There are 68 critical essays on Hamlet.
Critical Essays on Hamlet
26,188 words, approx. 87 pages
Peter B. Murray, Macalester College In some influential post-structuralist commentary on Shakespeare's representation of character, Hamlet is regarded as psychologically incoherent, and humanist critics are said to project onto the inscription of this character the notions of inwardness and an essential self which were fully developed only in the century following the composition of the play.1 Francis Barker argues that Hamlet is unable to define the truth of his subjectivity directly and ...
Critical Essay by Charles A. Hallett and Elaine S. Hallett
16,310 words, approx. 54 pages
In the following essay, the Halletts offer a detailed appraisal of Hamlet in terms of Shakespeare's merger of the traditional revenge tragedy form with his broader vision of the tragic consequences of the search for truth. Emphasizing that the play and its protagonists represent unique expressions of this form, the critics demonstrate Shakespeare's refinements and alterations of a number of revenge conventions.
Critical Essay by Robert C. Evans
15,280 words, approx. 51 pages
In the following essay, Evans suggests that friendship is a fundamental theme in Hamlet and analyzes Hamlet's relationships in the drama, particularly his strong bond with Horatio.
Grinning Death's-Head: Hamlet and the Vision of the Grotesque
13,712 words, approx. 46 pages
Yasuhiro Ogawa, Hokkaido University In its perennial phase tragedy is a metaphysics of death, death seen preeminently as eternity, silence, that is to say, as mystery. The individual "pass[es] through nature to eternity" (1.2.73) and "the rest is silence" (5.2.358). These memorable phrases from Hamlet sound like a resigned acceptance of the common human condition of death, which makes us realize that the concern of tragedy is coming to terms with death—the final mystery. Y...
Critical Essay by Leonard Tennenhouse
12,792 words, approx. 43 pages
In the following excerpt, an earlier version of which was published in 1985 in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, Tennenhouse discusses Shakespeare's creation of the Elizabethan chronicle history plays and the drama Hamlet as a political activity in he which sought to find a legitimate, ideal ruling authority.
Critical Essay by James W. Stone
12,776 words, approx. 43 pages
In the following essay, Stone studies Shakespeare's representation of androgyny in Hamlet, and finds that the collapse of sexual difference in the play leads to a parallel disintegration of moral boundaries.
Critical Essay by Brent M. Cohen
11,390 words, approx. 38 pages
In the following essay, Cohen demonstrates that the physical conditions and structure of the Elizabethan theater allowed Shakespeare to challenge his audience in unique ways, for example, by giving audience members a conflicted understanding of their role within the action of the play. Cohen emphasizes that in Hamlet, Shakespeare used the theater, theatricality, artifice, and performance to develop the audience's sense of self-consciousness; he did not use the theater, Cohen stresses, for the purpos...
Marjorie B. Garber
10,855 words, approx. 36 pages
In the following excerpt, Garber analyzes the blurring of dream and reality in the tragedies Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra.
Critical Essay by Sharon Ouditt
10,771 words, approx. 36 pages
In the following essay, Ouditt examines three feminist studies of Gertrude (from Shakespeare's Hamlet) in order to demonstrate the various types of concerns which serve as the focus of feminist criticism, and to highlight the shortcomings of these approaches.
Critical Essay by André Lorant
10,319 words, approx. 34 pages
In the following essay, Lorant offers a mythical reading of Hamlet by viewing the tragedy's representation of a corrupted world degrading toward chaos and in need of a redeeming hero.
Critical Essay by Ronald Knowles
9,754 words, approx. 33 pages
In the following essay, Knowles asserts that Prince Hamlet's thought processes reflect the evolution of Western beliefs about the place of human reason and emotion in society and that, therefore, the play is an important Renaissance document.
Critical Essay by John Hunt
9,554 words, approx. 32 pages
In the following essay, Hunt analyzes Hamlet's corporeal imagery as a means of exploring Hamlet's persistent state of indecision, asserting that before Hamlet can respond to the demands of the Ghost, he must first come to accept his own physicality and overcome his contempt for the body.
Critical Essay by Mary Z. Maher
9,448 words, approx. 32 pages
In the following essay, Maher gives an account of a 1965-1966 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet that was directed by Peter Hall with David Warner in the lead role. This anti-establishment staging likened the politics of Elsinore to those of mid-twentieth-century Britain, the critic reports, and Warner's direct communication of Hamlet's soliloquies was an essential part of his and Hall's intent to involve the numerous young members of the audience in the play and help them ...
Critical Essay by Donald K. Hedrick
9,126 words, approx. 30 pages
In the following essay, Hedrick argues that Hamlet is both a heroic and a satiric play, and notes that in both Renaissance England and Hamlet's Denmark satire is used by the powerless to undermine the unscrupulous acts of the powerful.
Critical Essay by Stuart M. Kurland
9,104 words, approx. 30 pages
In the essay below, Kurland argues that Hamlet portrays the controversy surrounding James's succession to Queen Elizabeth's throne. The political world of Hamlet, explains Kurland, is informed by England's uncertainty generated by James's threats to secure the English throne through military action.
Critical Essay by Philip Edwards
8,742 words, approx. 29 pages
In the following excerpt, Edwards analyzes Hamlet in a linear fashion, emphasizing the complexity of the play and examining the choices open to the protagonist.
Critical Essay by Charles R. Forker
8,644 words, approx. 29 pages
In the following essay, Forker analyzes the implications of the way the theater functions as a symbol in Hamlet, contending that the theater serves as a symbol for the exposure of unseen realities and the revelation of secrets.
Critical Essay by Paul Gottschalk
8,411 words, approx. 28 pages
In the following essay, Gottschalk examines Hamlet's character, contending that although he reveals his villainy and spiritual confusion in the prayer scene, he ultimately achieves redemption and spiritual regeneration at the play's end.
Nobler in the Mind: The Dialect in Hamlet
8,216 words, approx. 27 pages
Geoffrey Aggeler, University of Utah, Salt Lake City Let us imagine a Renaissance neostoic, such as Sir William Cornwallis the Younger, or Philippe de Mornay, or Joseph Hall, watching an early performance of Hamlet at the Globe sometime between 1599 and 1602. Mornay would be on an embassy from France, busy about promoting the interests of the Protestant cause and perhaps his Calvinist disposition would keep him away from the theater, but then again the memory of his good friend Sir Philip Sidney, who had a ...
Critical Essay by Michael Taylor
7,961 words, approx. 27 pages
In the following essay, Taylor contends that the main conflict within Hamlet is between man as fate's victim and man as the master of his destiny. Taylor further argues that this conflict reflects the confusion in ethical and religious thinking that pervaded Shakespeare's time.
Critical Essay by Catherine Brown Tkacz
7,800 words, approx. 26 pages
In the following essay, Tkacz interprets imagery of the wheel of fortune and the decaying state as these relate to the morality of Prince Hamlet's actions in Hamlet.
Critical Essay by John Kerrigan
7,721 words, approx. 26 pages
In the following essay, Kerrigan discusses the connection between revenge and remembering in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, with special reference to The Choephoroe of Aeschylus. Preoccupation with the past is a hallmark of both Elizabethan tragedies, Kerrigan notes, but he points out a significant difference: Whereas Kyd's protagonist Hieronimo avenges his son by slaying his murderers, Hamlet, believing that vengeance is futile, honors his father's memory b...
Critical Essay by Millicent Bell
7,696 words, approx. 26 pages
In the following essay, Bell contends that Hamlet does not fulfill his expected role as a revenger because Shakespeare's intent was to satirize the revenge-play genre that was popular at the end of the sixteenth century.
Critical Essay by Mary Z. Maher
7,554 words, approx. 25 pages
In the following essay, Maher describes in detail John Gielgud's delivery of Hamlet's seven soliloquies in a 1936-1937 production staged in New York and London. In a narrative supplemented by comments from the actor himself, she relates the effects of varying tempos, speech breaks, gestures, lighting, and stage business on Gielgud's performance of these speeches, stressing that he spoke them as if they were communications with himself rather than with the audience.
Critical Essay by Imtiaz Habib
7,532 words, approx. 25 pages
In the following essay, Habib offers a close reading of Hamlet's love poem to Ophelia and argues that Hamlet deliberately intends his poetry to be misread. The critic further contends that misreading of all kinds is central to the action and meaning of Hamlet.
Critical Essay by Gideon Rappaport
7,467 words, approx. 25 pages
In the following essay, Rappaport focuses on Hamlet's “Now might I do it pat” soliloquy (III.iii) that immediately follows Claudius's own soliloquy before he kneels in prayer. The critic reads Hamlet's monologue as an expression of the prince's pride, arguing that he does not kill Claudius at this moment because he is guilty of the sin of taking on himself the divine authority of saving or condemning souls. Rappaport also discusses Hamlet's other soliloquies...
Lecture by Harold Jenkins
7,464 words, approx. 25 pages
The following essay is the text of a lecture delivered in Delhi, India, in December 1989. Jenkins offers a close reading of the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, remarking on the development of its argument and its lack of reference to Hamlet's particular circumstances, and providing a useful summary of commentary on this speech over the centuries. Importantly, he relates the quandary Hamlet expresses—whether one should free oneself from human existence or endure it—to the...
Critical Essay by Eric P. Levy
7,418 words, approx. 25 pages
In the following essay, Levy charts Hamlet's probing of the nature of human identity and argues that the play conceptualizes an alternative to the usual inward/outward polarity.
Critical Essay by R. A. Foakes
7,228 words, approx. 24 pages
In the following essay, Foakes argues that Hamlet is not a revenge tragedy but a play about whether or not violence is an acceptable choice in a world caught between the ancient heroic code of retaliation and the Christian commandments that reject it.
Critical Essay by Reta A. Terry
7,165 words, approx. 24 pages
In the following essay, Terry outlines the ways in which Shakespeare used the characters of Horatio, Laertes, and Hamlet to reflect England's notion of honor as it shifted from the chivalric code of the medieval period to one based on the individual's relationship to the state.
Critical Essay by Lisa Jardine
7,129 words, approx. 24 pages
In the following essay, Jardine offers a feminist/new historicist reassessment of Gertrude's guilt in marrying her murdered husband's brother in Hamlet.
Critical Essay by Maurice Charney
6,835 words, approx. 23 pages
In the following essay, Charney emphasizes the dramatic context and function in Hamlet of speeches that are distinctly different from regular dialogue. He calls attention to asides that are expository, or didactic, or expressions of guilt; to the range of tone and emotions in the soliloquies of Hamlet and Claudius; and to the dramatic significance of the several instances of voices heard from offstage or beneath it.
Critical Essay by Elaine Showalter
6,803 words, approx. 23 pages
In the following essay, Showalter probes a number of crucial questions surrounding the character of Ophelia which involve her status in the play and bring to the forefront the relation between madness, representation, women's sexuality, and femaleness.
Critical Essay by R.A. Foakes
6,732 words, approx. 22 pages
In the following essay, originally published in 1973, Foakes compares Hamlet to Vindice in The Revenger's Tragedy, contending that “it is the strength of Hamlet, not his weakness … that he cannot kill, that he fails to carry out his revenge.”
Critical Essay by Jan H. Blits
6,665 words, approx. 22 pages
In the following essay, Blits offers an overview of Hamlet, examines the play's characters, language, structure, and content, and argues that play provides a critique of the Renaissance.
Critical Essay by Larry S. Champion
6,664 words, approx. 22 pages
In the following essay, Champion remarks on the numerous proverbs that appear in Hamlet, suggesting that they are used not only to delineate the characters, but also to highlight the political tensions surrounding the aging Elizabeth I and the lack of an heir to her throne.
Critical Essay by Zdravko Planinc
6,501 words, approx. 22 pages
In the following essay, Planinc contends that Hamlet is evidence that Shakespeare's abilities as a political philosopher are on par with those of Plato. Planinc asserts that both King Hamlet and King Claudius come up short as Platonic ideals, but that Shakespeare endowed Prince Hamlet with the greatness of mind to become Plato's philosopher-king.
Critical Essay by Tzachi Zamir
6,156 words, approx. 21 pages
In the following essay, Zamir contends that Prince Hamlet's failure to avenge his father's death is the result of his fear of revealing his own individuality.
Critical Review by Samuel Crowl
5,999 words, approx. 20 pages
In the following review, Crowl examines Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 film version of Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson as Hamlet and Glenn Close as Gertrude. Crowl praises Zeffirelli's casting, textual editing, and exploitation of cinematic space and landscape, and claims that the film offers a full exploration of the play as a family romance centered around Gertrude.
Critical Essay by Cherrell Guilfoyle
5,987 words, approx. 20 pages
In the following essay, originally published in 1986, Guilfoyle traces Ophelia's character to the legend of Mary Magdalen as developed in medieval drama.
Critical Essay by Catharine R. Stimpson
5,818 words, approx. 19 pages
In the following essay, Stimpson rejects the characterization of Polonius as a foolish “meddler,” arguing instead that he should be viewed as a seasoned political insider.
Critical Essay by David Farley-Hills
5,757 words, approx. 19 pages
In the following essay, Farley-Hills defends George Miles's linguistic argument (from 1870) that Hamlet planned his meeting with the pirates before he left for England. His defense involves some comparison of the Q2 and F versions of the play.
Critical Essay by Bennett Simon
5,700 words, approx. 19 pages
In the following essay, Simon reviews the major trends in the psychoanalytic analysis of Hamlet, and interprets both the play and Hamlet's character on the basis of trauma theory.
Critical Essay by Eric Levy
5,398 words, approx. 18 pages
In the following essay, Levy investigates the conflict between reason and emotion in Hamlet, demonstrating the ways in which the play explores not only the importance of rational control of emotion, but also the role of reason in generating emotion. Levy also comments on the relevance of Christian-humanist doctrine to the play's treatment of the relationship between reason and emotion.
Critical Essay by Alan Sinfield
5,390 words, approx. 18 pages
In the following essay, Sinfield discusses the connection between Hamlet's reference to “a special providence in the fall of a sparrow” and the question of whether the play's conception of the world is pagan or Christian.
Critical Essay by David Scott Kastan
5,252 words, approx. 18 pages
In the following essay, Kastan asserts that Hamlet tries to persuade himself that revenge is a means of restoring the past, but ultimately rejects vengeance, both because it is futile and because it entails replicating the crime that incited it.
Critical Essay by Manuel Aguirre
5,138 words, approx. 17 pages
In the following essay, Aguirre examines the symbol of the cup from which Gertrude drinks in the play's final scene, and attempts to “delve further into the mythological status of Gertrude and, beyond this, to explore the role, and the fate, of myth in Hamlet.”
Critical Essay by Richard A. Lanham
5,097 words, approx. 17 pages
In the following essay, originally published in 1976, Lanham traces the use of rhetoric in Hamlet and investigates the relation between elaborate and theatrical rhetoric in the play.
Critical Review by John P. McCombe
4,943 words, approx. 17 pages
In the following review, McCombe assesses Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 film production of Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson as Hamlet and Glenn Close as Gertrude. McCombe faults the production for its overemphasis on the dysfunctional bond between Hamlet and Gertrude, and notes that the film fails to fully explore the political elements of the play, such as the corruption of the Danish court.
4,865 words, approx. 16 pages
Philippa Berry, King's College, Cambridge An alienation from the hypocrisy of a courtly style or decorum in language afflicts Hamlet from his first appearance in the play. The courtly airs or 'songs', the 'words of so sweet breath', the 'music vows', with which he wooed Ophelia are no longer part of his idiom, although he will briefly redeploy them to disguise his true state of mind. In Act 1 scene 2, we meet a Hamlet whose abrupt retreat from social intercou...
Critical Essay by Maurice Charney
4,800 words, approx. 16 pages
In the following essay, Charney calls attention to the cruel, even gruesome elements of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act III, scene ii. He argues that in this monologue Hamlet is chiefly concerned with dissuading himself from the impulse to kill his mother.
Critical Essay by Jennifer Low
4,536 words, approx. 15 pages
In the following essay, Low examines the duel at the end of the play and contends that it is a rite of manhood that focuses Hamlet's attention on how masculinity should be shown and enables him to unite his private and public selves.
Critical Essay by Fredson Bowers
4,490 words, approx. 15 pages
In the following essay, Bowers connects Hamlet's “'Tis now the witching hour of night” soliloquy (III.ii) with the prince's conduct in the closet scene (III.iv). The critic contends that in the second part of this speech Shakespeare purposely directed the audience to interpret Hamlet's subsequent confrontation with Gertrude not as a murderous assault on her but an attempt to convince her that she must repent her incestuous marriage to Claudius.
Critical Essay by Linwood E. Orange
4,406 words, approx. 15 pages
In the following essay, Orange asserts that as Hamlet is delivering his “To be, or not to be” soliloquy (III.i) he is fully aware of Ophelia's presence and suspects that Claudius and Polonius, though not visible onstage, can hear his words. Thus the speech is not an introspective reflection, the critic argues, but a calculated strategy to deceive his enemies into believing that he is so mentally distracted that he is considering killing himself.
Critical Essay by Keith Doubt
3,411 words, approx. 11 pages
In the following essay, Doubt examines three types of friendship in Hamlet: the loyal friendship that Horatio sustains with the Prince; the ultimately self-serving friendship extended by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; and the friendship that the dying Laertes offers. In Doubt's view, Laertes's friendship is the most meaningful because it is the most charitable.
Critical Essay by Zvi Jagendorf
3,317 words, approx. 11 pages
In the following essay, Jagendorf evaluates the motif of silence in Hamlet, arguing that it permeates the dramatic action and underscores the play's representation of truth as subjective and therefore open to different interpretations. In particular, he discusses the dumb show, the Ghost's initial speechlessness, and the ambiguity of silent gestures.
Critical Essay by Michael Cohen
3,189 words, approx. 11 pages
In the essay below, Cohen assesses the encounter between Hamlet and the gravedigger, reading it as a debate about whether death levels all social and economic distinctions.
Critical Review by Bernice W. Kliman
3,001 words, approx. 10 pages
In the following review, Kliman compares two stage productions of Hamlet, one directed by John Caird and the other by Peter Brook. Kliman praises both productions, particularly the performances of Simon Russell Beale as Hamlet in Caird's play and Adrian Lester's Hamlet in Brook's production.
Critical Essay by James I. Wimsatt
2,796 words, approx. 9 pages
In the following essay, Wimsatt centers on the speech of the Player King in Act III, scene ii of Hamlet, which mentions the mutability of friendship, and contends that Shakespeare portrayed the motifs of fortune and friendship in the play as fickle, unstable, and inscrutable forces.
Critical Essay by Ralph Berry
2,385 words, approx. 8 pages
In the following essay, Berry suggests that through Hamlet's soliloquies, the audience becomes, in effect, his psychological counselor, sympathetically accepting his perspectives on himself and other characters. In Berry's judgment, the lack of soliloquies in Act V reflects Hamlet's recognition that it is now time for him to behave like a man and replace complaints with action.
Critical Review by Marguerite Tassi
1,467 words, approx. 5 pages
In the following review, Tassi comments on Peter Brook's stage production of Hamlet. Tassi observes the production's simplicity and starkness, praises Adrian Lester's performance of Hamlet, and notes that the production at times suffered from problems due to Brook's script alterations.
Critical Essay by Elvis Mitchell
1,289 words, approx. 4 pages
In the following review of Michael Almereyda's 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet, Mitchell commends the modern setting of the film, as well as the performances of most of the actors, but suggests that actor Ethan Hawke's portrayal of Prince Hamlet lacked depth and maturity.
Critical Essay by Patrick Carnegy
852 words, approx. 3 pages
Carnegy reviews Steven Pimlott's 2001 stage production of Hamlet, concluding that overall it was a memorable and powerful production.
Critical Essay by Charles Isherwood
659 words, approx. 2 pages
In the following review, Isherwood compares John Caird's Royal National Theater production of Hamlet to Peter Brooks's production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, remarking that while Brooks's shortened version of the play lacked emotion, Caird's lacked credibility. Isherwood notes that although Simon Russell Beale's performance in Caird's production was conscientious, the actor was too overweight and somber to make a convincing Hamlet.
Critical Essay by Ken Eisner
618 words, approx. 2 pages
In the following review, Eisner describes Campbell Scott's 2001 film adaptation of Hamlet as “the most accessible … yet” and notes that Scott's pre-World War I setting suits Shakespeare's theme of decay.
Critical Essay by Anita Gates
411 words, approx. 1 pages
In the following review, Gates praises the Classical Theater of Harlem's production of Hamlet for its use of an outdoor, multi-leveled setting and its vivid costumes, but notes that the actors had a “less than flawless command of Shakespeare's language.”
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