The Theme of Diction in Hamlet

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About this sample


Words: 655 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 655|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is renowned for its complex characters, intricate plot, and profound themes. One theme that permeates throughout the play is the use of diction, or word choice, to convey deeper meaning. The carefully selected words spoken by the characters in Hamlet not only reveal their individual personalities, but also contribute to the overall atmosphere of the play. This essay will delve into the theme of diction in Hamlet and explore how the various characters use language to manipulate, deceive, and express their innermost thoughts and emotions.

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One of the most striking examples of diction in Hamlet can be found in the famous soliloquy of Prince Hamlet himself, "To be, or not to be: that is the question" (III.i.56). This iconic line showcases Hamlet's contemplative nature and his internal struggle with life and death. The deliberate use of the verb "to be" contrasts with the alternative "not to be," emphasizing the existential dilemma faced by Hamlet. The repetition of the word "be" further emphasizes the weight of the decision he must make. By carefully choosing these words, Shakespeare not only reveals Hamlet's inner turmoil, but also invites the audience to ponder the universal question of human existence.

Furthermore, the diction employed by the character of Claudius, the play's antagonist, serves to highlight his manipulative and deceitful nature. In Act I, Scene ii, Claudius addresses the court with a seemingly heartfelt speech mourning the death of his brother, the former king. However, upon closer analysis, it becomes evident that Claudius carefully chooses his words to manipulate the perception of his actions. He refers to his marriage to Queen Gertrude as a "succession" rather than a union, downplaying the haste and impropriety of their relationship. This deliberate choice of diction allows Claudius to maintain his façade of legitimacy and gain the support of the court, despite his questionable actions.

Similarly, the character of Polonius utilizes diction to convey his overly verbose and pompous personality. In Act II, Scene ii, Polonius advises his son Laertes before his departure for France, bombarding him with a series of clichéd and platitudinous phrases. He advises Laertes to "give thy thoughts no tongue" and to "neither a borrower nor a lender be" (I.iii.59-60). Through Polonius' excessive and clichéd language, Shakespeare satirizes the empty rhetoric of the court and exposes the superficiality of Polonius' character. The exaggerated diction used by Polonius not only reveals his desire to appear wise and knowledgeable, but also highlights the contrast between appearance and reality in the play.

Furthermore, the theme of diction extends beyond individual characters to the overall tone and atmosphere of Hamlet. The play is filled with dark and ominous language that mirrors the brooding and vengeful nature of the protagonist. The ghost of Hamlet's father, for example, speaks in cryptic and haunting terms, using diction that evokes a sense of dread and impending doom. When the ghost instructs Hamlet to "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (I.v.25), the use of the words "foul" and "unnatural" intensify the emotional weight of the task at hand. Shakespeare's careful choice of diction throughout the play creates a pervasive atmosphere of trepidation and uncertainty, further immersing the audience in the world of Hamlet.

In conclusion, the theme of diction in Hamlet serves as a powerful tool for character development, plot advancement, and creation of atmosphere. Through the careful selection of words, Shakespeare reveals the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters, exposes their manipulative intentions, and contributes to the overall tone of the play. The examples of diction discussed in this essay highlight the depth and complexity of Shakespeare's writing and demonstrate the enduring relevance of Hamlet as a masterpiece of dramatic literature. By analyzing the diction used in Hamlet, we gain a deeper understanding of the characters and their motivations, and are reminded of the power of language in shaping our perceptions and experiences.

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Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Theme of Diction in Hamlet. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
“The Theme of Diction in Hamlet.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
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