The Form of Shakespeare's Hamlet

Hamlet a great tragic play has a definite form. The whole play falls into three movements and abides by the rules and regulation of dramatic form with a beginning, a middle and an end.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

First Movement- An act of Exposition: The first movement is an act of exposition. It exposes the murderer, the villainy of the murderer and the duty of an avenger. It may even be called the Ghost's Act for the ghost predominates it and it is through this supernatural power that everything is exposed and revealed to the avenger as well as the audience. It lays the foundation of the revenge to be taken by the next of kin of the murdered person. It presents Claudius as the 'mighty opposer' of Hamlet. The domestic life of Polonius is portrayed in contrast to the royal and political life. Thus the Polonius family is linked to the main action. Finally, it voices the secondary theme, "Frailty, thy name is woman." There is a proper link between the first and second movements: the first movement ends with Hamlet's realization of his duty to avenge his father's death as well as his inadequacy.

The Second Movement: In the second movement we find the development of the personality of Hamlet, the full exposition of the secondary theme, and Hamlet's tragic errors. Hamlet shows a gradual development in character. He pretends madness to find out the truth and enacts The Mousetrap play to confirm Claudius' guilt. The play confirms the king's guilt. In spite of that Hamlet is inactive due to irresolution. With Hamlet's meeting with Ophelia in the nunnery scene where he condemns her 'frailty' and advises her to join a convent, and his interview with his mother in the closet scene where he condemns his mother's 'frailty' and awakens her sleeping conscience, the secondary theme "Frailty, thy name is woman" comes to a climax. Hamlet delays in his action of avenging the murder. He refuses to kill Claudius at prayer, and kills Polonius on an impulse. This error of Hamlet accounts for his journey to England. Furthermore, by killing Polonius, Hamlet, who has to avenge his father's death, becomes a victim of revenge by another son, for killing a father.

Third Movement-the crisis of the action: In the third and final movement the action comes to an end. Laertes wants to avenge his father's death and is misled by Claudius into adopting foul means to kill Hamlet. Meanwhile a change occurs in Hamlet's character. After his escape from the pirates, Hamlet returns to Denmark, as a wiser, more mature and truly philosophic man. The short scuffle in the graveyard leads immediately to the fencing match and hastens the end of the action. The action of the play comes to an end with the death of almost all the important characters except Horatio and Fortinbras. Thus, there is a gradual development in the progress of the plot. Hamlet, a witty and energetic genius deteriorates in character as the play progresses, but regains his lost balance of mind with an added strength at the end of the play before he dies.

Hamlet Study Center

Procrastination in Avenging the Murder of Father in Hamlet