Hamlet

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Themes and Colors
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Hamlet, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Hamlet fits in a literary tradition called the revenge play, in which a man must take revenge against those who have in some way wronged him. Yet Hamlet turns the revenge play on its head in an ingenious way: Hamlet, the man seeking revenge, can't actually bring himself to take revenge. For reason after reason, some clear to the audience, some not, he delays. Hamlet's delay has been a subject of debate from the…

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In Act 1, scene 2 of Hamlet, Gertrude asks why Hamlet is still in mourning two months after his father died: "Why seems it so particular with thee?" Hamlet responds: "Seems, madam? Nay, it is, I know not 'seems.'" (1.2.75-76). The difference between "seems" (appearance) and "is" (reality) is crucial in Hamlet. Every character is constantly trying to figure out what the other characters think, as opposed to what those characters are pretending

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There are two important issues regarding women in Hamlet: how Hamlet sees women and women's social position. Hamlet's view of women is decidedly dark. In fact, the few times that Hamlet's pretend madness seems to veer into actual madness occur when he gets furious at women. Gertrude's marriage to Claudius has convinced Hamlet that women are untrustworthy, that their beauty is a cover for deceit and sexual desire. For Hamlet, women are living embodiments…

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Every society is defined by its codes of conduct—its rules about how to act and behave. There are many scenes in Hamlet when one person tells another how to act: Claudius lectures Hamlet on the proper show of grief; Polonius advises Laertes on practical rules for getting by at university in France; Hamlet constantly lectures himself on what he should be doing. In Hamlet, the codes of conduct are largely defined by religion and…

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In medieval times people believed that the health of a nation was connected to the legitimacy of its king. In Hamlet, Denmark is often described as poisoned, diseased, or corrupt under Claudius's leadership. As visible in the nervous soldiers on the ramparts in the first scene and the commoners outside the castle who Claudius fears might rise up in rebellion, even those who don't know that Claudius murdered Old Hamlet sense the corruption…

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