Motifs In Hamlet
What are some motifs in Hamlet?
One motif that recurs throughout is the motif of couples. The suggestion is that just as people come coupled by twos in friendship or love, so do relationships with them come in dualities of two qualities. These dualities can be love and trust or betrayal, which are significant themes of Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are primary examples of this motif and it's impact on the themes.
At the University of Wittenberg, Hamlet held Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in sincere friendship. Once they arrive in Denmark, summoned by Claudius to aid his understanding of the threat Hamlet--the rightful and expected heir to Old Hamlet's throne--does or does not pose him, they quickly and easily turn on Hamlet, betray their friendship and betray him. In contrast, Horatio, whom Hamlet knows as an individual (not as part of a couple), remains true to Hamlet throughout and is the one to execute Hamlet's dying wishes.
Motifs are defined as recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes or characterizations. Two motifs 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.
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 relationship with Ophelia. He urges Ophelia to go to a nunnery rather than experience the corruptions of sexuality.
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.