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Sample Essay Outlines

The following paper topics are based on the entire play. Following each topic is a thesis and sample outline. Use these as a starting point for your paper.

  • Topic #1
    A pivotal scene in Hamlet is the “play within a play,” designed to entrap Claudius. But many of the characters are “play-acting,” and many other scenes echo the dominant theme of illusion and deceit. Trace the motif of acting, seeming, illusion, and deceit as opposed to sincerity, being, reality, and honesty, as these qualities are evidenced throughout the play.

    Outline
    I. Thesis Statement: Many of the characters in Hamlet are involved in duplicity designed to deceive, betray, or destroy others. The recurring motif of acting, seeming, illusion, and deceit as opposed to sincerity, being, reality, and honesty illustrates this underlying duplicity throughout the play.

    II. Act I
    A. The sentinels debate whether the Ghost is real or “but our fantasy.”
    B. Hamlet tells Gertrude his grief is genuine: “I know not ‘seems.’”
    C. Laertes and Polonius both warn Ophelia that Hamlet’s words and “tenders of love” toward her may be false.
    D. The Ghost refers to Gertrude as “my most seeming-virtuous queen.”

    III. Act II
    A. Polonius instructs Reynaldo to use indirection to learn how Laertes is comporting himself in Paris.
    B. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Polonius and Claud¬ius are all trying to find out through devious means what is bothering Hamlet.
    C. Hamlet notes the fickle nature of the populace, who once ridiculed Claudius, but who now pay dearly for his “picture in little.”
    D. Hamlet laments that he, who has cause, cannot avenge his father, while the actor is able to convincingly portray the emotions over imaginary characters and actions.

    IV. Act III
    A. Claudius and Polonius set Ophelia as bait to Hamlet, to try to learn the cause of his madness.
    B. Claudius refers to the discrepancy between his deed and “[his] most painted word.”
    C. Hamlet instructs the Players to “hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature.”
    D. Hamlet is totally honest with Horatio about the Mousetrap plot because Horatio is beyond flattering, or being beguiled by falseness.
    E. “The Mousetrap” and dumb show are “acting” or “seeming,” and Hamlet’s motive in having it performed is ulterior.
    F. Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that they are “playing” him like a flute, and are not being honest with him.
    G. Hamlet says his “tongue and soul in this be hypocrites” as he goes to speak with Gertrude, with whom he is very distraught.
    H. Claudius discovers that his true thoughts cannot give way to his desired action of praying; yet Hamlet is fooled by the appearance of Claudius at prayer and does not murder him.
    I. Hamlet tells Gertrude that her deeds have belied her vows; he urges her to “assume a virtue” if she does not actually have it.

    V. Act IV
    A. Claudius tells Gertrude of the necessity of making themselves appear blameless in Polonius’ death.
    B. Hamlet continues the pretense of madness as he teases Claudius about Polonius’ corpse and his own departure for England.
    C. Claudius reveals the fencing plot to Laertes, and says even Hamlet’s mother will be convinced his death is an accident.
    D. Claudius asks Laertes if he loved Polonius, “Or are you like the painting of a sorrow, / A face without a heart what would you undertake / To show yourself in deed your father’s son More than in words?”
    E. Claudius says they would be better off not to attempt the plot against Hamlet, since if it fails “And . . . our drift look through our bad performance.”

    VI. Act V
    A. Hamlet and Horatio, discussing the similarity of all skulls despite the owner’s station in life, says not even makeup can keep a lady from looking just like Yorick’s skull.
    B. Hamlet criticizes Laertes’ show of grief as inferior to his own grief and love for Ophelia, and leaps into the grave also, so that his actions match his feelings.
    C. Hamlet’s use of his father’s signet made the letters appear to be...

(The entire section is 2,820 words.)