Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

author  William Shakespeare

type of work  Play

genre  Tragedy, revenge tragedy

language  English

time and place written  London, England, early seventeenth century (probably 1600–1602)

date of first publication  1603, in a pirated quarto edition titled The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet; 1604 in a superior quarto edition

protagonist  Hamlet

major conflict Hamlet feels a responsibility to avenge his father’s murder by his uncle Claudius, but Claudius is now the king and thus well protected. Moreover, Hamlet struggles with his doubts about whether he can trust the ghost and whether killing Claudius is the appropriate thing to do.

rising action  The ghost appears to Hamlet and tells Hamlet to revenge his murder; Hamlet feigns madness to his intentions; Hamlet stages the mousetrap play; Hamlet passes up the opportunity to kill Claudius while he is praying.

climax  When Hamlet stabs Polonius through the arras in Act III, scene iv, he commits himself to overtly violent action and brings himself into unavoidable conflict with the king. Another possible climax comes at the end of Act IV, scene iv, when Hamlet resolves to commit himself fully to violent revenge.

falling action  Hamlet is sent to England to be killed; Hamlet returns to Denmark and confronts Laertes at Ophelia’s funeral; the fencing match; the deaths of the royal family

setting (time)  The late medieval period, though the play’s chronological setting is notoriously imprecise

settings (place)  Denmark

foreshadowing  The ghost, which is taken to foreshadow an ominous future for Denmark

tone  Dark, ironic, melancholy, passionate, contemplative, desperate, violent

themes  The impossibility of certainty; the complexity of action; the mystery of death; the nation as a diseased body

motifs  Incest and incestuous desire; ears and hearing; death and suicide; darkness and the supernatural; misogyny

symbols  The ghost (the spiritual consequences of death); Yorick’s skull (the physical consequences of death)