Theme of Death and Disease In 'Hamlet' By Shakespeare

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a complex play where many themes are intertwined – themes that are essential to the development of the play. The issue of death and disease, both physical and emotional is very prevalent throughout the duration of the play, as well as fate and divine providence. The play also questions madness and whether it can be feigned, as well as corruption and its moral implications. Of course, who could forget the famous ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy, where Hamlet not only questions life and death, but many of life’s other uncertainties as well.

Undoubtedly, the most essential theme in the development of Hamlet is revenge and question ‘Does revenge pay?’ Revenge is a frighteningly bloodthirsty emotion, which causes people to act blindly and without reason. Revenge is a theme that is cleverly built upon throughout the extent of the play; with it being the driving force behind two of the main characters in the play.

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The play is introduced by the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father in the first scene, which automatically gives the impression that something is amiss. This is later clarified by the statement that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Act1 Scene 4 Line 90). The ghost emerges before Hamlet and insinuates that his death was not as innocent as it may seem. The ghost urges Hamlet to “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (Act1 Scene 5 Line25) and informs him that “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown “(Act1 Scene5 Line 38). This appears to indicate that Hamlet’s father’s death was actually murder, and that the deed was committed by King Hamlet’s brother, Claudius, who had now taken over as King of Denmark. The Ghost taunts Hamlet, telling him that it is part of every man’s honor to avenge his death. Hamlet then becomes a part of Denmark’s foulness and wretchedness when he agrees to avenge his father’s death. This is the beginning of a vicious cycle of hatred, death and revenge that destroys many lives.

Soon after Claudius marries Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, Hamlet feigns madness as a ploy to cover up his attempts to avenge his father’s death and to bring him closer to Claudius. One of the first things Hamlet does in his attempt to prove Claudius’ guilt is to have ‘The Mousetrap’ performed in court. ‘The Mousetrap recreates a similar scenario as the one that had occurred when Hamlet’s father was murdered. Hamlet was waiting for a reaction from Claudius that would prove the ghost’s message.

Following the King’s outburst after watching the performance, Hamlet confronted his mother and began to insult her infidelity to her dead husband. Meanwhile, Polonius, a faithful member of the King’s council, was hiding behind a decorate rug that was adorning the wall in Gertrude’s room. Hamlet sensed his presence and thinking that it was Claudius, plunged his dagger through the rug.

This causes much grief and sadness for many people. During this period, Hamlet treats his ‘girlfriend ‘Ophelia (Polonius’ daughter) in a shocking manner, calling her a whore and denying her his love. This coupled with her father’s death causes her to go mad and eventually commit suicide. This was particularly sad death because Ophelia was just an innocent bystander in a cruel plot for revenge. Also hurt was Laertes (Polonius’ son). Laertes believes it was the king that kilt his father, but the king quickly puts Laertes on Hamlet’s trails and pushes him to avenge his father’s murder. From this point on, Hamlet, and Laertes become the main characters in the play- two characters driven by revenge.

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Theme of Death and Disease In ‘Hamlet’ By Shakespeare. (2020, November 26). WritingBros. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from
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