Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Last minute Hamlet advice – Jamie Tuohy



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. Just like its titular character, Hamlet is a play that is multi-faceted and rarely straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard to comprehend.

Here are some pointers for you to expand on in your essays:


The Role of Women in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:


  • Open your essay with a quote. This grabs the reader’s attention and immediately shows your engagement with the question and knowledge of the play.
  • “Frailty thy name is woman”. These are words spoken by the titular character of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet that highlight the role of women within this tragedy.
  • Women are characterised as weak and subservient and as obedient and acquiescent.
  • Gertrude and Ophelia play a passive role in the play’s proceedings, but are crucial to exposing the play’s central themes and the titular character’s misogyny.



  • Gertrude is living in the shadow of two kings and in this sense; she is wholly dependent on men.
  • Claudius describes her as the “imperial jointress to this war like state”. However she does little to prove this.
  • She is too weak to challenge Claudius and her role as the Queen of Denmark is constantly undermined and overshadowed by his dominance.
  • Gertrude portrays the fickleness of women. There are suggestions she had a relationship with Claudius, even when Old Hamlet was still alive. According to the Ghost, Claudius “won by shameful lust, the heart of my most seeming virtuous queen”.
  • Women are characterised in a one dimensional manner – they cannot live without a man and constantly need one in their lives. Gertrude’s “o’er hasty marriage” to Claudius exemplifies this.
  • As a queen, Gertrude is ineffectual and as a mother, she is insensitive and blind to her son’s distress.
  • Gertrude cannot understand why Hamlet persists with his melancholic demeanour and agrees with Claudius when he says “tis unmanly grief”. Gertrude lets her own opinion of Hamlet’s mental state be influenced by Claudius.
  • However, Gertrude’s redeeming feature is her propensity for goodness.
  • None of Gertrude’s actions are premeditated, so it seems rather fitting that she dies drinking from the poison chalice – completely unaware of what is in it.
  • Through her death, Gertrude highlights the position of women within this tragedy – completely obedient and totally oblivious to the corruption around them.



  • Ophelia, like Gertrude is a woman who is led and controlled by the men in her life. She is described by her brother Laertes as “a sweet sister and a kind maid”. Ophelia’s primary role is to showcase Hamlet’s warped view of women.
  • Out of all the characters in the play, she is the one who cast in the most one dimensional manner.
  • Ophelia has the potential to be a tragic heroine, to overcome her father’s control and gain Hamlet’s love, but due to her submission and conformity, she is merely tragic.
  • Shakespeare uses Ophelia to portray the fickleness of women.
  • As Polonius’ daughter, Ophelia is extremely obedient. When he tells her not to speak to Hamlet anymore, she obliges, saying “I shall obey my lord”.
  • Ophelia resigns to the fact that Hamlet is “subject to her birth”, simply because her brother Laertes told her. She accepts these ‘truths’ because she is too weak to challenge male authority.
  • There are recurring tones of misogyny throughout the play and Ophelia’s acquiescence; combined with Hamlet’s maltreatment of her showcases this.
  • He uses guttural language when speaking to her, saying “get thee to a nunnery, why woulds’t thou be a breeder of sinners?” This is a grossly offensive remark to the “sweet and innocent Ophelia”, but she simply agrees to do as Hamlet tells her, possessing no strength of character to stand her ground.
  • It is notable that Gertrude – a woman announces Ophelia’s death, elucidating women’s ability to empathise with each other.
  • Ophelia kills herself because of the men in her life – her father is dead and her love for Hamlet is unrequited. She cannot function without a man and therefore, is driven to insanity.
  • Gertrude’s elegiacal speech on Ophelia’s death highlights the frailty of women and portrays the poignancy of her death. “Sweets for the sweet”, she says, as she places flowers on Ophelia’s coffin.
  • Ophelia’s association with nature – the flowers, the willow tree in the lake, all display “a young maiden” who was pure, virtuous and fatally innocent.


The Importance of the Soliloquy:

This question was one of the expected questions for last year and didn’t appear, but I wouldn’t rule it out for this year. The reason I decided to include this question as opposed to another one is because it’s all encompassing. This question lends itself to exposing the themes of deception, revenge, corruption, filial duty, loyalty and is also one that can deals with Hamlet’s and Claudius’ characters.

For this question, Hamlet and Claudius are the two best characters to write about, partly because their soliloquys are often spoken about each other and partly because they speak some of the most famous lines in English literature. I chose four soliloquys by Hamlet and two by Claudius. I never worried about logistics or ratios – this is English, not maths and Hamlet has more memorable speeches anyway!



  • Act 1, Scene 2: “O that this too too solid flesh would melt…”
    • This is an extremely telling and revealing soliloquy, as we see a deeply depressed and saddened Hamlet, as he is grieving for the loss of his father, but also expressing his disgust towards his mother to “post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”.
    • This speech portrays Hamlet’s love for his late father and his anger and hatred towards Claudius – even before he knows that he is the murderer of his father.
    • We see Hamlet as powerless, as he must “hold his tongue” and therefore, we sympathise with him and forgive his misogynistic generalisation of women.
    • He is ultimately motivated by filial duty.


  • Act 2, Scene 2: “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I?”
    • Hamlet’s self-directed harangue not only expresses his annoyance at himself for not acting sooner, but it also develops the plot and provides us with a dramatic irony.
    • These lines display Hamlet’s true inner conflict – he is on a quest to avenge his father’s death and kill Claudius, but he hesitates on carrying out this cold and callous act because he condemns himself as a “coward”, even though he has “the motive and the cue for passion”.
  • Act 3, Scene 1: “To be or not to be?”
    • Hamlet is a thinker and philosopher, rather than a man of action.
    • It is important to note that Hamlet does not directly relate this soliloquy to his own cause, but instead uses inclusive pronouns like “we” and “us” and the indefinite “who”.
    • This allows the audience to be a part of the play and even though Hamlet’s mental nadir is evident through his soliloquy – he is speaking on behalf of everyone who is torn and faces a similar dilemma.
    • He tells us that even though death may be preferable to life, we are restricted from action by fear and moral judgement. Perhaps this is the explanation for why Hamlet cannot kill Claudius?
    • This is an extremely important soliloquy, as it develops the character of Hamlet and gives us an insight into the numerous facets of his complex mind.


  • Act 3, Scene 3: “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying…”
    • He has evidence that Claudius is the killer, but cannot do so, because he believes that Claudius is praying and will be sent to heaven if he is killed mid-prayer.
    • In terms of dramatic function, this soliloquy allows us to delve into Hamlet’s mind and see that he is motivated by revenge, but he is also guided by his morals and his conscience.
    • It also exemplifies Hamlet’s procrastination and portrays his constant vacillation from action to inertia.



  • Act 3, Scene 3: “O! My offence is rank and smells to heaven…”
    • This speech portrays Claudius as a villain with a conscience.
    • He wants to pray for forgiveness for his “most unnatural crime”, but he is unwilling to give up the merits of his anomalous act – namely “my crown” and “my queen”.
    • This is his most important soliloquy, as it presents Claudius in a three-dimensional manner. He isn’t the cold-hearted villain we thought he was, as he knows that he will always be “struggling to be free”.
    • It also provides dramatic irony. We know that Claudius isn’t praying, but Hamlet does not.
  • Act 4, Scene 3: “The present death of Hamlet, do it England…”
    • Once again, we see Shakespeare creating dramatic irony as we are informed of Claudius’ intentions towards the unsuspecting Hamlet.
    • Claudius sees Hamlet as a “desperate disease” and recognises him as a threat to the state, but more importantly his crown.
    • It also shows us that Claudius isn’t the noble king he would like everyone to think he is – he is ruthless and callous and willing to commit even more grievous acts to remain in power.


What Worked For Me:

  • I had a few tricks for gaining top marks in any Hamlet question and one of them was to read any relevant speeches or soliloquys and then explain them to myself out loud, as if I were teaching them to a class. Admittedly, this drove my family mad, as each night I would just speak to myself in the Bard’s language. However, you will be amazed how much information you will retain from reciting quotations out loud. It will also allow you to use quotes that aren’t obvious and not the usual ones that all students use. Adopting the broody demeanour and sullen gaze of the Danish prince, while whaling “to be or not to be”, is of course, optional.


  • I mentioned how important characters are when it comes to Hamlet and I had a handy method for being prepared for any question on the text. Take a character each night for a week and write down all their traits, then compare them to all the other major characters of the play. For example, tonight, take Hamlet and write down all his characteristics and then compare and contrast him with Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and Ophelia. By the time you’ve all the characters done at the end of the week, you’ll be sorted for any question.


  • I always tried to have a piece of information that not many other students would have and this involved a little bit of secondary reading, which is good practice for college! A great point for Hamlet is the “Oedipal Complex”, developed by the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. He argued that Hamlet delays in killing Claudius because Claudius has acted out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother. Knowing this doesn’t mean you should give a psychoanalytic reading of the text, but it’s a great additional point for talking about Hamlet’s character or his relationship with Gertrude.
Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Images of Disease in Hamlet – Jamie Tuohy

Took 20 mins out of exam study to make some quick notes for all you Leaving Certers worried about the tricky question of ‘disease in Hamlet’:
  • There are a considerable number of images of sickness and disease in Hamlet describing the unwholesome condition of Denmark morally.
  • This image of the Danish court dominates the play.
  • Associated with this are images of poison and decay.
  • All these related images form a powerful, imaginative pattern, contributing to the mood and atmosphere of the play and reinforce its central themes.
  • The Ghost’s description of Old Hamlet’s murder is presented in language associated with disease (poison).
  • The murder is not enacted but we are very aware of the distasteful nature of the crime. The poison used by Claudius is a ‘leprous distillment’ which causes disease, and a ‘vile and loathesome crust’ of scabs to cover the body of its victim.
  • The corruption of Denmark and its people is seen as insidious poisoning.
  • Marcellus says “there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark”. 
  • Poisoning is not just something described by the Ghost and featured in the imagery – it recurs in the Dumb-Show and is the means by which all the major characters die/
  • The imagery of corruption, sickness and decay, is often a reflection of Hamlet’s darker moods, as for example, in his first soliloquy, with its emphasis on the ‘sullied flesh’ and on the world as an ‘unweeded garden’ infested with all things ‘rank and ‘gross’.
  • He regards his mother’s sin as a ‘blister’ on the ‘fair forehead of an innocent love’. 
  • He sees Claudius as a ‘mildewed ear’ – blasting his ‘wholesome brother’.
  • He tells Gertrude that if she refuses to face up to her guilt, she will be like somebody trying to find a cure for an ulcer and by covering it with useless ointment, while “rank corruption mining all within/infects unseen”.
  • He compares the war between Norway and Poland to a kind of tumour, which grows out of too much wealth and he thinks of his decision to spare the life of a praying Claudius and his mother’s part i it, as the ultimate sources of the poison and rottenness which threaten the well-being of Denmark.
  • On the other hand, Claudius thinks that Hamlet is the source of Denmark’s decay.
  • After the death of Polonius, he compares his lateness in having Hamlet locked up, to “a foul disease”, who permits it to undermine his life. “Diseases desperate grown by desperate appliance are relieved or not at all”.
  • He says to Laertes of Hamlet’s return “but to the quick of the ulcer/Hamlet comes back”.
  • As well as emphasising the imaginative effect of imagery of sickness, disease and poisoning, we should include other influences which help to counterbalance the sense of decay and corruption induced by the reflections of Claudius and Hamlet.
  • The atmosphere of the play is not entirely one of gloom an ugliness.
  • Hamlet is a rich and varied play, encompassing many moods and many contrasting strands of imagery.
  • Against the morbid atmosphere evoked by numerous reference to rottenness and corruption, exists the lyrical beauty of Hamlet’s description of the morning dressed in a russet mantle, Marcellus’ splendid lines on Christmas tide, the associations of grandeur and magnificence called up by Hamlet’s ample classical imagery and Gertrude’s delicate and elegiacal account of Ophelia’s death. 


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 relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude

Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of recent posts! I’ve been super busy with course work, but I’ve found a spare 10 minutes to FINALLY write up some points on HAMLET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH GERTRUDE. This is a question that so many of you have asked me to do, but I haven’t got around to it until now. I’ve laid out some key points for you to discuss in your essay and hopefully, they should be the semblance of an essay!

  • At the core of the play is the relationship between Hamlet his mother Gertrude.
  • Gertrude’s “o’er hasty marriage” to Claudius forms the source of Hamlet’s distress.
  • This acts as a catalyst to Hamlet’s behaviour.
  • However, Gertrude is NOT a dominant figure in the play and seems easily manipulated by the male characters of the play.
  • She is never far from Hamlet’s thoughts and quite worryingly, he seems inordinately preoccupied with her. The famous psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud suggested that a reason for Hamlet’s procrastination resides in Oedipal Complex. That is to say, Claudius has acted out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother. This is an extremely worrying aspect to the Danish prince’s character and it is very important to his relationship with his mother.
  • Gertrude is characterised as flippant and careless – “seeming virtuous queen”. Hamlet reveals his disgust towards her marriage to his uncle, describing it as morally offensive, “incestuous” and he admonishes his mother’s weaknesses, saying “frailty thy name is woman”.
  • It is strongly suggested that Gertrude is an adulteress, weak and easily persuaded by physical love and Hamlet feels disappointment, anger and betrayal towards her. In turn, she seems to regret her actions at pivotal points in the play. She realises that it is HER behaviour that has altered her son’s perception of the world and she expresses this aloud to Claudius. She realises this, especially in the  “Closet scene”, when Hamlet “speaks daggers” to her regarding her relationship with Claudius. He also holds a mirror to her (“hold a mirror up to nature”) to “show virtue her own feature”. 
  • It’s interesting to note that Gertrude doesn’t actually see the Ghost when he appears in the same scene – it is only Hamlet who can see him. Perhaps this might suggest that Gertrude is, in some way, morally blind. She cannot see how she has sinned – it is only her son Hamlet who notices it.
  • For someone as sensitive and as philosophical as Hamlet, it seems a cruel fate that he would have someone as flippant and nonchalant as Gertrude for a mother.
  • At the beginning of the play, she seems oblivious to all of the corruption around her and it is her flippancy that ignites a rage in Hamlet – “thou knows’t tis common….” 
  • In a sense, Gertrude fails miserably at motherhood because she fails to see the true extent (or even empathise with) of her son’s grief.
  • Shakespeare uses Gertrude to portray the role of women within the play – one of passivity and fierce obedience. The relationship between Hamlet and his mother is pivotal to communicating the theme.
  • Throughout the play, we are unaware as to who Hamlet hates more – Claudius for killing his father or his mother Gertrude for betraying someone as noble as Old Hamlet.
  • However, one could also argue that HAMLET DOES NOT AVENGE HIS FATHER’S DEATH. Think about it – Hamlet REACTS when Gertrude is drinks the poison. It is after the death of his mother that Hamlet spurns to action and finally kills the villainous Claudius.
  • The relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude is probably THE most important relationship in the play.


There you are everyone! Hope it helps…coming up next will be some points on COMEDY in Hamlet and some notes on images of disease in the play. These are two questions that students usually find very tricky as they’re so specific, but hopefully you guys will be able to tackle them with the guidance of some notes!!



Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

For some people Claudius is a black hearted villain who is justly punished for the murder of his brother, while for others he is a potentially good king who pays dearly for his past. Discuss with reference to the text.


  • Okay, let’s be honest, the likelihood of this question coming up this year isn’t very high, but a few people have asked me to do a ‘Claudius question’, so here it is. Let’s break it down first:
  • This is actually a very good question because not only do you have so much to talk about, but because you can use so much of the information you have from all of your other essays.
  • Think about it: if we’re talking about the character of Claudius, then there will obviously be points in relation to HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HAMLET, HIS MALTREATMENT OF WOMEN ANDTHE THEME OF KINGSHIP. Therefore, essays like the ‘role of women’ or even the ‘character of Hamlet’, or ‘revenge as a theme’ will help you with this question.
  • So what am I trying to say? I’m saying that ALLTHE ESSAYS YOU DO FOR HAMLET ARE IMPORTANT BECAUSE THEY ALL RELATE TO EACH OTHER. Therefore, the more you can do, the easier it will be for you to tackle any question.
  • So what if this question doesn’t come up this year? It doesn’t matter, because you will see that there are points you can make in this essay that would easily fit into about 3 or 4 different essays.
  • It’s extremely important to see the bigger picture. Of course you have to attend to the question throughout, but remember what I always say: ALLQUESTIONS AREESSENTIALLY CHARACTER QUESTIONS. This is why this is a useful question – it will help you with many of the play’s central themes.
  • You will probably have noticed by now, but I always open my essays with A RELEVANT QUOTE – it grabs the reader’s attentions and immediately displays your knowledge of the text and you engagement to the question.
  • Don’t forget, when we’re talking about a character, discuss him/her in terms of their INTRODUCTION, DEVELOPMENT and CONCLUSION.
  • This isn’t a question from exam papers, so I have tested it out to make sure you can write it in the 60 minute timeframe. Now bear in mind, I haven’t studied Hamlet in nearly a year, so this morning, I decided to write out this question and answer it from scratch, without looking over any notes or revising anything. AND I HANDWROTE IT IN 50 MINUTES. Therefore, think what you can do – fresh from studying the play, and your mind full of ideas! You guys will breeze through this, but I hope this can maybe give you all some useful tips. I hope all my quotes are up to scratch, but if not, please forgive me…it’s been nearly a year.



“That one may smile and smile and still be a villain”.


These are words spoken by the titular character of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet that highlight the essence of the “smiling damned villain” that is Claudius. For some people, Claudius is a black hearted villain who is justly punished for the murder of his brother, while for others; he is a potentially good king who plays dearly for his past. In my opinion, Claudius is a well rounded, multi-dimensional character who can never be judged in a single light. Shakespeare makes Claudius so interesting because, while Claudius is the consummate villain of the play – a usurper, capable of bestial depravity, he is also portrayed as a villain with a conscience. Claudius is duly aware of the gravity of his offence, but he refuses to repent. While Claudius exhibits all the qualities of a good and honourable king, in reality, he is an unscrupulous murderer who is justly punished for his “rank offence”.


When we are first introduced to Claudius, he impresses us as a tactful and diplomatic leader. He balances affairs of state with his marriage to Gertrude, while leadingDenmarkthrough the mourning of his brother’s death – Old Hamlet. Claudius says “we are contracted in one brow of sorrow, with mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage, in equal measure, weighing delight and dole”. It would appear that Claudius possesses all the necessary leadership qualities for a king. He portrays his excellence and showcases his political prowess when he sends Voltimad and Cornelius to Old Norway to stop his nephew Fortinbras trying to attackDenmark. From his introduction, Claudius is presented to us, as Polonius says “a man faithful and honourable”.


However, in reality, Claudius is a sycophant and our hatred of his is largely coloured by Hamlet’s disdain for him. Claudius refers to his nephew Hamlet as “our chiefest courtier, our cousin and our son”. He appeases the Danish prince by telling him that “you are the most immediate to our thrown”. Once again, we view Claudius as someone who knows how to deal with people – acquiescing Hamlet and asking him not to return to university inWittenberg. When Hamlet agrees to stay inDenmark, he does so on his mother’s request, saying “I shall in all my best, obey you, madam”. Hamlet’s deliberate exclusion of Claudius arouses our suspicions towards Claudius and because we sympathise with Hamlet as the play’s tragic hero, we tend to distrust Claudius almost immediately. However, he shows no signs of cracking, simply saying “tis a loving and fair reply”. Claudius, is you seem has the potential to be a good king – he is unfazed by Hamlet’s remarks and continues to leadDenmarkthrough the grieving of their former king. This presents the audience with an interesting idea – is it necessary to be a scrupulous and moral person to be a tactful and effective leader? After all, one could argue that Claudius is an extremely capable king who doesn’t let his personal life get in the way of his politics – which is slightly ironic, when one considers how he achieved his crown.


It is not until the appearance if the Ghost that we learn of Claudius’ “rash and bloody deed”. The Ghost charges Claudius with bestial depravity which is both fratricide and regicide and this cements Hamlet’s hatred of him. The Ghost says, “the serpent that did sting the father’s life now wears the crown”. The Ghost urges Hamlet to exact revenge on Claudius by telling him to “revenge his most foul and unnatural murder”. It is in this scene that we see just how menacing and calculating Claudius really is. He is not the noble king he would like us to believe he is – Claudius is nothing but a black hearted villain, who “won by shameful lust the will of my most seeming virtuous queen”. Claudius murdered Old Hamlet while he was sleeping by pouring a “leprous distilment” into his ear. This is an extremely important scene because it unmasks the true Cladius – a cowardly, “baudless” and “kindless villan”. We as an audience fully support Hamlet when he ensues to “put an antic disposition on”, because we feel that Claudius is deserving of everything he gets. Claudius’ methods are calculating and deceitful – elucidating his cunning and callous disposition.


Hamlet’s apparent madness causes great worry in the Danish court, but this worry is most prevalent in Claudius. However, unlike Gertrude, Claudius is in no way concerned with his nephew’s mental nadir, but it instead conscious of the fact that “madness in great ones must not unwatched go”. Polonius tells Claudius that the real reason Hamlet is mad is because of his unrequited love for his daughter Ophelia. Claudius proves himself to be utterly unscrupulous – hiding behind the arras with his “lawful espial” Polonius to eavesdrop on Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s conversation. Claudius soon realises that unrequited love is not the cause of the Danish prince’s madness and urges “dear Rosencrantz” and “gentle Guildenstern” to “glean” what information they can from Hamlet. Claudius is an amoral sycophant and completely self absorbed and villainous.


Nevertheless, throughout the play, we, as an audience, question whether Hamlet’s madness is indeed feigned or is in fact real – caused by the death of his dearly beloved father? This in turn, causes us to wonder whether or not Claudius is the murderer – after all, he appears to be and able and fair king. However, when Hamlet vows “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”, Claudius’ guilt, treachery and sheer black heartedness come to the fore. Claudius, clearly uneasy by the re-enactment of his crime, rushed out of the theatre, screaming for air. It is perceptible to the audience that Claudius is most definitely the murderer and his admission of guilt in the Prayer Scene confirms this:


“O! My offence is rank and smells to heaven,

It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,

A brother’s murder!

Pray can I not, though inclination be as sharp as will”.


Claudius’ guilt is blindingly evident, but he cannot pray for forgiveness, because he refused to forgo the merits of his crime – namely “my crown, mine own ambition and my queen”. It is interesting to note that Gertrude only features as a third in his list of priorities – underlining the fact that he is a completely self-centered, morally inept criminal, who favours power and money over human relationships. Claudius’ villainy in nowhere more evident than when, soon after the Prayer Scene he sends Hamlet to his death inEngland, referring to him as a “foul disease”. Claudius only cares about himself – a ruthless usurper who will do anything to protect himself and hold onto what he has gained through criminal and unlawful deeds.


It is in the final scene that we see just how black hearted and callous Claudius is. Hamlet has outsmarted him and returned fromEngland– alive and unharmed. Claudius quickly placated a raging Laertes who is livid upon seeing the man who killed his father. Claudius persuades Laertes to kill Hamlet in a duel, by stabbing him with a poison sword. It seems that the calculating antagonist has a predilection for poison – killing his own brother with a “leprous distilment”, filling a poison chalice for Hamlet to drink from and covering the tip of Laertes’ sword with a “deadly poison”. These all serve to exemplify just how twisted and brutal Claudius is. If he ever possessed the potential to be a good king, then he is thwarted at every turn by his own cruel and sick deeds. However, Claudius’ plans backfire and Laertes confesses all to Hamlet and tragically, it is Gertrude and not Hamlet who drinks from the poison chalice, with Claudius weakly telling her “Gertrude, do not drink”. It seems rather fitting that Claudius would die; drinking from the same poison chalice – given his infamous affiliation with it. Laertes, Gertrude and the “noble prince” all die because of the black hearted villain Claudius.


Claudius is the consummate villain – one who hides behind a mask of nobility and regal grandeur. To some, Claudius is a potentially good king who pays dearly for his past, but Claudius’ diplomacy, tact and shrewdness and overshadowed by his manipulative, callous and cold heart. He is the leader of a depraved underworld which is “disjoint” and “stewed in corruption”. It is because of Claudius that all the major characters of the play die, therefore, we feel justice has been done and he has been rightly punished, when Hamlet sends him to his death as a “kindless, treacherous, lecherous, remorseless villain”.


There you go folks! Happy writing!


Claudius character question – Jamie Tuohy

Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Is Hamlet a noble hero?

  • Apologies for the lack of posts recently!! I’ve had SO MUCH READING AND STUDY TO DO! Taking a 30 min study break to do this essay for you guys!
  • This is just a question that I have made up which should cover any Hamlet character question.
  • It’s quite a broad question which should hopefully provide the scope for discussing a wide variety of his traits and characteristics.
  • One thing I always do in an essay, and it’s something which I’ve forgotten to draw your attention to and that is OPEN WITH A QUOTE. This is a fantastic way to immediately catch the attention of the reader/examiner and it shows your knowledge of the text INSTANTLY.
  • The reason why I’m doing this question as opposed to a more specific question is because this allows me to present both sides of Hamlet’s character and most of the question on Hamlet’s character tend to deal with the DUALITY OF HIS DISPOSITION. Hamlet is a fascinating character with many different traits and hopefully this question can make that clear.


“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”

These are words spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet by William Shakespeare that highlight the condition of the protagonist himself. Hamlet is a multi-faceted character – as the prince of Denmark he is noble, courageous, valiant and intelligent. Shakespeare presents us with a character who has high moral standards and a sense of spiritual sensitivity. His abhorrence for evil and his contempt for the hypocrisy of the court is illustrated through his quest to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet is an extremely complex character and there certainly is a dichotomy therein. Hamlet’s bravery and nobility are at times, overshadowed by his procrastination and vacillation from action to inertia. Hamlet is unable to act in a decisive manner and this is his hamartia. However, because we admire Hamlet’s moral sensitivity, we tend to accept his behaviour. He gains our sympathy and by the end of the play, Hamlet emerges as one of Shakespeare’s greatest noble heroes; albeit a tragic one.


When we are first introduced to the crestfallen prince in Act 1, Sc.(i), he is not present, however the sombre mood and eerie atmosphere set the tone for the whole play. Everyone around him appears to be getting on with their lives after the “most unnatural” death of Old Hamlet. Gertrude – Hamlet’s mother (and the queen) has married Claudius – Hamlet’s uncle. Everyone’s new found happiness elude Hamlet, whose grief is evident through “his inky cloak” and “customary suits of solemn black”. It’s evident that the anomalous murder of his father has had a greater impact on Hamlet that is had on his mother. He praises his father, saying “so excellent a king that was to this Hyperion to a satyr” and expresses his disapproval towards his mother to “post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”. Despite the misogyny of his first soliloquy, Hamlet expresses his filial loyalty towards his father, underlining the fact that he guided by a his sense of morality – a truly noble and admirable quality in the young prince.


This loyalty is something that is a constant feature of his disposition and when the Ghost appears to Hamlet, he shows his bravery and courage by following it, despite Horatio and Marcellus urging him to do otherwise. The Ghost reveals himself to that of Hamlet’s father – the king Old Hamlet. He tells his son “but know, thou youth, the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown”. This is an extremely important scene, as we are made aware of that fact that Claudius is the murderer. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s death and in doing so proceeds to “put an antic disposition on” of feigned madness. Hamlet is of noble extraction and sees Claudius as a threat to the state of Denmark. He recgonises that the “time is out of joint” and feels that he was “born to set it right”. His nobility is perceptible, as Hamlet feels by killing Claudius, he is purifying the whole court and ridding Denmark of evil.


Claudius is the consummate villain of the play and it is important to note that Hamlet hates and mistrusts him from the start – even before he knows that he is the murderer. He sees his “uncle-father” as a “treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain” and will not allow him a redeeming feature. When the Ghost charges Claudius with bestial depravity, which is both fratricide and regicide, it cements Hamlet’s hatred of him and acts as an agent provocateur to his actions. However, unlike Claudius, Hamlet is not a cold hearted killer and refuses to kill Claudius solely bases on the Ghost’s appearance. He will not do so until he is absolutely certain, beyond reasonable doubt that his father was murdered by is very own brother. Hamlet displays a conscientious and intelligent mind.


This intelligence is often expresses through Hamlet’s soliloquies, which also portray a man who is highly philosophical. In Act 2, Sc.(ii), he waxes praise upon the endless abilities of man, saying “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form, in moving, how express and admirable”. One of Hamlet’s most admirable attributes is his verbosity. He is an eloquent scholar and often gives us insights into life through his deep and meaningful soliloquies. Hamlet will do anything without considering the consequences of his actions. In doing so, he highlights his cleverness and nobility.


Shakespeare created a well rounders character in Hamlet and Hamlet himself uses his intelligence in a cunning and shrewd manner. He refuses to kill Claudius while he is praying because he knows that in doing so, Claudius will go straight to heaven. Instead, he constructs an elaborate plan, in which he’ll have the players re-enact The Mousetrap, which he hopes will “catch the conscience of the king”. Hamlet hopes that when Claudius sees the players mimic his crime, it will prove too much for him and his guilt will be perceptible. Even in instructing the players, Hamlet impresses us a knowledgeable and cultured man. He tells the players exactly how to act – showing precision and attention to detail. When the player king is poisoned, it proves too much for Claudius and he swiftly exits – just as Hamlet has intended. Through his shrewdness and cunning – he has consummate evidence that Claudius is the killer.


As an audience, we are willing Hamlet to kill Claudius and avenge his father’s death, but his hamartia – his procrastination prevents him from doing so. Hamlet’s nobility, bravery and intelligence give him a super human persona, but his inability to act in a decisive manner is his fatal flaw. He ruminates too much “o’er the issue” and this spawns the death of many of the play’s central characters. He is an enigma and at times, we are often left wondering as to who he hates more – Claudius for killing his father, or Gertrude for possessing such scant regard for her late husband. once Hamlet assumes his antic-disposition, he ceases to be a single unified personality. The complexity of his character lies primarily in the contradiction between the noble and contemplative Hamlet suggested by his soliloquies and the often harsh and cruel nature revealed in action.


This duality is evident in his maltreatment of Gertrude and Ophelia. Hamlet uses guttural language to describe his mother’s relationship with Claudius. His obsession with what appears to be an incestuous relationship is an extremely disturbing aspect of his character. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst suggested that the reason for Hamlet’s procrastination and why he prolongs in killing Claudius is because of the “Oedipus Complex”. Perhaps Claudius has carried out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother? Similarly, Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia – his girlfriend is inhumane. He teases her saying “I did love you once, I love you not”. He urges her “get thee to a nunnery” and his maltreatment Ophelia is not an appealing aspect of his character. Nevertheless, we overlook Hamlet’s behaviour and when he kills the “meddling old fool” Polonius, we don’t view Hamlet as an ignoble villain, but rather as the antithesis, because we are aware that he is motivated by filial duty.


In the final act, we see a truly noble Hamlet. He acts on instinct and with courage and defiance. We are made aware that he truly does love Ophelia, as in the ‘graveyard scene’, when he finds out that the deceased body is that of Ophelia’s. he jumps into the grave. He defiantly declares his absolute love for her and says “forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love, make up my sum”. We see Hamlet’s nobility and realise that his flippant comments to her stemmed from his antic disposition and feigned madness.


Even when Horatio – the voice of reason urges Hamlet not to take part in the duel with Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, Hamlet is fearless and courageous and vows to take part. The battle has been arranged by Claudius with the favoured outcome being Hamlet’s death. Hamlet is selfless and does not fear death – a truly noble and heroic quality. The great tragedy is that Gertrude drinks the poison which Claudius has prepared for Hamlet and Laertes dies. However, Hamlet, in his dying moments, avenges his father’s death by stabbing Claudius. The play ends in tragedy, but Hamlet is borne “like a soldier to the stage”.


Hamlet is a young man with depth and thought, who is both riveting and intriguing. He is an enigmatic character who we admire both for his strengths and his weaknesses. His abomination for corruption motivates his action, however his deception is key to the plot and the hypocrisy of the court, which is rejected by Hamlet thus becomes a feature of him, as illustrated through his antic-disposition. Yet, the fascination lies therein, because despite his deception, Hamlet impresses us as an extremely intelligent, courageous and valiant hero, but most of all, as a loyal son. He never acts without processing the consequences and it’s tragic that Hamlet dies even after all his contemplation. The ability of the audience to connect with the emotions of Hamlet, combined with his supremacy over evil, make him one of the greatest noble and tragic heroes in English literature. Indeed, Horatio says it best, when he elucidates the nobility of the Danish prince and showcases the tragedy of his death, saying:

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince”.




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,