This is a tragedy divided in acts based on contrast between reality and fantasy.
It is a modern tragedy:
- The activity of the mind is more important than the physical (revenge or not revenge) as will happen with Joyce and Svevo that resume that features (caratteristiche) in their works.
- To be or not to be: The joke is said from the beginning of Prince Hamlet soliloquy that opens the first scene of the third act of the tragedy.
The existential question of living (being) or die (not to be) is at the root of indecision that prevents Hamlet to act. It has often been associated with the idea of suicide.
The protagonist is the Prince Hamlet, the son of the previous king of Denmark.
He is very angry because his father is dead and his mother is now married with Claudius, the previous king's brother.
Although in total disagreement with the decision of the mother, Hamlet doesn't oppose to the decision of Gertrud, until two royal guards and his best friend Horatio, say him that they saw the ghost of his father while they were guarding the tomb.
Hamlet pretends he is mad and rejects the love of Orphelia, the daughter of the king's counsellor Polonius. Polonius thinks Hamlet’s madness is caused by his love for Ophelia.
In order to prove that his father was murdered, he asks a group of actors to perform a play, called The Murder of Gonzago (the plot of play is the reality), in front of Claudius to see his reaction.
During the murder scene, Claudius goes out of the room in apparent guilty fury.
Hamlet then accuses his mother of having betrayed his father's memory by marrying Claudius and he feels a sense of repulsion for her.
During this scene he hears a noise behind a curtain and kills the intruder, thinking it is Claudius, when it is Polonius.
Hamlet is sent to England to be killed (Claudius has already decided to send Hamlet away to England and has secretly arranged for Hamlet to be killed during his journey), but he escapes and returns to Denmark.
Orphelia drown herself, and her brother Laertes decides to avenge his father's and sister's deaths. Claudius arranges a duel between the two and gives Laertes a poisoned sword, but his plan fails and both Hamlet and Laertes are wounded by the same sword. At the end, Gertrude drinks a poisoned cup intended for her son and Hamlet kills his uncle, Claudius, before he dies.
Before dying Hamlet asks his true friend Oratio to tell his story. Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, arrives and becomes the new King of Denmark. -> In the end, political stability will be restored.
Main theme: the relationship between father and son*, mother and son; friendship; love relationship; madness; youth and age; action and inaction; the corruption linked to power; the existence of God; the meaning of the theater; honor and honorable action.
* Father and son: Hamlet and his father, Polonius and Laerte, Old Fortinbras and a son -> The fathers die badly, the sons want revenge
The most important theme is revenge that was considerate a crime. Hamlet wants his revenge but is not brave, he hesitates, he takes time because he wants to understand all the implications of his actions. This is the essence of his personality, he is too much of a thinker and he is inability to act. He does not want to kill because he thinks the man as spirit and physical; in fact, killing Claudius the past would not change.
Hamlet is not really mad. He use madness to protect himself and to make it possible for him to move and speak more openly. He uses metaphor, smile and wordplay. His word have a hidden meaning which often surpasses the apparent meaning.
Claudius is a villain, an antihero.
Two important aspect: Actor speaks with people at the stage and in the soliloquist Hamlet talks with the people in the stage presenting his mind’s consideration. He take an anticipation of technical and joke and an analyzes of his friends’ mind.