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Shakespeare: Hamlet

3. Comparisons

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In this module, we explore the comparisons that the play seems to repeatedly demand – of Old Hamlet and his brother Claudius, of kin and kind, of Hamlet, Fortinbras, and Laertes. In particular, we think about the possibility of "dramatic doubling", in which the same actor plays more than one part. If the ghost and Claudius were "doubled", it would explain why they never meet, but what then happens to Hamlet’s insistence that to compare them is to see ‘Hyperion to a satyr’? If the traditional doubling of Polonius and First Gravedigger is thematic, obliging audiences to see ‘Polonius’ digging his own daughter’s grave, what happens to that (comic) scene? Another comparison is that beween the three avengers - Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras: Is Laertes’s willingness to be avenged by underhand means bold or rash, better or worse than Hamlet’s dithering or Fortinbras’s military prowess and political opportunism?


In this course, Dr John Lennard explores Shakespeare's Hamlet. In the first module, we explore the idea of Hamlet as a revenge tragedy, and think about how Shakespeare has complicated the basic structure. In the second module, we consider the character of the Ghost, who is one of the most unusual ghosts in Shakespearean drama. In the third module, we think about the comparisons that the play insists upon, as well as the impact that "dramatic doubling" may have had on the play. In the fourth module, we look at the role of Hamlet himself, an exceptionally dominant and demanding role. And in the fifth module, we turn to the concept of metatheatre and its pervasiveness in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.


Born in Bristol, and educated at Oxford and St Louis, Dr John Lennard has taught English, American, and Commonwealth Literature in Cambridge, London, and Jamaica over more than twenty years. He has written two widely used textbooks (on poetry and drama) and monographs on Shakespeare, Paul Scott, Nabokov, and Faulkner, as well as two collections of essays on contemporary genre writers in crime, science fiction and fantasy, and romance. Enthusiastic, discursive, widely knowledgeable, and a demon for punctuation (on which he has also published extensively), he has been a popular Summer School Course Leader and lecturer for the Institute of Continuing Education since 1992.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Lennard, J. (2018, August 15). Shakespeare: Hamlet - Comparisons [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Lennard, J. "Shakespeare: Hamlet – Comparisons." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,