Discussion: Themes in Hamlet

Hamlet is a play about what it is to live and to die. Hamlet, the character, explores notions of the moral life while recognizing the complications of mortality. I think Shakespeare must have been worried about death.

Hamlet certainly worries about “the undiscovered country” and speculates that we are often hesitant or cowardly in our behaviour because we believe that our actions may be sins which follow us into the afterlife.

But how can I write that in a theme statement?

Themes are never topics or phrases. Themes are the author’s message about life. So if you have to write a statement about what it means to live, or to die, what better play than Hamlet?

One way to uncover themes is to begin by thinking about the problem in the text and its opposite. 

Here is a list of potential topics to explore:

  1. moral corruption of family and country (if corruption is the problem, then honour, loyalty and integrity are the opposites)
  2. the problems of revenge (if acting on the need for revenge is the problem, then not acting is the opposite – both have consequences)
  3. the problems of mortality or the existential dilemma 
  4. uncertainty (or more simply put, appearance vs reality/ or justice)

There are many ways to express the themes of Hamlet.



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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