Thesis Statement For Hamlet Research Paper

William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tragedy, and that makes Hamlet a tragic hero; however, it is important to identify the characteristics common to Shakespeare's tragic heroes before writing your thesis statement. 

First of all, Hamlet suffers from a fatal flaw, a weakness in his character which eventually causes his downfall. Unlike the characters in an Aristotelian tragedy, Hamlet is aware of his flaw virtually from the beginning of the story, adding to the sense of...

William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tragedy, and that makes Hamlet a tragic hero; however, it is important to identify the characteristics common to Shakespeare's tragic heroes before writing your thesis statement. 

First of all, Hamlet suffers from a fatal flaw, a weakness in his character which eventually causes his downfall. Unlike the characters in an Aristotelian tragedy, Hamlet is aware of his flaw virtually from the beginning of the story, adding to the sense of tragedy. We know that Hamlet's character flaw is indecision, as we watch him waver and vacillate time after time about whether to take action or not. In one sense we admire Hamlet for this, as he clearly recognizes and values human life enough to be sure he is not killing the wrong person. In another sense, we ask ourselves exactly how much evidence he needs before he will finally take some action. It is a rather frustrating journey to see him so resolved at times and then back away from his resolution.

Second of all, Hamlet is in a position of power, as the son (and nephew and stepson) of a king, which again means his fall from nobility is more tragic than a fall from a lower social position would be. Though it means nothing to Hamlet, he has been named as Claudius's successor, establishing Hamlet's position as the Prince of Denmark.

Third, Like many of Shakespeare's tragic heroes, Hamlet succumbs to the pressures of other people, not all human, who help advance his downfall. In Hamlet, those characters would certainly be Claudius, Polonius, the Ghost and his so-called friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Each of these characters is determined, well intentioned or not, to deter Hamlet from his purpose. Polonius is a distraction both because of his infernal butting-in and because he is Ophelia's father; though he pays for that, he contributes to Hamlet's inactions and is in the wrong place when Hamlet finally does act. Hamlet's rather bumbling friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are another distraction; he is certainly willing to have them killed because of their cumbersome and traitorous meddling. Claudius is an obvious nemesis from the beginning; the Ghost certainly influences Hamlet.

Finally, Hamlet has opportunities to save himself but does not do so--or does not do so in time--which leads directly to his death. How often did Hamlet think he was ready to kill Claudius but then could not act, sometimes for good reason and sometimes just because of his flawed indecision. His fatalistic view is part of this point.

There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will. 

Your thesis must encapsulate your thinking (which will be reflected in the rest of your essay) about Hamlet as a tragic hero. You and I would probably agree on most of these basic issues regarding Hamlet as a tragic hero; however, what is up for debate between us is whether we find Hamlet's flaw admirable or weak (see first point above). Once you decide that for yourself, you can write your thesis.

Possible thesis sentences:

  • Hamlet is a tragic hero because he demonstrates a fatal flaw which leads directly to his death. (basic)
  • In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives us a character who knows his flaw but is unable to overcome it because of his own indecision as well as the interference of others. 
  • Hamlet is a tragic hero whom we both pity and admire as he falls from his high place due to his own inaction.

Write a thesis which matches how you feel and what you will write about Hamlet. 

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Hamlet by William Shakespeare that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Hamlet in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Hamlet by William Shakespeare at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Hamlet’s Preoccupation with Philosophy

One of the most famous Shakepearean lines—“To be or not to be, that is the question" is found in Hamlet, spoken by the title character himself. While this is the most obvious reference that Hamlet makes to his own philosophy, Hamlet makes frequent proclamations about his philosophy of life. Hamlet’s philosophy touches not only on the subject of love, but also about loyalty, family, and the virtue of suffering, among other themes. His philosophy, summed up in the “To be or not to be" (click here for a full analysis of the “to be or not to be” speech) soliloquy and reflected in his actions, might not be comfortable for all characters or all readers. Hamlet’s philosophy is particular to his own strange obsessions, and help explain the fates of the characters in the play.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Hamlet’s View of Love

Because Hamlet has been disillusioned about love by his mother’s actions, he rejects the possibility that romantic love is an important part of human relationships. He is consumed by the outrageousness of his mother’s love for his uncle, and he rejects Ophelia’s love for him, though he admitted once to loving her. Although Hamlet is justified to feel disgust towards his mother and her actions, his pessimistic view of love has dreadful implications, not just for him, but for other characters as well. For this essay on Hamlet, you might want to take a character analysis approach to Hamlet with this theme as your guide or thesis statement.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Taboos in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Many of Shakespeare’s plays involve transgressions that violate social taboos. Hamlet is no exception. In this play, numerous social norms are violated; however, the most powerful taboo is that of incest. Hamlet is outraged when his mother marries his uncle shortly after the death of his father, and his mother’s action causes him to lose faith in love. Although the incest taboo may seem grotesque, Shakespeare puts his characters in such dynamic tension and outrageous situations in order to make profound observations about the nature of both familial and romantic love.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Unmanly Grief in Hamlet

Claudius could hardly be considered to be a model of upright behavior and insight, given that he seduces Gertrude while the grief over her husband’s death is still fresh. While he is obviously advancing his own motives, his speech to Hamlet about “unmanly grief" is oddly compelling. Claudius takes the view that all men die, all men lose their fathers. They enter a period of appropriate grief and then move on. Because Hamlet is not conforming to this norm, Claudius suggests that Hamlet’s grief is not only unhealthy, but unmanly. A close reading of the play supports Claudius’s observation. Although Claudius is certainly not free from reproach, Hamlet’s obsessional grief is not praiseworthy either.

Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Role of Women in Hamlet

The female characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet are a complicated lot. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, is much maligned for her sexual and romantic alliance with Hamlet’s own uncle. Ophelia is portrayed as a woman who is so consumed with love for Hamlet that she is willing to sacrifice her life for him. Through these two very different characters, Shakespeare portrays women negatively in limited roles. Women have no chance for redemption, and are subject to the decisions that men make for them.

A few articles that might offer some guidance with these thesis statements for Hamlet include :


This list of important quotations from Hamlet by William Shakespeare will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Hamlet listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet they are referring to.

“Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, To give these mourning duties to your father. But you must know your father lost a father, that father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound in filial obligation for some term to do obsequious sorrow. But to persevere in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubborness, tis unmanly grief…." (I.ii. ll. 87-94).

“O God, God, How stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!." (I.ii.132-134).

“Within a month, Ere, yet the salt of most unrighteous tears had left the flushing in her galled eyes, Shemarried–O most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets, It is not, nor it cannot come to good…” (I.ii.153-57).

“Be wary then, best safety lies in fear…." (I.ii.43)

“Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast… who won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming virtuous queen." (I.v.42-46)

“There are more things in heaven and earth,…Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…." (II.i.166-167)

“This must be known, which, being kept close, might move More grief to hid, than hate to utter love." (II.i.113-115)

“To be or not to be, that is the question: Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them." (III.i.55-59)

“Be not too tame neither, but your own discretion be your tutor." (III.ii.16)

Reference: Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In The Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M. Tobin. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 1189-1234.

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