Essays About Hamlet: Top 5 Examples and 10 Prompts

To write or not to write? To discover interesting topic ideas for your next essay, see below our round-up of helpful essays about Hamlet and writing topic prompts. 

The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is arguably the most famous work of William Shakespeare – or perhaps in the world of literature. A play revolving around love, betrayal, madness, and revenge, Hamlet is a masterpiece that opens with the murder of the King of Denmark. The ghost of the king will go on to appear before his son Hamlet throughout the play, seeking his help for vengeance by killing the new king, Hamlet’s uncle.

Written from 1600 to 1601 with five acts and published in a quarto edition, Hamlet has since been a beloved on the theatrical stages and modern film adaptations, becoming Shakespeare’s longest play and one of the most quoted in many art forms with its “To be or not to be” soliloquy. 

Read on to see our essays and prompts about Hamlet.

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Top 5 Essay Examples

1. ”Review: In A Powerful ‘Hamlet,’ A Fragile Prince Faces His Foes” by Maya Phillips

“Hamlet” is one of the Shakespeare plays that most suffers from diminishing returns — adaptations that try too hard to innovate, to render a classic modern and hip.”

With the many theatrical adaptations of Hamlet, it may be a tall order for production companies to add new flairs to the play while being faithful to Shakespeare’s masterpiece. But Robert Icke, a theater director, stuns an audience with his production’s creative and technical genius, while Alex Lawther, his actor, offers a refreshing, charismatic portrayal of Hamlet.

2. “The Concept Of Madness In Hamlet By Shakespeare” by Cansu Yağsız

“The cause of these three characters’ madness are trauma and unrequited love. They also have a spot in common: a devastating loss of someone significant in their lives… In my view, Shakespeare wrote about these characters’ madness almost like a professional about psychology, making the causes and consequences of their madness reasonable.”

Madness is the most apparent theme in Hamlet, affecting the main character, Hamlet, his love interest, Ophelia, and her brother, Laertes. The novel is most reflective of Shakespeare’s attraction to the concept of madness, as he was said to have personally studied its causes, including unrequited love, trauma from losses, and burnout.

3. “Analyzing The Theme Of Religion in William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’” by Journey Holm

“…I will argue that Hamlet’s hesitance to avenge his father’s death comes from something deeper than a meditation on another man’s life, a sort of faith. I will use three scenes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet to establish that the reason for Hamlet’s hesitance is religion and the fear of his own eternal damnation in hellfire.”

The essay builds on a pool of evidence to prove the religiousness of Hamlet. But, mainly, the author underscores that it is Hamlet’s religious reflections, not his alleged mental incapacity, that stifle him from performing his duty to his father and killing his murderer.  

4. “Ophelia, Gender And Madness” by Ellaine Showalter

“Shakespeare gives us very little information from which to imagine a past for Ophelia… Yet Ophelia is the most represented of Shakespeare’s heroines in painting, literature and popular culture.”

The essay walks readers through the depictions of Ophelia in various stages and periods, particularly her sexuality. But the fascination for this heroine goes beyond the stage. Ophelia’s madness in the play has paved the way for constructive concepts on insanity among young women. She has also inspired many artists of the Pre-Rapahelite period and feminists to reimagine Hamlet through the lens of feminism. 

5. “The Hamlet Effect” by Holly Crocker

“… [A]s the shame-and-troll cycle of Internet culture spins out of control, lives are ruined. Some of these lives are lesser, we might think, because they are racist, sexist, or just unbelievably stupid. Shakespeare’s Hamlet cautions us against espousing this attitude: it is not that we shouldn’t call out inane or wrong ideas… He errs, however, when he acts as if Polonius’s very life doesn’t matter.”

An English professor rethinks our present moral compass through the so-called “Hamlet Effect,” which pertains to how one loses moral standards when doing something righteous. Indeed, Hamlet’s desire for retribution for his father is justifiable. However, given his focus on his bigger, more heroic goal of revenge, he treats the lives of other characters as having no significance.

10 Writing Prompts For Essays About Hamlet

Essays About Hamlet written by Shakespeare
Rodrio22, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. The Beginnings Of Hamlet

It is said that Shakespeare’s primary inspiration for Hamlet lies in the pages of François de Belleforest’s Histories Tragique, published in 1570 when Shakespeare was six years old. For your historical essay, determine the similarities between Belleforest’s book and Hamlet. Research other stories that have helped Shakespeare create this masterpiece.

2. Was Hamlet Mad Or Not?

Hamlet is the most fascinating of Shakespeare’s heroes for the complexity of his character, desire, and existential struggle. But is Hamlet sane or insane? That question has been at the center of debates in the literary world. To answer this, pore over Hamlet’s seven soliloquies and find lines that most reveal Hamlet’s conflicting thoughts and feelings. 

3. Physicians’ Diagnosis Of Hamlet

Physicians have long mused over Hamlet’s characters like real people. They have even turned the cast into subjects of their psychiatric work but have come up with different diagnoses. For this prompt, dig deep into the ever-growing pool of psychoanalysis commentaries on Hamlet. Then, find out how these works affect future adaptations in theaters. 

4. Feminism In The Eyes Of Ophelia

Throughout the play, Ophelia is depicted as submissive, bending to the whims of male characters in the play. In your essay, explain how Ophelia’s character reflects the perception and autonomy of women in the Elizabethan era when the play was created. You can go further by analyzing whether Shakespeare was a misogynist trapping his heroine into such a helpless character or a feminist exposing these realities. 

5. Religion In Hamlet

Hamlet was written at a time London was actively practicing Protestantism, so it would be interesting to explore the religious theme in Hamlet to know how Shakespeare perceives the dominant religion in England in his time and Catholicism before the Reformation. First, identify the religions of the characters. Then, describe how their religious beliefs affected their decisions in the scenes. 

6. Oedipal Complex In Hamlet?

Father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud proposes that Hamlet is hesitant to kill Claudius due to his Oedipus Complex, which grows with him in his adult years. An Oedipus Complex pertains to a male infant’s repressed desire to take possession of his mother from his father, who is viewed as a rival. First, write your analysis on whether you agree with Freud’s view. Then, gather evidence from passages of the play to agree or argue otherwise. 

7. Imageries In Hamlet

Hamlet in an “inky cloak” to signify his grief, a Denmark under Claudius linked to corruption and disease — these are just some imageries used in Hamlet. Find other imageries and explain how they achieved their dramatic effect on highlighting the moods of characters and scenes. 

8. Shakespeare’s Language in Hamlet

During Shakespeare’s time, playwrights are expected to follow the so-called Doctrine of Decorum which recognizes the hierarchy in society. So the gravediggers in Hamlet spoke in prose, as Hamlet does in his mad soliloquies. However, Shakespeare breaks this rule in Hamlet. Find dialogues where Shakespeare allowed Hamlet’s characters to be more distinct and flexible in language. 

9. An Analysis Of “To Be Or Not To Be” 

In the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet contemplates suicide. Why do you think these lines continue to be relevant to this day even after centuries since Shakespeare? Answer this in your essay by elaborating on how Hamlet, through these lines, shares the suffering of the “whips and scorns of time” and our innate nature to endure. 

10. Hamlet As A Philosophical Work

In your essay, evaluate the famous philosophies that resound in Hamlet. For example, with the theme of suicide, Hamlet may echo the teachings of Seneca and the movement of Stoicism, who view suicide as freedom from life’s chains. One may also find traces of Albert Camus’s lessons from the Myth of Sisyphus, which tells of a human’s ability to endure. 

Interested in learning more? Check out our essay writing tips. If you’re still stuck, check out our general resource of essay writing topics.