Shakespeare fills this play with an abundance of juxtapositions (reality/fiction, Laertes/Hamlet, etc.) How many can you list of these contrasts?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Okay, here goes:

  • Hamlet Sr. vs. Hamlet Jr.
  • Brother (old king) vs. brother (new king)
  • Murdered father (Old Fortinbras) vs. murdered father (Hamlet Sr.)
  • Avenging son (Hamlet) vs. Avenging son (Young Fortinbras) vs. Avenging son (Laertes)
  • Friend (Hamlet) vs. Friend (Horatio)
  • Nobleman (Hamlet) vs. Nobleman (Laertes)
  • Indistinguishable friend (Rosencrantz) vs. Indistinguishable friend (Guildenstern)
  • Family (Hamlets) vs. Family (Polonias) vs. Family (Fortinbras)
  • Adultery (Claudius-Gertrude) vs. Incest (same)
  • Bad relationship (Hamlet Sr.-Gertrude) vs. bad relationship (Hamlet-Ophelia)
  • Play vs. Play within a play
  • To be vs. not to be
  • Supernatural (ghost) vs. natural (Hamlet) vs. unnatural (Claudius)
  • Christianity (forgiveness) vs. paganism (revenge)
  • Sexuality vs. chastity (get thee to a nunnery)
  • Revenge vs. Leave her to heaven
  • Solid flesh vs. sullied flesh
  • silent interview vs. closet interview
  • Language vs. thought vs. action
  • appearance vs. reality
  • Spying vs. transparency
  • Madness vs. sanity
  • drama vs. metadrama
  • theatre vs. metatheatricality
  • individual vs. family vs. the nation
  • diseased body vs. diseased mind
  • Sight (blindness) vs. hearing (deafness)
  • existence vs. death
  • flowers vs. weeds
  • strength vs. frailty
  • heaven vs. purgatory vs. hell
  • fortune vs. fate vs. providence


teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The list above is fairly exhaustive, but I would add two more: the past versus the present (innocence versus experience), and disease versus health. Throughout the entirety of the play, Hamlet's encounter with the ghost of his father retains a deeply influential significance. Before this experience, Prince Hamlet was happy and innocent. He was in love with Ophelia, believed his father had died of natural causes, and had no strong reason to distrust the people around him. The ghost, however, throws his entire former life into turmoil by forcing him to confront evil. Either the ghost is evil, a spirit sent by the devil to lie and tempt Hamlet into murdering an innocent man, or Hamlet lives in a world permeated with evil, a world in which his uncle murdered his own brother. Hamlet's change is so palpable that it concerns his mother, who, innocent of her new husband's crimes, cannot understand why her son has suddenly becomes so dark and brooding. Additionally, Hamlet's change worries Claudius, who knows trouble will follow if Hamlet has discovered he killed his father.

All of this contributes to Hamlet's newfound perception of Denmark and the people in it as diseased. He speaks of cankers, sickness, and rot. Before Claudius took over, the state and its people were healthy: now they are rotten. This is consistent with Shakespeare's thinking that a king, good or bad, infects his people with his character.