Course readings  

All readings can be found in the books and readers available in the Bay Tree Bookstore or at online locations.

Introduction and organization:

read:  Shakespeare,  Hamlet, Bedford/Saint Martin's Press


Enter Ghost:

What is a ghost?

Is the ghost demonic or divine?  Or a walking spirit of the dead?

Should Hamlet be guided by the ghost?

read: John Dover Wilson, What Happens in Hamlet, ch.III, pp.51-86

Eleanor Prosser, Hamlet and Revenge, part II, ch IV-V, pp.95-142


O, vengeance!

Is revenge ethically or morally justified?

What does Hamlet say about revenge?

read: Prosser,Hamlet and Revenge, part I, pp.1-94

Samuel Johnson, “Notes on the Plays,” online at (read notes on III,iii and V.ii 346 to the end)


The Mousetrap:

What is going on in the mousetrap scene?

Does the play within the play provide Hamlet with any sure proof of Claudius’ guilt?

What is there to be learned from the history of Elizabethan theatrical troops?

read: J. Dover Wilson, ch.V, pp.137-197 and appendix C, pp.301-304

The Women in Hamlet:

Is it possible to generalize from the play about the role of women in society?

Does the play reveal any attitudes about women?

read:  J.Dover. Wilson -- pp. 39-50

Ross C. Murfin, “Feminist Criticism and Hamlet”, in the Bedford/Saint Martin's edition.

Elaine Showalter, “Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism", in the Bedford/Saint Martin's edition.


Hamlet on the Couch -- Hamlet's Melancholy:

How does Hamlet relate to the theories of mental illness that were held in Elizabethan England?

How would Hamlet's condition have been diagnosed in the time?

What is your diagnosis now?

read: Wilson, ch IV, pp.87-136, ch VI and VII -- pp.  199-290


Hamlet on the Couch -- Does Hamlet Delay?

Discuss the arguments for and against the Schlegel-Coleridge theory of Hamlet. 

read: . Jonathan Bate(ed.),  The Romantics on Shakespeare,, pp. 303-352

Charles and Mary Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare, “Hamlet,” online at

A.C.Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, lecture 1 -- pp.15-40, lectures 3&4 -- pp.71-143


Hamlet on the Couch -- Dr. Freud's Hamlet:

Consider the pros and cons of Dr. Ernest Jones' Hamlet and Oedipus.

What are the advantages and limitations of a Freudian critique of Hamlet?

What are other grounds for the comparison of Hamlet and Oedipus?

read:  Ernest Jones, Hamlet and Oedipus, pp. 20-100


Ophelia's Burial:

Why the fuss over Ophelia's burial?

The Political Structure of Hamlet:

What were the applicable laws of succession at the time of the writing of Hamlet?

How do they apply to the play? 

By what logic does Fortinbras get to assume the throne after Hamlet and Claudius' deaths?

read:  Wilson, ch II, pp 26-38,


On Good and Evil:

      "Religious" interpretations of Hamlet. The forms of evil.

read:  Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theater, ch.IV, pp. 109-154

H.D.F. Kitto, Form and Meaning in Drama, pp. 246-337 online at
Jan Kott, Shakespeare, Our Contemporary, pp. 57-73
Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, ch.23, pp.383-431 and 714-745