full title The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
author William Shakespeare
type of work Play
genre Tragedy, revenge tragedy
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
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)