Hamlet Essay Topics on Poison

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Poison plays a major part in William Shakespeare's ~'Hamlet~', and thinking about the role of poison can provide insight into other aspects of the play. This lesson offers essay topics that encourage your students to analyze poison in ~'Hamlet~'.

Writing About Poison in Hamlet

Have your students just finished reading William Shakespeare's Hamlet? If so, you have probably spent time discussing the more commonly addressed themes in the play, such as the thought vs. action dichotomy, the role of power and ambition, and the nature of gender relationships. A less common motif in Hamlet is that of poison, but thinking about the way poison works in the play can provide insight into the characters, plot and other themes.

One way to help your students think deeply about poison in Hamlet is by having them write essays. When students write literary essays, they really have to develop their own voice and justify their theories with evidence from the text. The topics in this lesson will get your students started as they think about poison in this great play.

Poison and Character

This section offers essay topics that help students think about poison as it relates to different characters in the play.

  • Describe the ways that poison, and Elizabethan understandings of poison, influence Hamlet's way of understanding and thinking about his father's death. Write about the influence poison has on Hamlet's reflections about his father.
  • How do Laertes and Claudius think about poison? What does poison mean to these two characters, and what is there way of understanding how poison works as well as justifying its usage?
  • What does Claudius' decision to use poison, rather than any other mode of violence, teach us about him as a character? Analyze Claudius' character overall through the lens of his commentary on and use of poison.
  • What is your opinion about poison as it plays out in Gertrude's death? Describe her death scene in detail, focusing on the role both poison and deception ultimately play in her demise. What do we learn about Gertrude and her relationships with others from watching this scene unfold?

Poison and Plot

Here, you will find essay topics oriented toward helping students think about the ways poison moves Hamlet's plot forward.

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