William Shakespeare's Hamlet text guide

Hamlet coverHamlet is a play about revenge. It was written in the late sixteenth or very early seventeenth century, at a time when there was a fashion for revenge plays, such as The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd, which almost certainly had an influence on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Hamlet is remarkable compared with other revenge plays because although Shakespeare shows us no characters who actually debate the morality of exacting revenge, the whole play from start to finish sets up a discussion on the issue. Other revenge plays tend to take it for granted that, following a murder, the victim’s relatives will exact vengeance, but Shakespeare makes us wonder whether this is the right course of action.

This text guide will help you to appreciate why the play is still probably the most famous drama in the world and help you to understand the worldview of Shakespeare’s audience, which would have affected the way they thought about the drama they had come to watch.

William Shakespeare

William ShakespeareA prolific writer of plays and poems, Shakespeare became well-known in London around 1592. The theatre his had shares in, The Globe, staged many of his plays from 1598. Read more . . .

Context of Hamlet

Elizabethan IShakespeare was born in the 16th century, a century remembered for the English reformation and the ongoing struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism for dominance. Depending on the monarch, the population had to adapt to different rule and practices, or risk their lives. Read more . . .

Dive in to the Hamlet text guide

Synopses and commentary - Scene by scene synopsis, commentary and analysis of the entire play.

Characters in the play - Detailed analysis of all the main characters in Hamlet and their role in the overall plot.

Hamlet Timeline - Helpfully puts history, literary events and Shakespeare's life side by side so you can make sense of events.

Themes and significant ideas - research themes and significant ideas such as the ideas of heaven, hell and judgement.

Hamlet e-book - Read the play and research the text, all for free and online.

How to do well in your essays

Decide what the key words of the question are, and underline them.

If you are asked to analyse an extract, read it through two or three times.

Do not adopt the first possible approach - be willing to dispute the terms of the question if you are given the opportunity.

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