Doubt in Hamlet
‘Her death was doubtful.’ Analyse the theme of doubt in Hamlet.
In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, doubt is one of the most important themes. In fact, the whole play is based on the story of a ghost who claims to be Hamlet’s father, and nobody can be sure if what he says is the truth. In this essay, I am going to focus on the theme of doubt throughout the play. I will first speak about the opening scene, and then I will talk about the ghost, which is a supernatural element used by Shakespeare to create doubt in the play. I will also analyse the passage in which Hamlet declares his love to Ophelia. Finally, I will briefly discuss Hamlet’s sanity.
What happens in the opening scene is very relevant and foreshadows the atmosphere of the whole
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An interesting passage is the one in which Polonius reads to the Queen and the King Hamlet’s letter, and in which he declares his love for Ophelia. “’Doubt thou the stars are fire,/ Doubt that the sun doth move,/ Doubt truth to be a liar,/ But never doubt I love.” (2.2.116-119). In his letter, Hamlet tells Ophelia that she can doubt the most believable things, but that she cannot doubt his love. In “Doubt the truth to be a liar”, there is a personification of truth. With this figure of style, it seems that Hamlet asks Ophelia and the audience to doubt about everything; in fact, if we see the truth as a liar, nothing can be trusted anymore. It adds thus again the same sense of doubt that is present throughout the play. And I also think that the doubt that is present in Hamlet’s letter foreshadows the fact that Hamlet is going to reject Ophelia’s love later in the play. It creates the effect that the audience is not able anymore to distinguish what is the true or what is not. Moreover, the fact that the characters and the audience do not really know if Ophelia “drowned herself wittingly” (5.1.12) makes us ask questions about death in itself. Death is supposed to be something we cannot doubt, but here again Shakespeare manages to make the audience doubt about the most believable things.
Another doubt that subsists throughout the play is the one about Hamlet’s sanity. It is