Critical Analysis Paper- Hamlet
Honors English 12- OLHS
This paper will require you to create a topic of your choice on Hamlet using one of the
critical theories below. Critical theories tell us what we bring to literature and
essentially determine what we get out of literature. For this paper, you will become a
literary critic and an expert on the lens you choose to use to explore Hamlet.
An approach to analyzing literature that focuses on the formal elements of a work of
literature, such as its language, structure, and tone. Formalists pay special attention to
diction, irony, paradox, metaphor, and symbol as well as larger elements such as plot,
characterization, and narrative techniques. Formalists read literature as an independent
work of art rather than as a reflection of the author’s state of mind or as a representation
of a moment in history.
Possible Formalist Questions:
How do various elements of the work – plot, character, point of view, setting,
tone, diction, images, symbol, and so on - reinforce its meanings?
How are the elements related to the whole?
An approach to literature that suggests knowledge of the author’s life experience can
aid in the understanding of his or her work. While biographical information can
complicate the interpretation of the work, learning about the life of the author can often
enrich a reader’s appreciation for that author’s work.
Possible Biographical Questions:
Are the facts about the writer’s life relevant to your understanding of the work?
Are the characters and incidents in the work versions of the writer’s own
experiences? Are they treated factually or imaginatively?
How do you think the writer’s values are reflected in the work?
An approach to literature that draws upon psychoanalytical theories, especially those of
Sigmund Freud or Jacques Lacan to understand more fully the text, the writer and the
reader. The basis of this approach is the idea of the existence of human unconscious –
those impulses, desires and feelings about which a person is unaware but which
influence emotions and behavior. Critics use psychological approaches to explore the
motivations of characters and the symbolic meaning of events.
Possible Psychological Questions:
How does the work reflect the author’s personal psychology?
What do the characters’ emotions and behavior reveal about their psychological
states? What types of personalities are they?
Are psychological matters such as repression, dreams, and desire presented
consciously or unconsciously by the authors?
(No essays on the Oedipus Complex- we’ve already covered that!)
It is an approach to literature that uses history as a means of understanding a literary
work more clearly. Such criticism moves beyond both the facts of an author’s personal
life and the text itself in order to examine the social and intellectual currents in which
the author composed the work. (Ex…Marxist, Cultural, New Historicism,
Possible Historical Questions:
How does the work reflect the period in which it is written?
What literary or historical influences helped to shape the form and content of the
How important is the historical context to interpreting the work?
An approach to literature that seeks to correct or supplement what may be regarded as
predominately male-dominated critical perspective with a feminist consciousness.
Feminist theories also attempt to understand representation from a woman’s point of
view and to explain women’s writing strategies as specific to their social condition.
Possible Feminist Questions:
How are the lives of men and women portrayed in the work? Do the men and
women in the work accept or reject these roles?
Is the form and content of the work influenced by the author’s gender?
Does the work challenge or affirm traditional ideas about men and women?
Mythological/ Archetypal Criticism
An approach to literature that seeks to identify what in a work creates deep universal
responses in readers by paying close attention to the hopes, fears, and expectations of
entire cultures. These critics look for underlying, recurrent patterns in literature that
reveal universal meanings and basic human experiences for readers regardless of when
and where they live. These critics attempt to explain how archetypes (the characters,
images, and themes that symbolically embody universal meanings and experiences) are
embodied in literary works in order to make larger connections that explain a particular
work’s lasting appeal.
Possible Mythological/ Archetypal Questions:
How does the story resemble other stories in plot, character, setting or use of
Are archetypes presented, such as quests, initiations, scapegoats, or withdrawal
Does the protagonist undergo any kind of transformation such as a movement
from innocence to experience that seems archetypal?
Do any specific allusions to myths shed light on the text?
An approach to literature which suggests that literary works do not yield fixed, single
meanings, because language can never say exactly what we intend it to mean.
Deconstructionism seeks to destabilize meaning by examining ambiguities of the
language of a text. Deconstructionists pay close attention to language in order to
discover and describe how a variety of possible readings are generated by the elements
of a text.
Possible Deconstructionist Questions:
How are contradictory and opposing meanings expressed in the work?
How does meaning break down or deconstruct itself in the language of the text?
Would you say that ultimate definitive meanings are impossible to determine
and establish in the text? Why? How does that affect your interpretation?
Once you have chosen a critical lens to use for a close examination of Hamlet, you will
need to focus your topic and formulate a thesis. The topic (subject) will indicate on
what your paper focuses (example: guilt in The Scarlet Letter); the thesis explains what
you have to say about the topic (example: Dimmesdale’s guilt is a projection of
Hawthorne’s own emotions).
The thesis needs to be a complete sentence.
It will establish your topic in clear, unambiguous language.
This thesis may need to be revised once you delve further into research for your
topic. You will turn in and have your initial thesis evaluated by me; any time
you change your thesis, you must submit it to me for approval.
The thesis must be an arguable point. You will use your research to defend your
This assignment will be part analysis and part research. You will need to explore the
literary criticism of other published critics and use their ideas to help support your own
ideas on Hamlet. Since Hamlet is one of the most famous literary works of ALL TIME,
you should have no problems trying to find outside, reliable sources.
1 primary source (the play!)
3 outside or secondary sources (1 must be from a database, the other 2- or more-
can be any source type)… These sources will need to be read and annotated, and
you must include quotations and/or paraphrased support from these works in
order to support your own thesis.
The paper will be 3-5 pages in length, typed (double-spaced), using proper MLA
formatting, internal citations, and a Works Cited page (not included in the length
You must include NO LESS than 4 internal citations from your primary source
and 4 internal citations from your secondary sources.
This piece is a FORMAL essay; please follow all formal writing rules.
Visit the following website for a review of MLA formatting:
Due Date: Tuesday, February 22nd
(No exceptions! If you are absent on that date, please email
your paper to me or make other arrangements to be eligible
to receive full credit. The late policy will be in effect-
papers will be accepted one day late for a grade no higher
than 70% .)
**This paper will be worth 200 points for the 3rd