Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Paper 1

Study tips and Paper 1 pointers – Jamie Tuohy

These tips really are last minute – I’ve been working all day so I didn’t get the chance to post them as early as I had hoped. Here are some Paper 1 pointers to get you through tomorrow’s exam.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the infamous Leaving Certificate – the bane of every student’s existence and the culmination of five and sometimes six years of secondary school. Parents will undoubtedly have told you to get a good night’s sleep before each exam, but if we’re being completely honest, this rarely happens. Stress sets in, panic commences and late night study sessions will be more ubiquitous on the night before the Leaving Cert than the endless amount of tireless children who shuffle in sleepy expectation for their toys on Christmas Eve. Personally, my most productive study was done at 1 or 2 in the morning, surrounded by copious amounts of caffeine and innumerable batches of notes. I’ve always been a night owl, so I was able to stay up late and study into the early hours and still have a relatively fresh mind for the exam. Admittedly, I did this for the entire Leaving Certificate, ignoring repeated protestations from my parents to ‘give your brain a rest’. The MOST IMPORTANT thing is to find what works for you. If you know you can handle late nights and still be fresh for exams, then do it – it’s only for two weeks and if you know it will work, then it’s worth it. However, if your concentration levels are going to be thwarted by a lack of sleep, then any late-night cramming session will just be futile when you begin the exam. My method is one which is undoubtedly shared by countless students around the country, but it’s also one which is prophesised to be detrimental by teachers and parents alike. I’m not telling anyone to ignore the advice of your teacher, but if something works for you – then roll with it, but never sacrifice a good night’s rest, if you know what you’re studying will be forgotten in the morning. Here are some general tips and English Paper 1 pointers that will hopefully ease the stress and help to focus that last minute study.

General Exam Advice:


  • From English to chemistry, your highlighter will be your best friend in the exam. It’s a generic tip, but it really does help to direct your attention towards answering the question with more specificity.
  • Ignore everyone! These exams are all about you! They are not about your teacher, your parents, or your friends. Don’t worry about the student who apparently ‘aced that paper’. Forget about friends who have supposedly studied more than you. You are well prepared for the exam and you’re not in competition with anybody.
  • Focus on one exam at a time. The worst thing you can do is to start thinking about the amount of study you have to do for economics, whilst you’re in the middle of studying English. Focus on the subject at hand and deal with the other ones as and when they come.
  • Likewise, once you’ve finished an exam, forget about it and move onto the next one. Don’t waste time thinking about how you could have answered something differently. It’s over and there’s nothing you can do about it. Time to concentrate on maximising your grade in the next exam.
  • Treat it is as just another test. The Leaving Cert dominates Irish academia, inducing fear into its unsuspecting victims. By removing or ignoring its ‘regality’ and treating it as a ‘commoner’, you’ll become more relaxed about the whole process and consequently more confident. You’ll have seen many of the questions before, so think of it as ‘just another class test’.

Paper 1

What Everyone Knows but Often Forget:


  • Read the THEME of the paper.
  • Read all the texts carefully.
  • Look at QUESTION B FIRST and choose the one that best suits you.
  • Answer on ANOTHER text for question A.

English Paper 1 is one of those funny old papers, isn’t it? One day you can get an A1 in it and the next day, due to awkward texts or tricky essay topics, you can come out with a B3? It’s also one of the papers on the Leaving Cert that is infamously ignored and this is one of the main reasons for fluctuating grades. By now, you will have fine-tuned your weak points and hopefully ironed them out, but if you’re still finding tricky areas in Paper 1, I’ve got some pointers to help you before tomorrow’s exam.

The Comprehension: Question A

  • Before you read the text, highlight the questions. Then as you begin to read the text, you’ll read it from the perspective of answering a question and focus on the important parts of the passage.
  • This question is testing your ability to read the text in a comprehensive manner and elucidate on its content.
  • The important thing with this question is to show some evidence of ANALYSIS.
  • Don’t just answer the question by quoting from the passage and leaving it at that – tell the examiner what you think the quote represents, or possibly relate it to personal experience. It’s so important to show the examiner that you possess the ability for CRITICAL THINKING.
  • The questions are usually straight forward, but there is usually one question students seem to struggle with and that is the ‘style’ question.
  • There really is no need to get bogged down in this question, as practically everything from paragraph structure and language techniques to quotes and italics can be used as style exemplars.

Here is an example of how to answer a question on ‘style’, which I’ve answered from 2008’s Paper 1: Question A: Text 1: q2. Doing a question is the best way to demonstrate how broad the ‘style’ category can be!


Comment on THREE features of the style of writing which contribute to making this an interesting and informative text. Refer to the text to support your answer.

This passage is an extremely well written piece which flows very cleverly to make an interesting and informative read. Jon Savage uses various style techniques to enhance not only the quality of the piece, but to make the piece accessible to the reader.

Savage follows a chronological structure throughout the passage. He is arguing that “teenage culture is not a modern phenomenon” and he does this by charting the rise of teenage culture throughout history, from its origins in 19th century America and its appearance in Victorian literature right through to the “Roaring Twenties” and the Second World War. At each juncture, Savage comments on how teenage culture was ever present and ever evolving, stating that the twenties introduced “an international party scene” which comprised of “bright young people” and explains how this then manifested itself in popular culture in 1944’s Seventeen magazine.

Savage doesn’t make his argument; merely based on his own observations. He uses historical references and quotes experts in the field to elucidate and exemplify his argument. He draws on the work of American social psychologist G. Stanley Hall, as he was the person who developed the term “adolescence” and stated that it was the beginning of a new generation, in which teenagers should be treated with “sympathy, appreciation and respect”. This is a clever style technique which grabs the reader’s attention and expounds the author’s argument.

Finally, Savage uses description to great effect in this passage, creating vivid and lively images of teenage culture. When describing the “decade of the Roaring Twenties”, he writes of the female swing fans “with their sporty outfits and dance-ready shoes, screamed en masse for Frank Sinatra and laid the groundwork for gyrating rock’n’rollers, Elvis Presley fans and “Beatlemania”.” The clear description of the hysterical young girls becomes the embodiment of the decade’s carefree nonchalance and is extremely evocative and sensual.

In this passage, Jon Savage’s clever stylistic features illustrate the author’s message and also make the piece interesting and informative to read.

My Top Tips for Question B:


  • Draw on the information provided by the passages of Question A. Borrow style techniques, puns or paragraph structure. By doing this, you’re immediately showing the examiner that you’re a conscientious candidate who has read the paper and has made clever use of what they’ve read. Obviously, don’t do this too heavily – originality is important.
  • Stick to the topic and mode religiously. If you’re writing a diary entry about your fears, then don’t deviate from it. Be conscious of your audience at all times and use the appropriate language.


The Composition:


Worth a whopping 100 marks, the composition is Paper 1’s most important question and if it’s an A1 you’re chasing, doing well in this question is imperative. By now, everyone will have chosen their mode, so there’s no point advising anyone on how to construct each answer, but there are tips which can help maximise your marks in whatever question you’ve decided to answer on:

  • Never hold back! If you’re writing a personal essay, then be as personal as you can be. Genuine, heartfelt honesty, which has been well written, will impress the examiner endlessly. It should be as real as possible, so don’t feel self-conscious when writing or referencing your own personal experiences.
  • Try to include the theme of the paper into the essay. I chose the short story option for my own Leaving Cert and found that employing the theme of the paper in my own story was not only a way to create inspiration for myself, but also a way of showing the examiner that you’re clever enough to incorporate different elements into your story.
  • Pay attention to your grammar and phraseology. This question is all about your craft as a writer, so you want to show the examiner that you’re a capable and intelligent candidate. Your topic or subject doesn’t have to be particularly awe inspiring, but the way in which you present it should grab the reader’s attention. When I was writing, I NEVER had too many characters or elaborate plots. Instead, I focused on language and drew on the character’s emotions, rather than sensationalising their surroundings.
  • This applies to everything from the short story to the debate. If you’re talking about something as boring as ‘canteen food’, it will be your references and appropriate statistics that will impress the examiner. Of course, WHAT you write about is important, but HOW you write about it; is the thing that really impresses the examiner.

Good Luck!

Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Comic Moments in “Hamlet” – Jamie Tuohy


Comic Moments in Hamlet

It would be particularly cruel of the Department of Education to set such a difficult question on this year’s exam. However, in saying that, in every great tragedy, resides the potential for comedy. That is to say, that the chaos, destruction and lack of consequences can at times morph into the carnivalesque – resulting in side splitting laughter. OKAY, maybe not side splitting laughter, and when we use the words ‘comedy’ or ‘funny’ to describe this Shakespearean drama, we’re probably using the words in their loosest definition (unless, like me, you’re a proper nerd and do actually find Hamlet hilarious, at times!).

Here are some notes on “Comic Moments in Hamlet“: (It’s essentially a few paragraphs, or the rough outline of an essay, but I’ve put them into bullet points to make it easier to read). While an essay on comedy might now come up, these points can be made in relation to other topics, especially the character of Hamlet.

  • Hamlet is famous for its deft mingling of comedy and tragedy. From the beginning of the play, the festive and carnivalesque have existed in parallel with the tragic perspective on life.
  • Thus, the celebration of Claudius’ and Gertrude’s wedding acknowledges the death that made it possible. As Hamlet acerbically remarks “the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables”.
  • If Hamlet appears here, to be an enemy of the carnivalesque, exhibiting a particular distaste for excessive eating and drinking, he also brings the worlds of comedy and tragedy together.
  • Describing himself as a “jig-maker” and playing the role of court jester, or “critic” to the king, he punctures men’s pretensions to greatness, by reducing them to the condition of decaying and vermiculated flesh.
  • Polonius becomes no more than a malodorous corpse, whose “guts” must be “lug[ged]” into the other room.
  • The gravediggers who appear in Act 5, expand on Hamlet’s role.
  • As ordinary, labouring men, digging the earth, they represent an expansion of the narrow, claustrophobic world characterized by the Danish court.
  • Moreover, their COMIC DISRESPECT for death; as they toss skulls out of graves is matched by a similar contempt for the distinctions conveyed by class and wealth – “why, there thou sayest; and the more pity that great folk should have countenance in this world to drown and hang themselves more than their even Christian…”.
  • It’s this spectacle that gets Hamlet meditating on the skull, and he too finds comedy in that fact that Yorick, the man who was paid to tell jokes at his father’s court, should have been reduced to such a hideous object.
  • Although this scene is often taken as an image of serious contemplation or as a ‘memento mori’, it’s also a comic epiphany of the absurdity of life and death.
  • The entrance of Ophelia’s funeral procession, with all the assembled court, shifts our attention back to the play’s tragic viewpoint.
  • It may be significant, however, that Shakespeare has not given the gravedigger an exit line, allowing him to remain on stage throughout the scene – an amused spectator of these “great ones” and their tribulations.

These are just some points which I hope will help you tackle the topic of “comedy in Hamlet”. They are more conversation starters than definite points about the play’s comedic value, but the duality of Hamlet’s character and his apparent contempt for corruption and hypocrisy, while hiding behind his “antic disposition” is one of the play’s central comedic plots, if not an expression of the Danish prince’s ingenious comic timing.


Polonius is a character who is described as a “meddling old fool” and his stupidity and lack of moral sense are set up as the antithesis to Hamlet’s cunning and moral sensitivity. Along with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius is one of the play’s unintentional central funny men. We don’t laugh with Polonius, but rather at him, as his hypocrisy and ignorance provide the basis for some of the play’s most funny and tragically ironic moments.  If Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hapless “sponges” who will do anything for the king, then Polonius is a feeder to Claudius’ hedonism, treachery and self indulgence. He is the principal counsellor of the state ofDenmark, yet his meddling ways reduce him to the level of an old busy body, with too much time on his hands. The comedy resides in the fact that Polonius views himself as an essential asset to the state, but Claudius sees him as nothing more than a useful functionary. Polonius dies, essentially doing Claudius’ dirty work (don’t say this in your essay), and even after he has died, his death is ridiculed by Hamlet, who teases Claudius by telling him where he can and cannot find the “rash, intruding fool’s” body, as Hamlet says he has “compounded it with dust whereto tis kin”. Even if his death echoes the faint image of martyrdom and Claudius describes him as a man “faithful and honourable”, we see Polonius as an insincere, cynical and corrupt man, whose fall from grace is one of the play’s funniest plots.

This last point is the key to most of the play’s comic moments – the Danish court is full of hypocrisy and false appearances. The characters themselves are filled with false notions of themselves and it’s hard to work out if they really know who they are. The false image of the Danish court is central to the play’s comedic value, as when characters like Claudius and Polonoius fall from grace, we view it as just and humourous. I wonder what Freud would have said about that?!

Summary of the points of Comedy:

  • Hamlet’s duality.
  • Hamlet’s ridiculing of death.
  • The juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy, embodied through the funeral and wedding.
  • The insincerity and grandeur of Polonius. After all, the name of this blog is derived from Gertrude’s wish that Polonius would be more matter of fact with his statements and less convoluted and hyperbolic. 
  • You can also talk about THE CHARACTER OF OSRIC and his acquiescence towards Hamlet.
  • The general hypocrisy and double standards of the court.

And there you go folks! I have to say, that when you tackle the question like this and break it down, it’s not that hard at all. I made these points from memory, so when I started, I was thinking “urgh, this is going to be tough”, but if I can make those points without having studied the play in nearly a year, you guys will be absolutely fine. This is actually a really interesting essay topic and it just goes to show that when you plan your essays, it makes them ten times easier!

Happy studying, and good luck,


Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

The role of lies and deception in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” – Jamie Tuohy

Okay, so this is a question that been overdue for a long time and in many ways, it’s probably one of the most obvious questions to ask about one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. The play is essentially constructed on the grounds of deception. Without deception, there would be no plot. Hamlet would have no antic-disposition, Claudius would be far less interesting, and (loathe me to say it) we probably wouldn’t have Hamlet’s most famous “to be or not to be?” soliloquy. Can you imagine if Hamlet just went ahead and killed Claudius without thinking or vacillating about it? Or worse still, imagine if Claudius sacrificed his “own ambition” and admitted to killing Old Hamlet? IMAGINE IF THERE WAS HONESTY IN THE PLAY??! It just wouldn’t work, would it? One of the reasons Hamlet remains such a fascinating play in the twenty first century is largely down to the theme of DECEPTION. Moreover, the audience become parties to deceptions that the characters of the play are unaware of. I’m not going to give a sample essay on this, because I literally do not have the time (SO MUCH COLLEGE WORK!) but if you look back over all my Hamlet essays on this blog, you will see that you can twist any of them to suit this question. It’s all about you being able to manipulate and apply the information to the question, and this really isn’t a difficult question, once you start to think about it!

  • This is a beautiful question and no student who has prepared sufficiently for the exam should be fazed by it. Think of all the questions you have done: the role of women, the character of Hamlet, and the character of Claudius….All these essays are going to help you in this question and you can draw on all of them.
  • Therefore, this question is no problem to you, because you essentially HAVE IT DONE ALREADY.
  • Let’s look at how we can tackle the question:

The question asks us about LIES and DECEPTION within Hamlet. Before you start, you should MAKE OUT A PLAN AND WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU’RE GOING TOTALK ABOUT IN YOUR ESSAY.


  • When you’re answering a question on THEME, you should write about the play from its beginning. Therefore, ask yourself: are there lies and deception when the play opens?
  • Then, track this theme throughout the play – how does it develop? Do the lies and deception stop? Do they escalate? How is the theme portrayed?
  • Your essay should come to a close by discussing the ending of the play and how that relates to the question. Who gets punished for ‘lying’ and ‘deceiving’?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ONCE YOU KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS, THERE IS NO QUESTION ON THIS EARTH THAT YOU CANNOT HANDLE. I BELIEVE THAT ALL THEME QUESTIONS ARE CHARACTER QUESTIONS, because a theme is expressed through the characters of the play. Here are some brief notes I’ve made up that will hopefully help you with your essay:


  • He is undoubtedly the biggest deceiver in the play. He is the consummate villain and will do anything to get what he wants. Claudius is a usurper and is completely self-motivated.
  • When we are introduced to Claudius, he impresses us a potentially good king. However, his mask of nobility is merely a disguise for his awful crime. Claudius leads Demark through the mourning of Old Hamlet and tactfully balances this grief with the joy of his marriage to his former sister-in-law Gertrude – “with mirth in funeral and dirth in marriage”.
  • However, this isn’t the real Claudius – he is an evil man, culpable of fratricide and regicide. He has killed his brother, out of greed and ambition and “posted with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”, by marrying his dead brother’s wife. Therefore, his position as a good and noble king is thwarted by his lies and deception.
  • As the play progresses, Claudius’ initial act of deceit is only the first of many of many immoral acts he is willing to commit for his own self gain and interest.
  • He has no problem colluding with his “lawful espial” Polonius to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia.
  • He engages in deceit once again when he and Gertrude asks the two “sponges” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to befriend Hamlet to get to the root of his madness.
  • He recognises that “madness in great ones must not unwatched go” and has no problem sending Hamlet toEnglandto be killed.
  • When Hamlet returns fromEngland, Claudius arranges for a duel to take place between the young Danish prince and Laertes. He gives Laertes a sword with “a bated tip”. He also fills a chalice with poison for Hamlet to drink. His methods are callous and underhanded and riddled with lies and defined by deception.


  • “To thine own self be true” – it’s quite ironic that someone as two faced and deceitful as Polonius should say this. He is a character who is full of self importance, and one who attempts to sound erudite and scholarly, but in actual fact, he is really just a man who will do anything to climb the social ladder and is willing to be just as underhanded and deceptive as Claudius is!
  • Shakespeare highlights Polonius’ deception very early on in the play when he sends Reynaldo toParisto spy on his son Laertes and instructs him to “put on him what falsities you will”. He has no problem in engaging in deceit to get what he wants, even when that means tainting his son’s reputation.
  • As I mentioned above, he is referred to as Claudius’ “lawful espial” and doesn’t think twice about helping Claudius to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia’s meeting.
  • He is a complete sycophant. When Hamlet asks him about the weather, he appeases him by lying to him. Hamlet says that it’s cold and then it’s suddenly hot, and each time, “the meddling old fool” agrees with him.
  • His character is defined by deceit and it seems fitting that he should die engaging in it. He arranges to hide behind the arras and observe a meeting between Hamlet and Gertrude, but Hamlet soon becomes enraged and stabs him – perceiving him to be Claudius.


  • “Seems madam? Nay it is; I know not seems”. From the play’s opening, Hamlet, rather ironically and even hypocritically sets himself up as someone who abhors lies, corruption and deceit. He implies that his grief, unlike his “aunt-mother’s” and “uncle-father’s” is genuine. He isn’t simply hiding behind an “inky cloak” to present a picture of grief and mourning to the world.
  • However, he quickly ensues “to put an antic disposition on” after the Ghost informs him that “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears the crown”. He feels that by lying to everyone around him and pretending to be mad, he can unmask Claudius as the murderer. The truth behind his madness is somewhat ambiguous: is it real or fake? Therefore, lying and deceiving becomes a very prominent feature of the Danish prince’s character.
  • Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that Hamlet is simply pretending to be mad and we can see how cunning he can be when he vows “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”.
  • He thinks that by deceiving Claudius and staging a re-enactment of The Mousetrap play, he will be able to guilt-trip Claudius into confessing.
  • Deceit causes Hamlet’s death. He dies after being stabbed by Laertes, but his lies and deceit also cause Ophelia’s death.
  • Hamlet knows that Ophelia is fiercely obedient to her father and if he tells her that his madness isn’t real, then she would undoubtedly tell Polonius and act as a foil to his plans. Therefore, he lies to her and her unrequited love for him causes her to go mad and kill herself.
  • Hamlet is both a victim and perpetrator of deceit.

It would suffice to talk about these three characters in your essay, but if you’ve time, there’s no harm in mentioning ROSENCRANTZ’ AND GUILDENSTERN’S lies – they pretend that they’re friends with Hamlet, when really; they’re only ‘sponges’ to Claudius. Also, the Ghost describes GERTRUDE as his “seeming virtuous queen”, therefore it might be interesting to explore the possibility that Gertrude and Claudius were having an adulterous affair while Old Hamlet was alive.

These are just some of the most obvious examples of deception within the play, but I hope they can help you with your essay. All you have to do is read over all the essays you’ve already done and you will be laughing, because all the information is already in them!

Good Luck,


Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

No more procrastinating over Hamlet

Hamlet is renowned for being one of the greatest tragedies in English literature and is undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s finest plays, but it is also one of his most complex pieces. To a lover of English, Hamlet is a dream – a play that’s filled with endless possibilities for exploration, but for a Leaving Cert English student who isn’t a fan of the vacillating Danish prince, the thought of tacking this play can fill you with dread. Just like its titular character, “Hamlet” is a play that is multi-faceted and rarely straightforward. However, this doesn’t mean that it has to be difficult to understand. As I’ve said before, the key to achieving 60/60 in the ‘Hamlet question’ is all about preparation and timing. Students panic so much about this question because it’s apparently so unpredictable, but if you flick through the exam papers, you will see that the questions are extremely repetitive and based either on theme or characters – they’re just phrased differently.

You’ll all be familiar with the types of questions that appear for Hamlet, but here are just some of them:

“The struggle between Hamlet and Claudius is a fascinating one”. (2001)

“In your opinion, what is the appeal of the play “Hamlet” to a twenty first century audience?” (2005)

“Discuss the role of women in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. In your response, make reference to and quote from the play to support your answer”. (My predicted question for this year).

“Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to reveal fascinating insights into his characters in Hamlet”. Discuss. (If there’s ANY justice in the world, this should be up this year).

“Revenge and justice are finely balanced themes in Hamlet. (2011).

“Claudius can be seen as both a heartless villain and a character with some redeeming qualities in the play Hamlet.” (2011).

Okay, now all these questions seem completely different, don’t they? How on earth can I prepare myself enough to ensure I can answer any question that the examiner throws at me? HAVE NO FEAR: LISTEN UP. We can see that all of these questions are either based on character or theme. Even 2011’s question about theme overlaps with 2001’s question about Hamlet and Claudius. The key to mastering any one of these questions lays simply in you being able to write about characters, and nothing more. After all, how are the themes of revenge and justice revealed in the play? THE THEMESAREREVEALED THROUGH THE CHARACTERS.

Even the soliloquy question is a character question, because you’re going to be talking about Hamlet’s and Claudius’ soliloquies and writing about how they display the motivations behind the character’s actions. So, we can see that the general outline of the Hamlet and Claudius question from 2001 can easily be manipulated to fit a soliloquy or theme question and indeed 2005’s dream question about the lasting appeal of Hamlet, is a perfect chance to use this essay too. The appeal of Hamlet could lay in the ‘fascinating relationship between Hamlet and Claudius!

This all sounds very well and good doesn’t it? But it’s not exactly helping by just stating these facts – you need to have all these points prepared for when you sit the exam and trying to learn 8 or 9 essays off my heart is going to kill you, right? Well, DON’T EVEN TRY TO!!!! The following tip will hopefully be the answer to all your Hamlet woes.

I discussed the importance of character and I cannot stress this highly enough. What I recommend is to take a character a night for a week and write down all their traits and then take that character and compare or contrast him/her to all the other characters in the play. This will only take 20 minutes a night and by the end of the week, you’ll have all the major characters done and their relationships sorted! Then, when you’re looking back over them, you’ll notice how the themes are communicated by the different characters and their respective relationships within the play.

Let’s try one with the character of CLAUDIUS. (This is brief and rough around the edges – it’s just to give you an idea. Of course, you’ll be able to develop the points further and add to them).


When we are first introduced to him, he impresses us as a TACTFUL and DIPLOMATIC leader. He balances affairs of state with his marriage to Gertrude, while leadingDenmark through the mourning of his brother’s death – the former king, Old Hamlet.

He appears as if he has all the potential to be a GOOD KING and possesses the necessary leadership qualities for a king.

As the play progresses, we see Claudius in a different light – he is a SYCOPHANT and a USURPER.


Everything he does is for self gain and he is a SLAVE TO HIS OWN AMBITIONS.

He is the CONSUMMATE VILLAIN – one who hides behind a mask of nobility and regal grandeur.


Our hatred for Claudius is largely coloured by HAMLET’S DISDAIN FOR HIM.

Claudius is SYCOHPHANTIC towards Hamlet – addressing him as “our chiefest courtier, our cousin and his son”. He also says “you are the most immediate to our thrown”, displaying his desire to acquiesce and appease the Danish prince.

Hamlet describes his “uncle father” as a “SMILING DAMNED, VILLAIN”.

Their relationship is fascinating because THEY’RE NOT THAT DIFFERENT. BOTH MEN TREAT WOMEN IN A SIMILARLY INHUMANE WAY. The duality in Hamlet’s character is evident in his treatment of Gertrude and Ophelia. Claudius refers to Gertrude as the “imperial jointress to our state” but his actions towards her suggest otherwise.

We tend to side with Hamlet and forgive him, because we know that behind it all, he is motivated by a sense of FILIAL DUTY, while Claudius ONLY CARES ABOUT HIMSELF.


Their relationship is described as “INCESTUAL”. Gertrude appears as a woman who is WHOLLY DEPENDENT ON MEN. She lives in the shadow of two kings – her first husband was murdered and “yet within a month”, she married her brother-in-law, Claudius.

They make an UNLIKELY COUPLE to an audience aware of Claudius’ deceit, but it would appear that their marriage is procured from convenience rather than love.

If Claudius is the consummate villain, then Gertrude is the EPITOME OF FICKLENESS. There are recurring suggestions that Claudius and Gertrude has a relationship even when Old Hamlet was alive. (The Ghost tells us that Claudius “won my shameful lust, the heart of my most SEEMING VIRTTOUS QUEEN”).

Claudius DOMINATES Gertrude. She cannot understand why Hamlet persists with his melancholic demeanour and agrees with Claudius when he says ‘tis unmanly grief’. She lets her own opinions be influenced by Claudius.

Throughout the play, she is AN OBEDIENT WIFE to Claudius. Therefore, it’s quite ironic, that when she dies, she does say, by disobeying his lacklustre order not to drink the poison chalice – possibly in a tragic effort to assert her independence.

These are just very quick and general notes but I would suggest you do this with each character.

TONIGHT: Take Claudius and compare/contrast him to Hamlet, Gertrude, Polonius and Ophelia.

Tomorrow: Take Hamlet and do the same thing and so on….

You should be able to see that from these very brief points, we could tackle most of the questions from earlier. The Hamlet and Claudius relationship one would be a doddle, the character of Claudius would be LOVELY, and even the ‘role of women’ is covered here because the women in this play are so obedient to the men in their lives that an essay on the role/portrayal of women essentially becomes one about how and why they are dominated by the male characters of the play. Just imagine how much information you would have, if you did this for all the characters?! Trust me, this works!!! I did it and it makes everything so much easier!! My next post will probably be a sample essay, based on one of these questions.Image

Good Luck,