William Shakespeare and Hamlet

Learn about Shakespeare and his famous work piece “Hamlet".

About Shakespeare

William Shakespeare's family

Although Shakespeare’s exact date of birth is unknown, it is known that he was baptized on April 26th 1564 at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.

His father was a successful merchant until the 1570’s when his fortune declined. Shakespeare got married to Anne Hathaway on november 26h 1585 In worecestre at age 18; Anne was 26 years old and pregnant. Their first child was named Susanna born on may 26th 1583. On february 2nd 1585, Anna gives birth to twins Hamnet and Judith; 11 years later, hamnet dies. For the following 7 years, there is no record of hamlet’s life or work; those years are called “the lost years”. He died at age 52 years old and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

William Shakespeare’s education/career

It is believed that William Shakespeare attended the King’s School in Stratford where they were taught how to reading, writing and classics. The first reference to Shakespeare in the literary world of London came in 1592, by a fellow dramatist, Robert Greene. From 1594 onward he was an important member of the Lord Chamberlain’s company of players. Shakespeare became a full-time professional man of his own theatre, sharing in a cooperative enterprise and intimately concerned with the financial success of the plays he wrote. For 20 years Shakespeare devoted himself assiduously to his art, writing more than a million words of poetic drama of the highest quality.

Three “fun facts” about shakespeare

- Shakespeare died a rich man, making several gifts to various people. He left his property to Susanna (his daughter). The only mention of his wife is mentioned in his will is “I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture”. The so called furniture was the bedclothes for the bed.

- Suicide occurs an unlucky thirteen times in Shakespeare’s plays. It occurs in Romeo and Juliet for example, where both Romeo and Juliet commit suicide, and in Julius Caesar where both Cassius and Brutus die by consensual stabbing, as well as Brutus’ wife Portia.

- Shakespeare has been credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language. His vocabulary is estimated to be from around 17,000 to about 29,000 words (at least double the number of words used by the average conversationalist).

Summary of Shakespeare and his times

Shakespeare lived a pretty long and healthy life for a man of his times. Surrounded by a lot of diseases , 52 years was concidered to be a pretty long life. Shakespeare was an actor as well as a writer ; sometimes acting in his own plays. He wrote in average 1.5 plays a year (though it is guessed that he wrote more plays than the ones we know about). His personal life and his acting/writing career were very sperated. He acted and wrote in London, but would go back to his hometown, Stratford, where his family was. Shakespeare died a rich man.

Some questions

1) Why are William Shakespeare’s (WS) works still read and studies in present day? Why is WS popular?

- Illumination of the Human Experience

Shakespeare’s ability to summarize the range of human emotions in simple yet profoundly eloquent verse is perhaps the greatest reason for his enduring popularity

- Great Stories

’’William Shakespeare was the most remarkable storyteller that the world has ever known.’’ (stories from shakespeare,11)

- Compelling Characters

Shakespeare’s great characters have remained popular because of their complexity

- Ability to Turn a Phrase

Many of the common expressions now thought to be clichés were Shakespeare's creations.

2) To whom were WS’s sonnets directed? What is the controversy regarding WS’s literary works ?

- There is a belief that the first 126 sonnets are addressed to a man and that the rest are addressed to a woman. Many scholars do not believe that William Shakespeare could have had the necessary education or life experience to have written such complex texts and also because, he was just the son of a glove maker in a rural town.

3) When was the Renaissance period? What were the three core values of the Renaissance period? Connect them to Shakespeare. How did the renaissance influence Shakespeare’s writing?

- The renaissance took place in the late 15th century to early 17th century.

- The focus on Humanity, which created freedom for artists, writers and philosophers to be curious about the world around them. Shakespeare updated the simplistic, two-dimensional writing style of pre-renaissance drama. He focused on creating “human” characters with psychological complexity. (Hamlet is probably the most famous example of this). The upheaval in the accepted social hierarchy allowed Shakespeare to explore the humanity of every character regardless of their social position.

4) Who were WS’s audience members? What kinds of messages did WS relay to his audience?

- A wide range of social and educational levels which caused a variety in opinion and beliefs. Shakespeare’s plays make few assumptions about the audience’s repsonse to the great quesitons of that day.

5) How are women positively and negatively represented in WS’s plays? Give an example

from Hamlet.

- Gender and power in many of Shakespeare’s works are always going back and forth ; there are some women who are at once exerting a great deal of power and influence while on the other hand there are some often being set back or marginalized.

- In Hamlet, Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, is one of the most privileged and presumably powerful of the women given her position as a royal. However, she is also the woman upon whom the most stringent and rigid social expectations are foisted and for whom it is the most difficult to achieve the kind of autonomy for which she yearns.

6) Shakespeare will be some of the most challenging reading you will attempt.

What are some reading tips to ensure or success?

- Don't expect to understand every word on the first read.

- Bookmark the character list

- Pay attention to the class of Shakespearean characters

- Read out loud

Introduction to Hamlet

Hamlet - Introduction

Hamlet - themes

-The Impossibility of Certainty

-The Mystery of Death

-Incest and Incestuous Desire


-Ears and Hearing

Additional information about Hamlet


The actual name of the castle referenced in the play is Kronborg Castle, a real castle located on an area of land between Sweden and Denmark.

Revenge Tragedy

Style of drama in which the basic plot was a quest for vengeance and which typically featured scenes of carnage and mutilation.

Where did Shakespeare get the inspiration for Hamlet ?

It is believed that Shakespeare based Hamlet on an ancient story.(Greek and Roman myth). The Danish story probably came to shakespeare through an earlier play, now lost. The original story of Amleth is very similar to Shakespeare’s play.

Some similarities : feng murders his brother out of jealousy and marries Gerutha (Amleth’s mother) ; Amleth pretends to be witless to save himself. Amleth goes a little insane just like Hamlet does, and is tested by Feng. Amleth is sent to England guarded by two of Fang’s retainers, who carry a death letter. Amleth alters the letter to order the deaths of the retainers and his own marriage to the King’s daughter ; he returns to Jutland and, returns to the Great Hall and murders his uncle, avenging his father.

Hamlet - Characters

  1. Hamlet the ghost : -Ghost of Hamlet’s father, murdered by his brother Claudius who then married Hamlet the ghost’s wife.
  2. Hamlet the prince: - Hamlet the prince is Gertrude and Hamlet the ghost’s son. He is Ophelia’s potential husband and accidentally kills her father Polonius.
  3. Claudius : -Claudius is Hamlet’s uncle who is marriesHamlet’s mother: Gertrude. Claudius sends Hamlet away to England.
  4. Gertrude : - Gertrude is Hamlet’s mother, and Claudius’ wife. Because she married her dead husband’s brother, Hamlet looses respect for her.
  5. Ophelia : -Ophelia, Polonius’ son and laertes’ sister, is Hamlet’s potential wife.
  6. Horatio : -Horatio is one of Hamlet’s friends.
  7. Polonius : -Polonius is Ophelia and Laertes’ father. He is murdered by Hamlet.
  8. Laertes : - Is ophelia’s brother and Polonius’ son.
  9. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern : - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Claudius’ courtiers sent by him to spy on Hamlet and send him to england while carrying a death letter.