This study guide will help you analyze the play "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare. In addition to help with your analysis, we will also provide you with a summary of the play as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Please note that we also offer a "Lektürehilfe" in German for the translated "Hamlet".
Presentation of the text
“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare (1601/1602) is one of the most important, if not the most important work of world literature. Barely two months have passed since the sudden death of his father, the King of Denmark, when Hamlet, the prince of the Danish throne, is struck by a new personal tragedy: His mother marries off to his uncle Claudius, the late king's brother.
Hamlet's world collapses and he begins to doubt the meaning of his own life. The young prince rises from his lethargy when the ghost of his deceased father appears to him and tells him that he has been murdered by Claudius. Hamlet is to avenge his father's death on the new king Claudius.
The revenge mission, however, turns out to be a new obstacle for Hamlet's mental condition. While the clever and cautious prince deliberately pretends to be insane so that he can investigate Claudius undercover, he cannot prevent himself from becoming more and more depressed in the process. He pushes away his lover, continuously contemplates death, insults almost all members of the court, and in the end seems to approve of others falling victim to his revenge as well.
Hamlet's hesitation to go into action with revenge against Claudius, his melancholy and his acted madness are still world famous. Excerpts of his monologues are quoted again and again everywhere, his words "To be or not to be, that is the question here" are probably the most famous in world literature. What makes "Hamlet" so famous is not the revenge story itself, but the unique character of the protagonist and the depth with which he reflects on human life.
The protagonist's inner life is accurately portrayed against a backdrop of murderous intrigue, complicated love relationships, and a mystical ghostly apparition. Through the eyes of the prince, viewers are encouraged to reflect on central themes of human life, that is, suicide and death, honor and duty, revenge and conscience, love and betrayal.
It is therefore not surprising that "Hamlet" is constantly being remade in both theater and cinema. Film and theater directors always manage to bring a new unique version of Shakespeare's story to the stage. Numerous productions also move "Hamlet" to the present day, which again speaks to the fact that the themes addressed in the drama are still relevant.
In our topic guide on William Shakespeare and his texts in general, you can find a lot of information about how to analyze the texts. You can also read about Shakespeare's historical context (the elizabethan era) and much, much more.