Other Themes in 'Hamlet'

The State of Denmark, Sexuality, Incest and Uncertainty in 'Hamlet'

Alongside Hamlet’s main themes, like death, revenge and Hamlet’s inability to act, a number of sub-themes emerge in the play:

The State of Denmark

The political and social condition of Denmark is referred to throughout the play and the ghost is an embodiment of Denmark’s growing social unrest. This is because the blood-line of the monarchy has been unnaturally disrupted by Claudius, an immoral and power-hungry king.

At the time this play was written, Queen Elizabeth was 60 and there was concern about who would inherit the throne. Mary Queen of Scots’ son was an heir, but had the potential to ignite the political tension between Britain and Scotland. Therefore, the state of Denmark in Hamlet could be a reflection of Britain’s own social unrest.

Sexuality and Incest

Gertrude’s incestuous relationship with her bother-in-law plagues Hamlet more that his father’s death. In Act 3, Scene 4, he accuses his mother of living “In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, / Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty.”

Gertrude has destroyed Hamlet’s faith in women, which is perhaps why his feelings towards Ophelia become ambivalent.

Yet, Hamlet is not so angered by his uncle’s incest – it is Gertrude, not Claudius that he blames. Perhaps the reason for this is a combination of women’s passive role in society and Hamlet’s overpowering (maybe even verging on incestuous) passion for his mother.

Ophelia’s sexuality is also controlled by the men in her life. Laertes and Polonius are overbearing guardians and insist that she rejects Hamlet’s advances, despite her love for him.


In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses uncertainty more like a dramatic device than a theme. The uncertainties of the unfolding plot are what drive the actions of each character.

From the very beginning of the play, the ghost poses a great deal of uncertainty for Hamlet. He (and we) are uncertain about the ghost’s purpose – is it a sign of Denmark’s socio-political instability, a manifestation of Hamlet’s own conscience, an evil spirit provoking him to murder, or his father’s spirit unable to rest?

Hamlet’s uncertainty delays him from taking action, ultimately causing the unnecessary deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Even at the end of the play, we are left with a feeling of uncertainty when Hamlet bequeaths the throne to the rash and violent Fortinbras. In the closing moments of the play, Denmark’s future looks less certain than it did at the beginning.