Things Matter in Hamlet

The words “something”, “nothing”, “anything”, and “thing” appear in the text of the play 74 times. Even though this is a huge play, I think “things” matter.where_the_wild_things

The play begins with Marcellus referring to the ghost of Hamlet as a “thing” and Bernardo says it is “nothing” – this of course is the ghost of the former King Hamlet. Young Hamlet tells Horatio that the ghost is a “guilty thing”. Hamlet tells Polonius that he “cannot take anything that [he] would more willingly part withal, except [his] life”.

Apparently, things are everywhere in Hamlet, and something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark. This “thing” is the king. In fact, if one were to chant the legalese of nobility that sets the king apart from the rest of the court, then the rhyme would be that “the king is a thing”. Remember that this is poetry, and Shakespeare plays with the words and sound of “thing” and “king”.

And yet, “thing” is the most ambiguous of terms lacking any sense of meaning, because a “thing” could be anything, nothing, and something. Check out the definition of “thing” and you will find more than 20 terms from object, to circumstance, to statement, to feeling, and…well…pretty well anything can be a thing. At least we know “the play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience..”

think too much

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About melaniewhite2012

I am a high school English and Media Studies Teacher, an editor, and writer of educational publications for McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Ltd, and a mother of three. I distance run, exist largely on raw food, fresh air and sunshine, good literature, thoughtful radio, film, and laughter.
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3 Responses to Things Matter in Hamlet

  1. mkaka139 says:

    I guess I’m speaking from experience when I agree with your point. Thing is a VERY ambiguous word. It’s a word I seem to use wayyy too often when I can’t seem to find the right words (which seems to happen quite a lot to me). At the same time though, I feel as though the ambiguity of the word is what gives it meaning (if that makes any sense?). After all we give words meaning as without context words are meaningless.
    PS WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE!!! (I loved that book!)

  2. I guess we have “things” in common, including Wild Things. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Hamlet: a novel by John Marsden | Rafferty's Rules

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