What is the main theme of Hamlet?

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One could argue that the main theme in Hamlet is the complexity of death.

It is the death of old King Hamlet, Hamlet's father, that triggers the main events of the play. Once Hamlet hears from his father's ghost that he was murdered by his brother Claudius , the...

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One could argue that the main theme in Hamlet is the complexity of death.

It is the death of old King Hamlet, Hamlet's father, that triggers the main events of the play. Once Hamlet hears from his father's ghost that he was murdered by his brother Claudius, the Danish prince immediately vows to exact a brutal revenge. Claudius is a murderer, and for Hamlet, the only appropriate punishment is death.

But Hamlet being Hamlet, a brooding, introspective young man, he doesn't just rush off and run Claudius through with a sword. Instead, he spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about death, such as in the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, where he contemplates whether or not he should take his own life. Hamlet realizes, as lesser mortals wouldn't, that death is a complicated business.

Hamlet's single-minded obsession with death and its complexities can also be observed in the graveyard scene, where he is surrounded on all sides by bones and dead bodies. Here we see the multifaceted, complex nature of death. It is both spiritual—as seen in the ghost of Hamlet's father—and physical, as in the shape of Yorick's skull.

Hamlet's verbal jousting with the gravedigger epitomizes the often flippant attitude that the young prince has towards death. The attitude displayed here is redolent of an earlier scene in the play where Hamlet indulges in a spot of tasteless wordplay over the state of Polonius's corpse.

Though somewhat unpleasant, Hamlet's attitude towards Polonius's death—for which he was responsible—is at least in keeping with his understanding of death's numerous complexities. As death is a complicated matter, it is entirely appropriate that it should call forth a variety of paradoxical responses from Hamlet, some deadly serious, some almost jovial.

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When approaching the idea of theme in literature, one good question to ask is "beyond the plot/action, what is the work really about?" 

In regards to Shakespeare's Hamlet, the answer to this question, for me, comes down to the notion of the moral conundrum of justice (law) versus morality.

This is just one way to phrase a rather complex moral/ethical scenario that stands at the heart of this play.

The character Hamlet is faced with a very difficult situation. In order to do the "right thing" in terms of justice and honor, Hamlet must revenge his father's murder. This is clear. 

Yet, avenging his father's death means acting against his own mother. This is wrong as a moral act. One cannot, morally speaking, destroy one's mother (her life, her marriage, etc.) and still claim to be acting morally. This is also clear. 

Thus, Hamlet's dilemma - to be (just) or not to be (just); to be (moral) or not to be (moral); to revenge his dead father against his living mother or to forgive his living mother and thereby wrong his dead father, leaving his honor sullied and his murder unavenged. 

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 't is nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them?
(III.i.55-59)

Many readers like to view Hamlet as profoundly indecisive. While it is difficult to argue against that interpretation of his character, we should not under-estimate the scale of his two options, each being rather absolute in their implications vis a vis Hamlet's spiritual state.

He has a choice between two condemnations. He can be condemned by the codes of honor and justice or condemned by the codes of morality. 

Should we wonder that he is indecisive?

As we see the famous lines of Hamlet's soliloquy above, choosing action means that he will have to destroy his mother and, by extension, destroy himself. We can argue that Hamlet will have nothing left of himself morally and spiritually if he goes against his mother and her husband. 

"Critics who find the cause of Hamlet's delay in his internal meditations typically view the prince as a man of great moral integrity who is forced to commit an act that goes against his deepest principles" (eNotes). 

In any event, we can certainly argue that a central theme - perhaps the central theme of Hamlet is found in the conflicting sensibilities or codes of conduct represented by "justice" and "morality." 

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There are many themes found in William Shakespeare's tragic play "Hamlet." The first theme found in the play is revenge. The theme of revenge is made apparent through the movement of the characters' actions. Many of the characters' actions are completed based upon one, singular idea: enacting revenge upon another. At the same time, the themes of death and fate are woven together with revenge. The themes play off of each other in order to highlight how revenge typically ends in death while speaking to the fate of the character at the same time.

That said, another theme (typical of the period) is the presiding power of good. Essentially, many of Shakespeare's plays (especially the tragedies) denote the importance of good overpowering evil. The idea that good is far more powerful is seen through the tragic death of the tragic hero (typically). With the death of the tragic hero, who possesses a tragic flaw, good can triumph.

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