The Use of Juxtaposition in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 581 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 581|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Hamlet's Madness vs. Polonius' Foolishness
  2. Fortinbras' Action vs. Hamlet's Inaction
  3. The Dead King vs. The Living Court
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a play known for its complex characters, intricate plot, and poignant themes. One notable literary device utilized throughout the play is juxtaposition, the act of placing two contrasting elements side by side to highlight their differences or similarities. By using juxtaposition, Shakespeare effectively emphasizes key themes and enhances the dramatic tension within the play. This essay will explore the various instances of juxtaposition in Hamlet and analyze their significance in the overall narrative.

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Hamlet's Madness vs. Polonius' Foolishness

One of the most prominent examples of juxtaposition in Hamlet is the contrast between Hamlet's feigned madness and Polonius' foolishness. Hamlet, in an attempt to deceive those around him, pretends to be mentally unstable. This is juxtaposed with Polonius, a character known for his foolish and bumbling nature. The contrast between Hamlet's calculated madness and Polonius' genuine foolishness serves to highlight the theme of appearance versus reality in the play.

Hamlet's madness is a façade, a strategic tool he uses to uncover the truth about his father's death and seek revenge. On the other hand, Polonius' foolishness is genuine and results from his lack of discernment and inability to see beyond surface appearances. This juxtaposition underscores the idea that things are not always as they seem, and that appearances can often be deceiving.

Fortinbras' Action vs. Hamlet's Inaction

Another example of juxtaposition in Hamlet can be seen in the comparison between Fortinbras' active pursuit of his goals and Hamlet's indecisiveness and inaction. Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, seeks to avenge his father's death by reclaiming the land lost in battle. In contrast, Hamlet, despite having a clear motive for revenge, spends a significant amount of time contemplating his actions and questioning his own morality.

This juxtaposition highlights the theme of action versus inaction and raises questions about the nature of revenge. While Fortinbras takes immediate and decisive action, Hamlet's constant introspection and hesitation result in a delay of his revenge. This juxtaposition forces the audience to reflect on the consequences of both action and inaction and consider the moral implications of seeking revenge.

The Dead King vs. The Living Court

Juxtaposition is also evident in the comparison between the dead King Hamlet and the living court of Denmark. The death of King Hamlet sets the stage for the events of the play, as his ghost appears to Hamlet, revealing the truth about his murder. This juxtaposition of the dead king and the living court serves to highlight the corruption and decay within the kingdom of Denmark.

The dead king represents the past, a time of honor, stability, and moral righteousness. The living court, on the other hand, is depicted as a place of deceit, betrayal, and moral ambiguity. This juxtaposition emphasizes the stark contrast between the idealized past and the corrupted present, and underscores the theme of moral decay and the consequences of unchecked power.


In conclusion, the use of juxtaposition in Shakespeare's Hamlet adds depth and complexity to the play. Through the contrast of characters, actions, and settings, Shakespeare effectively highlights key themes such as appearance versus reality, action versus inaction, and moral decay. Juxtaposition serves as a powerful tool in emphasizing these themes and enhancing the dramatic tension within the play. By employing this literary device, Shakespeare engages the audience and prompts them to reflect on the broader implications of the play's themes. Hamlet continues to captivate audiences to this day, in part due to the masterful use of juxtaposition by its playwright.

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Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 2003.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Use of Juxtaposition in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 20, 2024, from
“The Use of Juxtaposition in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
The Use of Juxtaposition in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Jul. 2024].
The Use of Juxtaposition in Shakespeare’s Hamlet [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 20]. Available from:
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