'Hamlet' Study Guide

'Hamlet' Study Guide and Analysis

For many critics, Hamlet is considered to be Shakespeare’s greatest play. Although the text has many merits, it is the psychological complexity of the central character that has really earned this play its long-standing reputation.

Written in around 1600, some historians believe that the character of Hamlet is semi-autobiographical following the death of William Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet. It is perhaps this sad event in Shakespeare’s biography that enabled him to write with such poignancy. Certainly, Hamlet’s grief is conveyed with utmost accuracy and a weight of emotion behind it ... but, alas, we will never know for sure the circumstances around Shakespeare’s writing of the text.

Whatever the reason, the play is an important milestone in the development of renaissance drama and has therefore stood the test of time.

The play follows Hamlet’s efforts to avenge the murder of his father. If you’re new to this play, why not read our Hamlet summary, which captures the essence of Shakespeare's longest play. For more in-depth study, use our scene-by-scene breakdown.

The Curtain Scene from 'Hamlet'
The Curtain Scene from 'Hamlet'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery
Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, so I have summarized the entire plot onto a single page. This Hamlet summary describes how Hamlet has been affected by his father’s death, the ghost that encourages the grieving Hamlet to take revenge, and follows the story through to its tragic ending. Along the way we also take time to explore the breakdown in the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, the play within a play and briefly cast our eye over the lovable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. More »
Jude Law as Hamlet
Jude Law as Hamlet. Photo © Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images
Why is Hamlet considered to be the greatest dramatic character ever created? Well, Shakespeare was ahead of his time in Hamlet’s characterization. The grieving Prince of Denmark is written with close attention to detail and with psychological-astute traits – yet, Shakespeare was writing centuries before the concept of psychology was invented! Our character profile explores how Hamlet’s grief runs deep into the character’s psychological makeup. Indeed, there is a sense that the character’s emotions run deeper than words can convey. More »
Revenge - The fight scene from 'Hamlet'
Revenge - The fight scene from 'Hamlet'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

The key to enjoying Hamlet is to appreciate the complexity of its main themes. More than in any other Shakespeare play, the themes woven into Hamlet drive the play forwards. For example, the revenge theme is central to the play and it is Hamlet’s inability to avenge his father’s death that drives the plot forwards.

Our concise guide to Hamlet themes also covers death, the state of Denmark, incest and sexuality. Our collection of articles on Hamlet themes forms the ultimate study guide. More »

Hamlet: Title Page from the First Quarto. Photo © British Library

What happens when in Hamlet? Our scene-by-scene breakdown is the perfect guide to read alongside the original play. We break the play into its five acts and describe the major events and plot progressions scene-by-scene. Perhaps you have already read Hamlet, but can’t put your finger on that all-important scene or Hamlet quote? If you need to find something in Hamlet or find the original text difficult to follow, then our breakdown is the resource for you! More »

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Reader Reviews : 'Hamlet'

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Not convinced that Hamlet is the greatest play ever written? Find out what fellow readers have to say in our Reader Review section. You can even leave your own review for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

When readers submit a play review for Hamlet they also leave a star rating for the play. An overall star rating is averaged from all the reader submitted reviews – so if you love this play, be sure to review and rate it!