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Formalist Criticism: Hamlet

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Emily Shaw

on 28 April 2014

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Transcript of Formalist Criticism: Hamlet

In the case of
, the formalist criticism focuses on:
Diction / Tone

Formalism attempts to treat each work as its own distinct piece, free from its environment, era, and even author.

The criticism focuses on the identifiable features and forms, such as motifs, symbols, images, tragedy, tragic heroes.

So, the meaning of the literary work is discovered through detailed analysis of formal elements

Act 2
Shakespeare uses a
within Act 2.

"I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly/ know a hawk from a handsaw"(2.2 )

Hamlet compares himself to the wind, which is north-north-west. The comparison correlates his character to his sanity and foreshadows Hamlet's revenge of his father's death.
Act 3
"To be or not to be; that is the question" (3.1, 58)

-Use of a
: one cannot be and not be
-The choice of life or death often conflicts the mind
-Compares sleep to dreaming
-Concludes that the dread of the afterlife leads to excessive moral sensitivity that makes suicide impossible:

conscience does make cowards of us all/ And thus the native hue of resolution/ Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”(3.1, 85-87)
Act 1
Shakespeare uses Act 1 to

-Murderer of King Hamlet
-Corruption of Gertrude
-Following corruption of Denmark

"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1.4, 67)

"Murder most foul, as in the best it is/ But this most foul, strange, and unnatural" (1.5, 27-28)

"The Serpent that did sting thy father's life/ Now wears his crown." (1.5, 39-40).

"Let not the royal bed of Denmark be/a couch for luxury and damned incest" (1.5, 82-83)
by: Emily Shaw
Formalist Criticism: Hamlet
Act 4
Act 5
Works Cited
Protagonist : Hamlet

Setting: Denmark

Conflict : Hamlet feels a responsibility to avenge his father’s murder by his uncle Claudius, but Claudius is now the king and well protected. Moreover, Hamlet struggles with his doubts about whether he can trust the ghost and whether killing Claudius is the appropriate thing to do.

Exposition : The death of King Hamlet is introduced, and the guards see the ghost.

Rising Action : The ghost appears to Hamlet and tells Hamlet to seek revenge of his murder. Hamlet pretends to be mad. Hamlet stages the play. Hamlet passes up the opportunity to kill Claudius while he is praying.

Climax : Hamlet stabs Polonius in Act III, scene iv, and rings himself into unavoidable conflict with the king. Another possible climax comes at the end of Act IV, scene iv, when Hamlet resolves to commit himself fully to violent revenge.

Falling action : Hamlet is sent to England to be killed. Hamlet returns to Denmark and confronts Laertes at Ophelia’s funeral.

Resolution: Hamlet receives revenge and dies after drinking from the cup, and then Fortinbras becomes the next king.


Queen Gertrude: "Mad as the sea and wind when both contend/ Which is the mightier. In his lawless fit,/ Behind the arras hearing something stir,/ He whips his rapier out and cries 'A rat, a rat!',/ And in his brainish apprehension kills/ The unseen good man" (4.1, 6-11).

The quote reflects the theme of madness through the simile.

In Act 5, Shakespeare uses
to portray the idea of death, and everyone faces the same consequences as they die and rot. Yorick was a court jester when he was alive, and Hamlet reminisces on their memories. The skull symbolizes that everyone dies.
Yorick's skull = the physical consequences of death
Allen Brizee and J. Case Tompkins. “Formalism”.
The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab
. 12 October 2011. Web. 10 March 2014.

Carroll, Joseph. "Intentional Meaning In Hamlet: An Evolutionary Perspective." Style 44.1/2 (2010): 230-260. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

Cohen, Michael. "On Reading Hamlet For The First Time." College Literature 19.1 (1992): 48. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

"On The Study Of Shakspeare." Shakespeare In Southern Africa 20.(2008): 41-61. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. The Norton Shakespeare Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. 1696-1784. Print.
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