Hamlet: A Brief Introduction

[amazon_link id=”0393929582″ target=”_blank” ]The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark[/amazon_link] is considered a “Revenge Tragedy” that is, a style of drama, popular in England during the late Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, in which the basic plot was a quest for vengeance and which typically featured scenes of carnage and mutilation.

When reading, be on the look-out for who gets revenge on whom. Furthermore, be aware that opening the play with a question emphasizes the numerous questions asked and left unasked all of which may or may not be answered. Many people who read [amazon_link id=”074347712X” target=”_blank” ]Hamlet[/amazon_link] are left with many unanswered questions. Those questions have fueled literary critics for centuries; they write about what they believe the answers to the questions are.

Make notes as you read through [amazon_link id=”0393956636″ target=”_blank” ]Hamlet[/amazon_link]: what do you think the questions left unanswered are? What are the answers? Most importantly, what do you think Shakespeare was trying to say? Is [amazon_link id=”1904271332″ target=”_blank” ]Hamlet[/amazon_link] about natural versus unnatural, murder, betrayal, dysfunctional families, love, greed, envy, or lust? Or, is it a mixture? You be the judge.

Kronborg Castle featured in the play, "Hamlet"

Kronborg Castle

The setting for [amazon_link id=”0199535817″ target=”_blank” ]Hamlet[/amazon_link] is a castle named “Elsinore.” It is modeled after Kronborg Castle in the town of Helsingør in eastern [amazon_link id=”0333659171″ target=”_blank” ]Denmark[/amazon_link]. In 1590, King Frederik II built Kronborg Castle to serve both as his personal residence and as the champion of Denmark’s maritime defense. In 2000, the castle and its surrounding mote and grounds became a [amazon_link id=”1554074630″ target=”_blank” ]UNESCO World Heritage Site [/amazon_link]where visitors can tour the castle and grounds year round.

Realize that the opening line of [amazon_link id=”B0027KRPBS” target=”_blank” ]Hamlet [/amazon_link]has an immense connotation to the play. Francisco knows that someone will come to replace him for sentry duty at the end of his shift which is at midnight. Bernardo approaches knowing that Francisco is there waiting for him. Yet, Bernardo asks, “Who’s there?” (1.1.1)* Bernardo’s obvious uncertainty foreshadows an important underlying theme in the play. As [amazon_link id=”1411498739″ target=”_blank” ]Hamlet[/amazon_link] unfolds, watch for doubt, indecision, hesitation, and insecurity exhibited by the characters. (“Foreshadowing” is a literary technique used to provide clues for the reader to be able to predict what might occur later on in the story.)

*This text is taken from [amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005


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Dixon, Catherine Jo. “Hamlet: A Brief Introduction.” Feast Of Languages. Catherine Jo Dixon, 22 June 2011. Web. [today’s date].

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English literature students most commonly use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style to write their papers. This citation reflects the [amazon_link id=”1603290249″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition[/amazon_link] and/or the [amazon_link id=”0873522974″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition[/amazon_link]. For additional information, I recommend a free online writing lab from Purdue University: “The Purdue OWL” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/ which has current, credible information and reliable examples.

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