opinions and sees his folly a threat to his throne and his own life. In the end, his fear comes true when Hamlet exposes him. However, Hamlet also loses his own life in this struggle.
Although not considered a good act in Christianity and even in other faiths, revenge is another theme that runs throughout the play. In fact, the appearance of the ghost in the first act lays a heavy responsibility on Hamlet to exact the revenge of his “unjust murder.” However, as a philosophical mind, Hamlet must establish the responsibility of the crime on Claudius first and only then take the decision to seek justice. Due to Hamlet’s conscious mind, the revenge is delayed. He, though, succeeds in exposing the crime, Hamlet does not find a way to try Claudius in the court. On the other hand, Laertes also seeks revenge from Hamlet for his father murder and is willing to kill Hamlet even in the Holy place, church. These two thematic stands of revenge run parallel until the dual and their deaths
Although not a dominant theme, religion still has its significant impact on the roles and acts of Hamlet and other characters. Besides some religions markers, there are some dominant religious opinions and thoughts. Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” is interpreted on the lines of his religious thinking about suicide. As a suicide, is a sin and will take you to hell. He also does not kill Claudius during prayers because he would go to heaven and he does not want to grant him this opportunity. The last comments by Horatio also show the religious expressions in the play, which is also a form of prayer, when he says “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” It means that religion is still a strong point in Hamlet even at the end.
Subversion of Relationships
Subversion and turns and twists in relationships is another theme of Hamlet. Gertrude is a cousin of Claudius and must not marry him on legal or religious terms. However, they both marry subverting their relationship. Claudius is Hamlet’s uncle but also becomes his step-father. This subversion in the sacred relations against the Protestantism is another great theme of Hamlet.
One of the most controversial and most striking themes of Hamlet is his delay. While trying to establish the crime, Hamlet delays his revenge. He doesn’t want an innocent’s death on his conscience and wants his action to be justified. In the entire play, he has numerous chances to kill Claudius. He waits until he confirms the crime of Claudius by staging the play. Once he also finds Claudius praying, and has a perfect opportunity to kill him. The delay also drives him mad and leading to severe depression until he finally acts up it. The delay indirectly cost his own life. However, the last conversation with Horatio to leave and show the justification of his cause to the world makes it clear that the intent of delaying was to seek justification.
Although it is not that significant, honor is another theme that various characters depict through their actions and dialogues. The honor that Hamlet feels lies in his revenge of his father’s murder. However, he always thinks that his honor is at stake if his actions have no justification. On the other hand, Laertes thinks that he will lose his honor if he does not exact revenge of his slain father who Hamlet mistakenly kills. In other words, the true honor for both lies in seeking revenge for their fathers though in a different way. Therefore, honor is one of the notable themes of Hamlet.
Ambiguity of Language
The ambiguity of language and its skillful use is one of the minor themes of Hamlet. The language used by Hamlet and Claudius in the first act is full of ambiguity as well as the skillful use of puns. Hamlet, too, uses similes, metaphors and various literary devices to make his language sound vague. To unravel such a loaded language has lent Hamlet a great place among all the masterpieces.
Although it does not seem much significant, human beings or mankind’s mysterious capabilities and faculties are seen as another secondary theme in the play. Hamlet thinks too much about ‘man’ (human) and praises his abilities of thinking and taking relevant actions that impact other humans’ lives. However, he also wonders at the other metaphysical realities such as death, destiny, human relations and use of words.
Hamlet is also a political drama. It is because it starts with political intrigues in which Old Hamlet has lost his life, and the young Hamlet is after his uncle, Claudius. His mother has married his uncle, while the rest of the palace is divided into these palatial intrigues. The intrigues lead to widespread conspiracies and killings. Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s death as soon as he gets the right opportunity so that he can expose King Claudius true nature to his subject. However, everything comes to an end when Claudius also plots to kill Hamlet or be killed.
Although suicide is not all pervasive like other dominant themes, it is present in Hamlet’s character throughout the play. Specifically his soliloquy “to be or not to be” points his inclination toward suicide but he drops it later when he realizes it is forbidden in religion. Ophelia, too, commits suicide but her case is different from Hamlet because she could not carry the weight of Hamlet’s taunt and loses her sanity. In other words, suicide is also a primary theme of Hamlet.