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What are the motifs in Hamlet?

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tarabear | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 4, 2007 at 6:15 AM via web

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What are the motifs in Hamlet?

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dwalters76 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted April 4, 2007 at 6:29 AM (Answer #1)

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Two motifs (re recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes) in Hamlet deal with incest and misogyny.

Incest and Incestuous Desire: incest runs throughout the play and is frequently alluded to by Hamlet and the ghost, most obviously in conversations about Gertrude and Claudius, the former brother-in-law and sister-in-law who are now married. A subtle motif of incestuous desire can be found in the relationship of Laertes and Ophelia, as Laertes sometimes speaks to his sister in suggestively sexual terms and, at her funeral, leaps into her grave to hold her in his arms. However, the strongest overtones of incestuous desire arise in the relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude, in Hamlet’s fixation on Gertrude’s sex life with Claudius and his preoccupation with her in general.

Misogyny: Shattered by his mother’s decision to marry Claudius so soon after her husband’s death, Hamlet becomes cynical about women in general, showing a particular obsession with what he perceives to be a connection between female sexuality and moral corruption. This motif occurs sporadically throughout the play, but it is an important inhibiting factor in Hamlet’s relationships with Ophelia and Gertrude. He urges Ophelia to go to a nunnery rather than experience the corruptions of sexuality and exclaims of Gertrude, “Frailty, thy name is woman” (I.ii.146).

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nkyra | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted April 6, 2007 at 4:14 AM (Answer #2)

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One of the motifs in the play Hamlet is the Oedipus Complex. It is defined as a male child’s unconscious desires for the exclusive love of his mother (Wikipedia) Throughout the play Hamlet's reaction toward his mother is shown. . Hamlet is very resentful of Claudius not only for killing his father, but also marrying his mother so hastily he states: “She married___O most wicked speed: to post/ With such dexterity to incestuous sheets, / It is not, nor it cannot come to good, / But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue” (1.2.155-158). Why would Hamlet have to hold his tongue if this is his mother should he have been able to discuss issues with her. Maybe Hamlet is holding his tongue because he wants to confess his desires to his mother, which he is unable to do.

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lydiahallard | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 22, 2008 at 7:43 AM (Answer #3)

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1. decay and decadence: in descriptions of Claudius, in Marcellus' famous claim that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and repeated throughout the play, vegetative decay symbolizes evil and the irreducible fact of death. The culmination of this might be the moment when a clown gravedigger hands Hamlet the skull of his father's court jester. An interesting contrast is all the floral and herbal imagery surrounding Ophelia. Shakespeare is creating a sonnet-worthy extended metaphor about the fragility of real living things.

2. loyalty: There are many lovely moments in the play where men express trust: these namely occur between Hamlet and Horatio and finally between Hamlet and Laertes, then in Fortinbras' final speech. The fidelity of Horatio is extremely important in establishing the extent of Hamlet's integrity.

3. Unspoken or hidden love: Hamlet pushes Ophelia away because he is tainted; he breaks her heart because he is sure his proximity would only destroy her (and he is right!). In all of Hamlet's words to Ophelia he echoes his first two soliloquies in his preoccupation with his own defilement. Finally, when the other characters witness Ophelia's distracted singing, they believe she is addressing her father. Yet Ophelia addresses her false lover, and also speaks of him as if he were as good as dead.

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annajoan | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:53 AM (Answer #4)

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the five senses.

mostly hands

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ivyie | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 27, 2009 at 10:33 PM (Answer #5)

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Poison is one of the main ideas tht constintly comes around. The play Hamlet, explres all the different disiuses poison can be, ex. love, lies, revenge, grief, and death by poison. poison is something that can effect your body, not by death alone, but causing madness.

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sanza | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 13, 2011 at 7:34 AM (Answer #6)

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Time; War; Animals; Ears/Hearing; Disease; Wit

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