Hamlet - Shakespeare
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Themes: Conscience, Justice, Vengeance
At first, it might seem like the play would not lead to a good seminar because it can be read somewhat superficially. Hamlet sees a vision of his dead father who reveals to him that he has been killed by his brother, Claudius. The rest of the play shows a reluctant Hamlet plotting revenge.
In order to explore some of the richness of the play, it is helpful to consider Hamlet’s motivations and struggles. He hears from the ghost of his father that Claudius killed him and married his wife, Hamlet’s mother. Notice Hamlet’s initial reaction to this news: “O my prophetic soul” [Act I, scene V, line 41] Do these words suggest that Hamlet already suspected his father was murdered by Claudius? If so, why does Hamlet take such a long time to revenge his father’s death? In fact, the ghost returns in act III, scene IV, to ‘…whet thy almost blunted purpose.” [line 112]
A seminar will go well if it focuses on Hamlet’s struggle with carrying out what the ghost of his father wants him to do. Is Hamlet worried that revenge is contrary to justice? Does he see the ghost as an instrument of evil that is sent to tempt him? [see Act I, scene IV, line 40.] What eventually prompts Hamlet to act?
In Act V, scene II, line 328, Hamlet says: “…report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied.” Should we agree with Hamlet that his cause was right?
Several times Hamlet is called noble, is he?
Why is Hamlet reluctant to take revenge on his father’s murderer?
Ethics - Shakespeare, Hamlet; Sophocles, Antigone; Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals; Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (selections)