Hamlet – drafting an essay plan

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This essay plan, which achieved a B grade, is in response to the following question: Shakespeare’s Hamlet continues to engage audiences through its dramatic treatment of struggle and disillusionment.

Consider how effectively the introduction and conclusion address the key points. Note that the body paragraphs exist as outlines and require specific references and textual features. How could these ideas be improved?

The portrayal of dramatic disillusionment in Shakespeare’s Hamlet has allowed the message of the play to remain profoundly relevant over the course of time. Outlined by the conventional structure of a revenge tragedy, Shakespeare’s skilful use of language techniques allows responders to engage with Hamlet’s motivations and internal conflicts as his journey as a character unfolds. Periods of exposition, anticipation, confrontation, delay and finally completion, fitting with the concept of a revenge tragedy, ensures responders, despite personal contexts, are able to find meaning in and relate to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

PAR 1 – Context

  • Contextual concepts explored in Hamlet include obligation, filial duty, revenge and violence as a means of solving disputes
  • These values, at their source, still have relevance in contemporary society
  • The exploration of a social hierarchy and the disruption of a natural order further embeds Hamlet’s continued respect within society
  • The adoption of an obvious genre and structure ensures audiences are not disappointed

PAR 2 – Exposition

  • Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost helps the audience understand the events of his father’s death
  • The encounter helps rationalise his later erratic and unusual behaviour
  • Vivid analogies of death told be the ghost ‘And curd, like eager droppings into milk, the thin and wholesome blood’ evoke reactions by Hamlet
  • Hamlet finally casts aside his own morality for the sake of revenge ‘And thy commandment alone shall live’

PAR 3 – Anticipation

  • Act 2 Sc 2 portrays Hamlet conversing with Polonius
  • Hamlet attempts to appear mad, evident through remarks such as ‘you’re a fishmonger’ and ‘have you a daughter’ when he is familiar with Ophelia
  • It is successful as Polonius notes in an aside ‘a is far gone, far gone’
  • Anticipation of action is created as the viewers are aware of Hamlet’s true intentions
  • This is reinforced through Hamlet’s expression that there is nothing else to be taken from him ‘except my life, except my life, except my life’

PAR 4 – Delay

  • Hamlet’s third soliloquy we see a clearer state of mind as he questions whether his impending actions are worth the moral consequences or whether he should escape this world
  • ‘The heart-ache and the thousand naturel shocks’ use of hyperbole by Shakespeare emphasises the torture of Hamlet’s soul
  • Hamlet considers the moral obligation he has to live, not allowing purposeful death as an escape ‘Thus conscience makes cowards of us all’
  • Later, as Hamlet approaches Claudius during prayer, we see his hesitation in action as well as thought
  • Hamlet suggests killing Claudius whilst praying would not serve the intended or deserved revenge
  • This is used by Hamlet as justification for his delay
  • Hamlet has acknowledged his duty to fulfil the revenge but struggles to overcome moral barriers

PAR 5 – Completion

  • The revenge is completed as we see Claudius, Gertrude and finally Hamlet meet their deaths
  • Shakespeare uses dramatic irony as Claudius toasts to Hamlet’s health as he poisons him. This serves to reveal Claudius’ final true nature to the audience
  • Hamlet’s appearance of careless insanity suggests as his purpose is fulfilled, he has finally reached a point succumbing to death with his only request to Horatio ‘Tell my story’
  • The completion of the revenge tragedy structure shows justice served to those deserving of it, those naturally corrupt. This in some aspects includes Hamlet. Thus, we see Shakespeare’s concept of a violation of the natural order be restored.


The use of revenge tragedy structure thus allows for the story to be fulfilled and those who are guilty of moral corruption to be punished as a sense of balance is restored. Shakespeare’s Hamlet successfully portrays this restoration through a contextual exploration of the conflict of the human mind when faced with morality versus duty. Hamlet’s personal struggle of conscience has remained intriguing to responders throughout time. This is due to the skilfully executed dramatisation of the character and the events, leading us all to question the strength of our own morality when faced with disillusionment and hardship.

How is this essay plan different?

Hamlet by William Shakespeare continues to captivate a following through its melodramatic portrayal of struggle and despondency. A classical Elizabethan tragedy, the play explores the consequences of revenge in relation to aspects of filial obligation. The concept of ‘honour’ is still central to areas of contemporary society, and is demonstrated in Hamlet through the employment of typical structural conventions coupled with vivid, emotionally charged imagery.


  • Hamlet is motivated to seek revenge through interaction with the supernatural, a common aspect of revenge tragedy. His father invokes in Hamlet a strong sense of filial duty, still witnessed in modern society
  • Hamlet reveals initial horror through monosyballic exclamations, “Oh God!” as the ghost reveals the intense visceral effects of his tale
  • The scene is highly dramatised – the ghost’s hyperbolic suffering is shown through his use of hellish imagery “Harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood”
  • Audience’s interest is gained as Hamlet’s father urges him to “avenge this foul and most un-natural murder”
  • this interaction is a typical exposition, whereby the supernatural is used to provide a will to revenge


  • The sarcasm and passion displayed by Hamlet in Act 2 Scene 2 delivers an important sense of anticipation and growing discontent
  • In his second soliloquy Hamlet reveals his mental pain as he formulates a plan to avenge his father’s murder
  • “What’s Hecuba to him?” exclaims Hamlet as he reproaches himself for his inaction. The actors ability to cry at fabricated horrors maddens him, “Why, what an ass am I”
  • Audience feels a rising sense of frustration and motivation through Hamlet’s rage, who until this point was ‘unpregnant’ of his ‘course’


  • Act 3 Scene 2 ensnares the audience as Hamlet instills discontent within Claudius; this is the initial confrontation between the characters, albeit second hand
  • IN typical revenge tragedy form Hamlet is explicit in his reveal of the situation “A poisons him i’th’garden for’s estate”
  • The scene is set in the Great Hall, a place of justice, therefore Hamlet’s challenge to Claudius’ power as king is evident


  • In typical revenge tragedy form Hamlet delays his revenge on Claudius, adding to a building suspense
  • Hamlet thought himself prepared to “drink hot blood” and murder the king, however he restrains as Claudius appears to be in prayer “… he is fit and seasoned for his passage”
  • Setting in private chapel shows connection to heaven and responsibility
  • Hamlet decides to wait, and catch Claudius at a moment without ‘salvation’
  • The audience witnesses the irony of this statement and hesitation as Claudius reveals he was not praying “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below”
  • this phrase makes a reference to heaven and hell. Claudius begs forgiveness to the heavens yet his thoughts and actions are deserving of hell


  • The completion of revenge in Hamlet is reflective of the flaws in human nature.
  • Use of antithesis to powerfully express conflict, providing drama “To cut his throati’th’church” Laertes passionate desire for revenge is heightened for the audience by the opposition of bloodiness within the sanctity of a holy place
  • Laertes absolves Hamlet and clears himself “Exchange forgiveness with me”
  • This strikingly emotional interchange connects to the audience, a contemporary similarity found in the concept of a battlefield death: noble and romantic
  • Use of dramatic irony “Here’s to thy health” captivates the individual who is already aware of Claudius’ plan
  • Dying Hamlet memorably personifies death as a cruel officer “this fell sergeant death is strict in his arrest”
  • Images of corruption and disease frequent throughout the play providing a dramatic view of struggle and adversity


Hamlet continues to fascinate the modern audience through dramatic treatment of pain and frustration, together with references to revenge and tragedy. The use of a typical Elizabethan structure adds to the sensational nature of the play, serving up a mixture of madness, melancholy and revenge.

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