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10 Tips on How to Write a Critical Essay on Hamlet

With all the literature study tools on the web today, studying a play like Hamlet is not half as hard as it used to be. All over the web, you can find whole videos, with cool teachers from Oxford or Yale explaining this play. You can find act-by-act descriptions of these plays, character explorations, explanations of language and symbolism in this and other plays by Shakespeare and other playwrights.

We’re going to give you 10 tips on writing a critical essay on Hamlet that will get you writing quick and help you write this paper easily.

1. Focus on one character only

Thinking about writing about one character in Hamlet will show you how easy it is to quickly fill pages and pages of literary analysis on one small aspect of a work of literature.

In fact, a paper just on one character in Hamlet could fill ten pages easily because you will bring in how this character interacts with others, how they illustrate certain themes of the play, who their foils are (characters who help bring out their chief characteristics through contrast, like Hamlet and Horatio). So for a shorter paper, this topic, exploring one villain, the hero, or Ophelia, can give you much to talk about.

2. Find a theme that gives you a lot to talk about

Often the best way to attack a paper on a large play is to think about one unresolved issue about the play. Why does Hamlet’s father haunt him so? Why are his feelings so conflicted about his father and mother? Why does he take his father’s death so very hard?

3. Do a web search for easy-to-understand criticism

You’ll want criticism that’s easy to understand, and criticism of Hamlet has been published for over a century or two. So Google things like “Good critical essays on Hamlet and easy to understand.”

4. Divide the paper up into sections

You could explore two or three aspects of Hamlet and touch upon them briefly, allowing you to write an easy explanation of each and still take up space. Like Sparknotes or Cliffnotes, try dividing it up into themes, symbols, and motifs.

5. Use headers to break content down into do-able sections

To keep you from rambling on and on alone, give you and your reader a break by breaking the analytical essay into easy to understand parts.

6. Don’t create suspense

Many beginning critical writers think the goal is to leave their main point until the end - like “surprise.” Hence, their teachers often end up handing back their papers and saying, “Now take that last sentence, put it at the top of the page, and start over, getting rid of everything you’ve written except that.” That’s because writers just learning to write criticism often work their way toward their point instead of beginning with a working thesis. Make your first thesis something that begins with “Today, I’m going to focus on the theme/character/symbol of _________in Hamlet.”

7. Make Your Introductory Paragraph Grabby

You always want to really get their attention in those sentences before your thesis statement. So think of something that will really captivate them. For example:

“To be or not to be?” Is this really the main point of the play, an exploration of being? Or is Hamlet, rather, contemplating how one lives knowing one day we will all cease to exist. In this essay I will . . .

8. Use the “I” . . . Go ahead, use it

You can use “I” in criticism. But many teachers, mistakenly, tell the student to use third person instead of the more exciting option, which is having them assert their own personality and ideas into the essay. In fact, using this as a rationale, try asking them to let you.

If nothing else though, if you’re having trouble writing a thesis statement, cast it in the “I,” as we did in the sample thesis above. You can revise it out later, saying “This essay will explore. . .”

9. Don’t forget to quote

Between you talking and inserting really fascinating quotes, you really don’t have that much to do. Do them right. And if you need to change the tense of a word to make it work, use [ ].

10. Give them something to ponder in your close.

The closing should give the reader something to ponder, long after they’ve stopped reading. Keep that in mind and you’ll write a great close. It should echo in the mind and ear of the reader, so have a great last sentence.

For example:

Overall, Hamlet, asks us to ponder great, unanswerable questions such as “why are we here,” “how do we keep going on after we have lost those we love the most,” and that’s what makes Hamlet’s question “To be or not to be” all the more haunting.