Introduction to Hamlet, with exercises on Act One Scenes One and Two
“The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the
entertainment – for everyone from
peasants to royalty
Performed at a globe theatre or at court
Minimal staging and props
Young men playing women
Aristotle’s conventions of drama and
Common themes and ideas
References to contemporary issues, ideas
This is the longest and most famous of all of
It was written between 1599 and 1601.
Shakespeare adapted sources of the
original story to create a new version – in
fact, later histories about ‘the real Hamlet’
often used Shakespeare’s text.
Hamlet is the Prince of
His late father was the
King of Denmark. The
King’s brother, Claudius,
has taken his place on
the throne – and married
the former Queen,
Denmark, Norway and
Sweden were under the
same rule in
Shakespeare’s time, and
this is reflected in the
alliances of the play.
Fortinbras, a Norwegian
prince, is a parallel for
Hamlet – but he is a
much more focused on
is a visitor
We know that some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and
colleagues visited Helsingør to put on plays for the Danish
royal family. It is thought (by the people that run the visitor
attraction!) that either they talked about the castle with
Shakespeare, or that Shakespeare toured with them, as
there are specific references to Danish traditions and
Helsingør customs in the play.
Themes to look out for:
Disease, decay, ‘rankness’ and disgust
‘Seeming’ – pretending, acting
Brotherhood and friendship
Damnation and eternal punishment
Critics have debated the actions and
motivations of Hamlet for centuries –
His relationship with his mother and father
His relationship with Ophelia
His delay – is he a coward? – especially in
juxtaposition with his ruthless moments
His frustrated ambition
He was the King’s son – surely he should
In Denmark, the king was elected by a council of
nobles. As the King’s son, Hamlet should have
been a decent contender, despite being at
Wittenberg at the time of his father’s death.
The fact that Claudius was selected instead must
tell us important information about both of the
characters and how they were perceived…
Pay careful attention to Horatio’s
speeches. With a highlighter pen,
highlight all of the words in the
photocopied speeches which evoke
thoughts of corruption and threat.
What is Horatio suggesting about the
state of Denmark?
How does Shakespeare create a
Why is Hamlet absent from this scene?
Look at the King’s speeches – how does
he use language to show the paradoxes
apparent in his situation?
‘A little more than kin and less than kind’.
These are Hamlet’s first words – what
does he mean?
Explore Hamlet’s use of language using
the 10 themes of Shakespeare as a
starting point. What are your initial
thoughts on the character?