Debatable points

Is Hamlet really ‘mad’?

Perhaps the most commonly debated aspect of the play is Hamlet’s supposed ‘madness.’ Whether Hamlet is putting on a performance to fool those around him, or if he is genuinely losing control of his mind, has been hotly debated for centuries. If we look at the text, Hamlet tells Horatio that he will put on an “antic disposition” (Act 1, Scene 5) and through his many asides and soliloquies, shares with the audience his thoughts throughout the play. What we do see, is a young man deeply in grief, and it is the resulting behaviours associated with his grief that those around him purport to be “madness.”

Were Claudius and Gertrude involved prior to Old Hamlet’s death?

Another controversial point in the play is the speed at which Gertrude and Claudius marry, and whether this indicates that they had a relationship prior to Claudius’ death. Some have even speculated that Gertrude may have had a hand to play in Old Hamlet’s murder. Though those who support Gertrude’s innocence point to the fact that marrying Claudius quickly secured stability for Denmark and was a political move. There is also no evidence in the play that Gertrude is involved in the murder of her husband, and she appears far more concerned with the health of her son than her marriage.

Did Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, inspire the play?

Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died aged 11 in 1596, and we know that Shakespeare wrote the play around 1599-1600. Because of this close connection in years, the similarities in names, and the fact that the play is focused on grief and a father-son relationship, many have speculated that Shakespeare must have been inspired by the loss of his own son in writing it. However, there is no direct evidence for this, and it follows a centuries old tradition of theorists attempting to connect Shakespeare’s life with his work, with little evidence to prove their theories.

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