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William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Masterpiece

Photo by Max Muselmann on Unsplash

One of the most popular works of William Shakespeare is the Hamlet. This work is a masterpiece not because it is just a work of literature but because the book addressed a lot of societal issues during the Elizabethan period, which are still being made reference to up till today.

Hamlet is a play that was written by William Shakespeare in 1599-1601, a period in England called the Elizabethan period. During this period, there was a clash of interest between the protestant and the Catholics. The period births the puritanism movement in England. Hamlet was set in the mid to late 1500s, after the protestant reformation of 1517.

Hamlet is a catholic and he attended a protestant University and English citizens were supposed to join the protestant church of England. This brought about the transition of Hamlet between Catholicism and Protestantism. This religious confusion, some claims it cause Hamlet’s indecision of avenging his late father’s murder.

There were claims that Shakespeare used the play to warn England not to repeat what happened after the death of Henry VIII. Fortunately, no fight ensued over the control of the country and James VI of Scotland became the King James II of England. The play is linked to the Danish history of the ancient legend of Amleth, Prince of Denmark.

The Social context of the play has to do with the features of the society that the play is set in and the impact of the society at that time on the play. There are two aspects to Social context; i) the kind of Society in which the characters live and ii) the time period that the play was produced. The problems of renaissance and its fundamental themes played a major role in the play. Renaissance humanism is interested in human experiences and the society learning from the experiences.

Photo by WikiImages from Pixabay.

This movement centres on optimism and the potential scope of human understanding. Act 2, Scene 2 is directly linked to one of the texts of an Italian Humanist, Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man. The humanists aim is to create a better understanding among humans and how understanding can give birth to a better humanity.

Michel de Montaigne of the sixteenth century was not interested in studying human experiences but instead emphasised on World of appearances. This which is reflected in Hamlet,as Hamlet was in a dilemma as he had huge difficulty in knowing the truth about the murder of his late father.

This shows that one will always have huge difficulty in knowing the real truths about people. Henry the King developed religious samples, cited the book of Leviticus that no man shall take his brother’s wife and if peradventure, it happens, the brother and the brother’s wife union will not produce a child. The embedded video buttresses on the relevance on the play.

One of the main things that makes Hamlet  relevant today is that it addresses social class and political issues. There are several scenes that discusses our flawed society, especially in relation to division and biases which still occurs in the modern society.

The play also discusses the concept of life and death. The protagonist contemplates on suicide and the essence of life, which brings us to the inevitability of death and the concept of suicide in our modern society.

This is how Hamlet perceived his mother’s remarriage to his Uncle, as shown in the scene when Hamlet and his father’s ghost were conversing. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in the period when some beliefs were protestant and some are catholic, a time when the people were faced with so many rulers and different Christian faiths.

The play, Hamlet by William Shakespeare is one of the plays of William Shakespeare that the literary device of play within the play was employed and it is a ‘metadrama’. The play within the play differentiates Shakespeare’s Hamlet from his other Tragedy works. The play encapsulates betrayal, revenge and indecision.

Photo by The Sock from Flickr.

Some claims that the tragic hero’s hubris is indecision, while others claim that it is procrastination. The tragic hero’s hubris, also called, tragic flaw led to his tragic downfall. Hamlet attempts to escape the definitions of the society. The play is a reflection of the society. Hamlet is a play of moral instruction, as Shakespeare as mastered the art of instructing the society through his works and particularly the universality of his plays. The play is regarded as one of the greatest works of William Shakespeare, perhaps due to the several political undertones of the play.

The play does not just instruct on good family relationship but also can be seen on a bigger societal scale, as it instructs the society as well. The play captures all the aspects of the society, from religious aspect to the politics of the society. It makes us to see how things work with the upper class and the period that the play was written is that of the Renaissance period, also called the period of classical learning when there was an outburst of knowledge.

The play also centres on the themes; ‘the meaning of life’, as Hamlet ponders on the cruelty of life and the uncertainty of life as well. Hamlet acts mad, Claudius murders his brother and marries his wife, this shows the level of deception and secrecy in the play. The play within the play in the text sheds light and begins to unravel mysteries and make people to be themselves. It was after the play within the play was presented that everyone in the play starts playing out their true nature and character. The literary device of play within the play always has a great significance in a play as it achieves a particular role in a play.

The literary device is quite technical as it has to be presented in such a way that it is not seen as the play but a play staged in a play, whereby the characters in a play are acting out a play and the other characters are the audience in the play.

The play starts with Hamlet mourning his father who had been murdered and complaining bitterly of his mother’s marriage to King Claudius, his uncle. According to Hamlet, the marriage is incest, as he does not believe in a brother marrying his late brother’s wife, and doing that in a month after the death of the brother. The embedded video here is on why it is important to read Hamlet.


The ghost of Hamlet’s father appeared to him and told him that he was being murdered by his brother by pouring poison in his ear while napping.  The ghost ordered Hamlet to avenge his death but Hamlet decides to ponder on it and find facts surrounding his late father’s death. Hamlet decides to seek the help of some troupe players to act The Murder of Gonzalo, which he directed and revised into Mouse Trap.

The king reacted to the play by saying he is short of breath, this which gets Hamlet convinced that Claudius is his father’s murderer. Hamlet murders Polonius, while spying on him and this result in the exile of Hamlet. Ophelia drowns due to her father’s death and Laertes her brother promise to avenge her death.

Laertes and Claudius plan the death of Hamlet. Hamlet and Laertes engage in a duel which the two dies of the poisoned sword of Laertes. However, Queen Gertrude was rejoicing that her son was winning and drank of the poison intended for Hamlet by Claudius.

Before Hamlet die of the poisoned sword, he used the same sword to stab Claudius. Hamlet, however ordered his friend Horatio to make the Prince Fortinbras of Norway, the King. Prince Fortinbras on his ascension of the throne throw a funeral for Hamlet with military honour.

Literature as a mirror to the society brings up certain societal discourse that still needs to be addressed today. The issue of several ideologies that brings about a lot of divisions among humans; especially with the famous quote: ‘To be or not to be’.

The major lessons that the world needs to learn from this masterpiece is that we are all humans and death as an inevitable factor makes us all equal and divisions meaningless.

Kindly comment down below other relevance of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in our society and participate in answering the following questions.

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