The Prevalent Social and Emotional Themes in the Play "Hamlet"

Shakespeare's tragedy included a number of sub-themes

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Shakespeare's tragedy "Hamlet" has a number of major themes, such as death and revenge, but the play also includes sub-themes, such as the state of Denmark, incest, and uncertainty. With this review, you can better understand the drama's wide range of issues and what they reveal about the characters.

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 bloodline of the monarchy has been unnaturally disrupted by Claudius, an immoral and power-hungry king.

When the 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 would potentially ignite political tensions between Britain and Scotland. Therefore, the state of Denmark in "Hamlet" could be a reflection of Britain’s own unrest and political problems.

Sexuality and Incest in Hamlet

Gertrude’s incestuous relationship with her brother-in-law plagues Hamlet more than 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's actions destroy Hamlet’s faith in women, which is perhaps why his feelings toward Ophelia become ambivalent.

Yet, Hamlet is not so angered by his uncle’s incestuous behavior. To be clear, incest typically refers to sexual relations between close blood relatives, so while Gertrude and Claudius are related, their romantic relationship does not actually constitute incest. That said, Hamlet disproportionately blames Gertrude for her sexual relationship with Claudius, while overlooking his uncle's role in the relationship. Perhaps the reason for this is a combination of women’s passive role in society and Hamlet’s overpowering (maybe even borderline 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. Clearly, there's a double standard for women where sexuality is concerned.


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 and keep the audience engaged.

From the very beginning of the play, the ghost poses a great deal of uncertainty for Hamlet. He (and the audience) are uncertain about the ghost’s purpose. For instance, 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, which ultimately leads to the unnecessary deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern.

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

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Jamieson, Lee. "The Prevalent Social and Emotional Themes in the Play "Hamlet"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Jamieson, Lee. (2020, August 27). The Prevalent Social and Emotional Themes in the Play "Hamlet". Retrieved from Jamieson, Lee. "The Prevalent Social and Emotional Themes in the Play "Hamlet"." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 29, 2023).