What are the Major Themes in Hamlet?

Theme of Corruption

Hamlet says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” This remark goes for most of the major characters in the play including himself. “Things rank and gross in nature” possess these characters and affect the whole plot.

Hamlet notices the corruption of lust in Gertrude, the corruption due to frailty in Ophelia, the corruption of power and wrongful incestuous seduction in Claudius, the corruption of vanity and mistaken diagnosis in Polonius.

As readers, we can notice the corruption in Hamlet himself due to his inaction and indecisiveness which results in not killing Claudius earlier and eventually the death of Polonius, Ophelia, Hamlet’s both spying friends, Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius and Hamlet himself happens respectively.

Theme of Love

The play portrays love between lovers i.e. Hamlet and Ophelia, love between a father and his daughter and son i.e. Polonius and Ophelia & Laertes, incestuous love i.e. Gertrude and Claudius, love between true friends i.e. Hamlet and Horatio.

The depth of such love is described by Hamlet when he says, “Doubt that the sun doth move; doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.” Player Queen in the play gives us an idea of love when she says, “Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear; Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.

Hamlet loves Ophelia but not more than his revengeful despair. He loves his mother more than his desire to avenge the murder of his father. Horatio as a friend loves Hamlet truly and cares for him deeply, Polonius may be a vain courtier but he is a great father, his love for his son is immense, he adores his daughter.

The dead king loved Gertrude so much that his ghost asked Hamlet to not hurt her. Claudius cares for Gertrude lustfully even though as a betrayer. Throughout the play, the ideas concerning love keep echoing.

Love is the very source of “ecstasy” which affects Hamlet as Polonius says. It deranges Ophelia and enrages Laertes. It brings out the lust and betrayer in Claudius.

Theme of Deception

Deception is the source of corruption in the play. Before the ghost revealed about the betrayal by Claudius, Hamlet seems to be simply brooding over his mother’s hasty marriage and mourning over his father’s death.

But the knowledge of deception makes him revengeful. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two friends of Hamlet since their student days but they deceive Hamlet as spies due to courtly allegiance to the Queen and the King.

Gertrude who in her early marriage showed great love for her husband but fall prey to the lustful advances of Claudius so soon after he murders his brother. Ophelia who is truly loved by Hamlet in the early scenes gives in to her father and brother and reveals the state of Hamlet.

Polonius as a courtier deceives the Queen and the King by wronging the diagnosis of Hamlet in the name of madness. Claudius deceives Laertes in the idea that Hamlet is entirely possible for the loss of his father and sister.

Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, even as a minor side presence, shows deception when he enters his army into Denmark under the pretence of marching them for Poland. Overall, the play shows us the deception ingrained in certain individuals who employ it to advance their own scheme of things.

Theme of Action vs Inaction

Hamlet is a delayer. He says, “the time is out of joint. O cursed spite, that I ever was born to set it right” but when the right time comes, he doesn’t act and likes to delay over some philosophical speculation.

Even though he is “prompted to revenge by heaven and hell”, he chooses only to “unpack his heart with words.” When he finds Claudius in praying position, he doesn’t kill him and it eventually results in the death of so many other individuals.

On the other hand, there is Laertes. His father is stabbed and murdered by Hamlet but unlike Hamlet, he instantly springs into action. He simply doesn’t mourn the suicide of his sister, rather he listens to Claudius and his plausible plan to defeat and kill Hamlet in a fencing match.

Hamlet advises to those actors for the play to “suit the action to the word, the word to the action” but in his real life, he doesn’t seem to be following it. He remains confused whether “to be or not to be.”