Essay #1: Hamlet’s Logic
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is essentially a play about the title character’s struggle to persuade himself
to take revenge against his uncle, Claudius. In other words, the play dramatizes a rhetorical
situation in which Hamlet is both orator and audience, a speaker attempting to move himself
towards action and kill the man who killed his father and seduced his mother. Although Hamlet
employs all four of the rhetorical appeals as he argues with himself, here you are going to focus
exclusively on his logical appeals.
Begin by looking at the provisional conclusions that Hamlet himself draws as the play proceeds.
Then identify the premises and label the specific forms of inductive and deductive reasoning help
to lead Hamlet towards each conclusion. Identify which logical arguments are valid and which
are not valid, and in the latter cases label the specific fallacies Hamlet commits. Hamlet makes
several good and bad arguments over the course of the play – but most of them are pretty bad. As
you examine and discuss these arguments, focus on what makes each one good or bad.
Thesis: You’re paper is an analysis of the way in which Hamlet’s unique character, his odd and
quirky personality, affects his appeals to logic as he tries to decide what to do about Claudius.
Look over your notes on all the scenes where Hamlet appeals to one or more specific forms of
inductive and/or deductive logic. Try to find some kind of pattern here – some tendency that you
notice in two or more of Hamlet’s lines of reasoning.
Maybe there’s a particular topic that’s only tangential (or perhaps completely unrelated)
to his immediate problems, and Hamlet keeps on coming up with complicated syllogisms
about this non-pertinent side-issue instead of sticking to the matter at hand.
Or maybe there’s some especially relevant topic or aspect of his situation that Hamlet
tends to neglect whenever he has recourse to one of his obsessive bouts of logical overindulgence.
(I.e., maybe he uses logic to avoid confronting something he’d otherwise
have to face if he kept his thinking more down-to-earth).
Or maybe you feel that Hamlet tends to ignore inductive evidence and to favor deductive
syllogisms (or vice versa) when the other type of reasoning seems much more
Or maybe there’s a particular kind of fallacy to which Hamlet seems especially prone.
Pick one such tendency in Hamlet’s reasoning AND relate it to some aspect of his character. Tell
me that this tendency in reasoning is somehow caused by – or indicative of some personality trait
you feel Hamlet exhibits. Here are some examples from papers students have written in past
Hamlet’s narcissistic arrogance.
His phobic hatred of authority figures.
His Oedipal craving for his mother’s love.
His repressed erotic desire for his uncle, Claudius.
His fear of failure and inability to lead his country.
His murderous ambition to seize control of his country.
His obsessive need to inflict pain and death on those around him.
Bear in mind that these are just some quick suggestions off the top of my head (and many of
them are sort of, well, crazy sounding). Feel free to adopt one of them or to focus on your own
impression of Hamlet’s character and the way his reasoning reflects a particular trait of that
Developing your Essay: I want to see at least 2 lines of reasoning fully outlined and examined
within the body-paragraphs of your essay. That is, I want you to outline “premises” and
“conclusions.” I want you to label the arguments, “Evidentiary Induction,” or “Disjunctive
Syllogism,” or whatever. And I want you to consider the premises themselves. Is this line of
evidence accurate? Is that minor premise true? Is there a formal fallacy in the way that that
conclusion follows from those premises? Is there an informal fallacy in the Major Premise?
That’s what I mean by analyzing lines of reasoning. But don’t stop there. I also want you to keep
pointing out how each line of reasoning that you’ve outlined illustrates your thesis. That is, tell
me how that line of reasoning (whether it’s valid or invalid) illustrates a particular quirk in
Hamlet’s thinking and a particular trait of Hamlet’s general character – a connection between
personality and logical tendency that you’ve previously pointed out in your thesis statement.
Keep hammering away at your thesis regarding the way that Hamlet’s peculiar habits of
reasoning reflect a certain trait of his overall character. Stick to that idea throughout your
analysis of particular arguments.
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