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Instances Of Spying In Hamlet. Literature Research Paper (Research Paper Sample)


Research essay focused on instances of spying in Hamlet. Effect and outcomes of spying, ex. isolation of Hamlet, his indecision, and his descent into madness. Can draw from historical context, culture, and political climate of Elizabethan times.


Secondary Sources Assignment

DiMatteo, Anthony. “‘Our Sovereign Process’: Reading Shakespeare's Politics.” College Literature, vol. 38 no. 2, 2011, pp. 160-170. doi:10.1353/lit.2011.0023


Harkins, Matthew. “Making “Young Hamlet.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, vol. 49, no. 2, 2009, pp. 333-354. doi:10.1353/sel.0.0053

            The focus of this article explores the significance of youth in Hamlet. Specifically, Laertes, Fortinbras, and Hamlet, all men denied power in some sense, are stereotyped as young and rash as opposed to old, wise, and mature. This article has enhanced my understanding of the duality Hamlet’s character: his transition from subservient and self-doubting to steadfast and resolute. I believe this transition is most apparent in 4.4, where he encounters Fortinbras’ forces heading to Poland.


Lefait, Sébastien. “ ‘This Same Strict and Most Observant Watch’ (1.1.71): Gregory Doran’s Hamlet as Surveillance Adaptation.” Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation, vol. 8, no. 2, 2013.


Martin, Patrick, H. Elizabethan Espionage: Plotters and Spies in the Struggle Between Catholicism and the Crown. Jefferson, McFarland & Company, Inc. 2016. 

            Drawing on primary sources from the early modern English period, Martin explores the religious tensions that generated the Crown versus English Catholic spy networks. Backstage, Will Kemp’s questionable departure, Martin suggests, was likely due to these tensions. On stage at the Globe, Shakespeare infused the narrative and directions of King Lear, Measure for Measure, and Hamlet with clear societal reflection. For me, this book reveals how espionage was very much part of English identity during the religious tensions of Tudor rule, and how that identity was portrayed in theatre.


Rae, Paul. “Lawful Espials?: Edward Snowden’s Hamlet.” Theatre Journal, vol. 68, no. 3, 2016, pp. 335-355. doi:10.1353/tj.2016.0070

I found an article that satisfies that evil and looming question – what use is Shakespeare and theatre today? Somewhat playfully, Lawful Espials frames the Snowden Affair as Hamlet. More than just a good read, Rae explores characters and themes common to Snowden and Hamlet: namely, the relationship between seeing and knowing, surveillance, and Hamlet’s prevailing question of self. This article has certainly shaped my perspective on state power and surveillance culture, which will likely be the focus of my essay.


Tatspaugh, Patricia Elizabeth. "Shakespeare Onstage in England: March to December 2005." Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 3, 2006, pp. 318-343. doi:10.1353/shq.2006.0081

Parker, Patricia. “Othello and Hamlet: Dilation, Spying, and the ‘Secret Place’ of Woman.” Representations, no. 44, 1993, pp. 60-95.


Totaro, Rebecca. "Securing Sleep in Hamlet." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, vol. 50, no. 2, 2010, pp. 407-426. doi:10.1353/sel.0.0102

Totaro attempts to puzzle out the rhyme of “sleep” and “watch”, following The Mousetrap scene, and connects these recurring terms to important scenes: when King Hamlet sleeps unguarded and is killed, Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, and finally his death. Interpreting the terms sleep and watch offer a great deal of insight, superficially as a contrast between life and death, but more importantly to the topics of madness, self-worth, and vigilance against enemies.


Venema, Jeremy. “‘Shortly They Will Play Me in What Forms They List upon the Stage’: Hamlet, Conscience, and the Earl of Essex.” Religion and the Arts, vol. 16, no. 3, 2012, pp. 185–210. doi: 10.1163/156852912X635197


Critical Exercise

Marino, James J. "Ophelia's Desire." ELH, vol. 84 no. 4, 2017, pp. 817-839. doi:10.1353/elh.2017.0031


i)          A psychoanalytical criticism of Hamlet lends nothing to Ophelia’s character. Essentially, Hamlet’s love for Ophelia confounds Freudian literary interpretation. Claiming that Hamlet projects his sexual frustration for his mother towards Ophelia is as baseless as claiming the inverse, that Hamlet is projecting his sexual frustration for Ophelia towards Gertrude. The basis for Marino’s argument is that Hamlet would not be attracted to Ophelia if his Oedipal complex places Gertrude at the center of his sexual desire. The main thesis suggests that a psychoanalytical criticism of Hamlet fails to qualify Ophelia’s character, either as an objectified secondary character like all others, or as a proper main character with her own motive and desire.

            Psychoanalysis fails to address Ophelia as a character in her own right because that lens always views her as an extension of Hamlet’s fixation on Gertrude. Marino points to one such essay by Jacques Lacan who describes Ophelia as a “substitute object”, suggesting an interchangeability between her and the Queen. Marino argues that a proper interpretation of Ophelia can be achieved by decoupling her from the Queen. This approach lends more agency to Ophelia and creates the opportunity for an examination of her madness which the Freudian interpretation of Hamlet fails to address. Marino’s points to Freud’s first patient, Bertha Pappenheim, as evidence of many critic’s failure to explore Ophelia’s character fully. Instead, she must be recognized as a central character whose storyline, her descent into madness, parallels that of Hamelt’s and deserves equal consideration. They both struggle with madness, they both lose their fathers, and they both obey their fathers: it is precisely Hamlet’s filial obedience that disqualifies the Freudian interpretation.

            Marino interprets Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy as a rhetorical discourse that favours death. This reading provides an alternative role for Ophelia as one who will be responsible to pray for his soul in Purgatory should he die in the act of avenging his father. Hamlet’s ensuing dismissiveness of Ophelia places her in the position that a psychoanalytic criticism simply fails to address. Ophelia is unique. She is the only Shakespearean character who abandons her personal desire for love by obeying her father Polonius. Her father’s death coupled with Hamlet’s rejection cripples her agency, removes the objects of her desire, and drives her into madness. Hamlet’s comparison of Polonius to Jephthah suggests the severity of her situation—the inevitability of her death. Hamlet and Ophelia’s character arcs are determined by each of their father’s willingness to sacrifice them. It is precisely this parallel that suggests Ophelia demands an equal amount of critical focus.

ii)         When Ophelia accepts the role of spy for Polonius and Claudius, she deepens Hamlet’s isolation, driving him further into madness, and confirms her position as traitor and patsy. Her character is diminished through her own wrongdoing. By returning “rememberances” to Hamlet, one critic suggests “Ophelia is negating the memory of their love affair, in an attempt to sanitize or erase their shared past” (Marino 830). Obedient to her father, and to the king, Ophelia accepts the task of spying her father describes as to “sugar o’er / The devil himself” (3.1.47-8). Had her intentions been more altruistic, she would not have needed a book to colour her loneliness, and she would not have condoned the “Lawful espials” (3.1.31-2). This act, being the last time the audience witnesses a sane Ophelia, is the real death of her character, at least in spirit. Her guilt then shines through her madness when she compares herself to a deserted lover: “How should I your true love know / From another one?” (4.5.23-4). Ophelia’s descent into madness occurs through her own actions. Her betrayal of Hamlet .


iii)        Ophelia’s love and obedience to her father uphold the psychoanalytical interpretation of Hamlet. As one critic is right to point out, “There is a key structural parallel between Ophelia’s interview with Polonius and Hamlet’s interview with the Ghost, paired scenes that disrupt Hamlet and Ophelia’s erotic relationship and set each character’s tragic arc” (Marino 820). Indeed, the similarities are striking, but one important difference between these interviews is the found in the general health condition of the father figures: one is alive and the other is very much dead. Hamlet’s tragic arc suits the Oedipus complex because he is denied the satisfaction of killing his own father. The Freudian interpretation does not “displace Ophelia and render her an anomaly” (817). Instead, she satisfies the condition once Polonius is killed. Evidence of her own confusion hints at her hidden desire. Her final mad interactions with Claudius and Gertrude jumbles the roles of father and lover (4.5.38-55). The maid she sings about is both the maid she was for Hamlet and the maid her father demanded her to remain in Act 1.



Student’s Name
Tutor’s Name
Hamlet is a character in a play, “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” by William Shakespeare often shortened as “Hamlet.” Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, the son of King Hamlet who died in what looked like an accident. Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius hurriedly married his mother, Queen Gertrude. Hamlet returned home from Germany where he was studying to attend his father's funeral. He was very bitter and disgusted by his mother’s marriage to his uncle. He views her mother’s actions as morally corrupt and sinful since by Elizabethan standards, marrying one’s brother-in-law was considered incest. One night, a ghost claiming to be his father’s appears to him telling him that it is Claudius, his uncle who killed him. This makes Hamlet infuriated and decides to feign madness to investigate his father’s death without Claudius’ suspicion. He deploys the act of spying to uncover the mysteries surrounding his father’s death. The research paper will focus on the instances of spying in the play, the outcome and its effects in the life of Hamlet.

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