For many critics, Hamlet is considered to be Shakespeare’s greatest play. Although the text has many merits, it is the psychological complexity of the central character that has really earned this play its long-standing reputation.
Written in around 1600, some historians believe that the character of Hamlet is semi-autobiographical following the death of William Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet. It is perhaps this sad event in Shakespeare’s biography that enabled him to write with such poignancy. Certainly, Hamlet’s grief is conveyed with utmost accuracy and a weight of emotion behind it ... but, alas, we will never know for sure the circumstances around Shakespeare’s writing of the text.
Whatever the reason, the play is an important milestone in the development of renaissance drama and has therefore stood the test of time.
The play follows Hamlet’s efforts to avenge the murder of his father. If you’re new to this play, why not read our Hamlet summary, which captures the essence of Shakespeare's longest play. For more in-depth study, use our scene-by-scene breakdown.
The key to enjoying Hamlet is to appreciate the complexity of its main themes. More than in any other Shakespeare play, the themes woven into Hamlet drive the play forwards. For example, the revenge theme is central to the play and it is Hamlet’s inability to avenge his father’s death that drives the plot forwards.
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