What is Hamlet?

By Claire Smith


William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire and baptized on April 26, 1564. His father, John, was a glove maker, and his mother, Mary, was the daughter of a landowner. He attended the King Edward VI Grammar School.

He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 at the age of 18. The two had three children: Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith, but Hamnet died at age eleven.

Shakespeare was a managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company, and was a prolific actor before he began writing plays. He began writing play in 1594, beginning with histories and comedies like “Henry VI”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and “The Merchant of Venice”, as well as the tragedy “Romeo and Juliet”. He wrote two a year until 1611. His final plays were “Hamlet”, “Othello”, “King Lear”, and “Macbeth”, famous tragedies.

How to Approach the Text, and More Helpful Insights

What is the point?

1. We still read Shakespeare in school because his topics still have similar themes throughout the ages. “Humans still experience love, loss, be-trayal, war, humor and tragedy, which gives Shakespeare a foothold in modern times, Craven said” (Mark Bayer). He is popular because his plays are entertaining and very real.

1. All different types of people watched Shakespeare’s plays, from the groundling audience members who were illiterate to the wealthy royals who would watch from their balconies. Shakespeare wrote his plays for the diverse audience, and frequently called upon their fear and belief in the supernatural.

1. While men had to play women in old English theatre, Shakespeare did give women more freedom. His female characters still had less rights and liberty than his male characters, but he let the women explore their sexuality. However, like Lady Macbeth, women are portrayed as conniving and evil, and leading to man’s downfall. Gertrude in Hamlet marries her husband’s murderous brother, and she has questionable morals.

1. Some tips to not fear Shakespeare are to speak the text aloud, learn some of his most commonly used words, like “methinks” and “Sirrah,” and to read it many times to understand the point. Hakuna Matata!!

Summary of Hamlet

Hamlet is essentially the original “The Lion King”, but with a very different outcome. Claudius, the prince’s uncle, killed Prince Hamlet of Denmark’s father, King Hamlet. Claudius later married Gertrude, Prince Hamlet’s mother. Under the illusion that Hamlet killed his father, Hamlet flees to England with his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Timon and Pumbaa). After learning that Ophelia, Hamlet's love interest and Laertes' sister, drowns, Laertes returns and duels Hamlet. Gertrude drinks poison, Hamlet kills Laertes and Claudius, and Hamlet himself dies. The theme of family is rampant, because even though people in the family kill themselves and others. The family is incredibly dysfunctional, with Gertrude marrying Claudius and Claudius sending Hamlet away.

Shakespeare Fun Facts!

1. Elsinore is located in northeast Denmark.

1. A revenge tragedy is a play where a tragic hero avenges what he has lost. Typically, the play has a play within a play, mad soliloquies, a ghost, bloodshed, and a character who wants revenge for a previous altercation.

1. Shakespeare created the story of Hamlet from many different sources. One was the story of Amleth, a Viking tale. Amleth’s uncle, Feng, kills Amleth’s father and marries Amleth’s mother. Amleth and two comrades are sent to England, and when Amleth returns back to his rightful palace, kills Feng. This is almost the exact same story as Hamlet. Shakespeare also took aspects from Titus Andronicus, and The Spanish Tragedy.

1. The main characters are:

a. Hamlet the ghost is King Hamlet, Hamlet’s father.

b. Hamlet the prince, King Hamlet’s and Gertrude’s son, Claudius’ nephew.

c. Claudius is Hamlet’s uncle who kills King Hamlet and marries Gertrude.

d. Gertrude is Hamlet’s mother, and Claudius’ current wife.

e. Ophelia is Polonius’ daughter and Hamlet’s love interest

f. Horatio is Hamlet’s friend from the University of Wittenberg.

g. Polonius is the Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’ court, and Ophelia’s and Laertes’ father.

h. Laertes is Polonius’ son and Ophelia’s brother.

i. Rosencrantz is a courtier sent by Claudius and Gertrude to protect Hamlet.

j. Guildenstern is another courtier sent by Claudius and Gertrude to help Hamlet.

Hamlet in 3 Minutes

Shakespeare Fun Facts

“Shakespeare is the second most quoted writer in the English language – after the various writers of the Bible.” (NoSweatShakespeare).

Anne Hathaway was three months pregnant when she married William.

The word love appears 150 times in “Romeo and Juliet”.