Throughout the play of Hamlet, there is a theme of death that permeates the play. Beginning with the death of the king, the entire story contains one death after another, and shows Hamlet's ever-changing view of death. As he watches the people around him die, Hamlet's feelings towards death vary and affect his attitude as a whole. This theme of death can be easily traced through the play.
The first manifestation of death is the appearance of the ghost of the dead king, Hamlet's father. When the ghost speaks to Hamlet about the murder committed by Claudius, Hamlet is enraged. This meeting sets the scene for the entire play. A dark background of murder and a bloodthirsty desire for revenge. The scene also reveals the Elizabethan view of death. King Hamlet was murdered in his sleep, within his sin, causing his soul anguish and unrest.
In act two, Hamlet contemplates man's fear of death with the famous "To be or not to be" speech. During this soliloquy, he decides that man is afraid to die because death is "the undiscovered country". We do not know what lies beyond the grave, and so we are afraid to die. Man does not like things he does not know about. With this in mind, Hamlet ponders his own existence.
Soon after this speech, Hamlet arranges a play for the King and Queen to see in order to see if the ghost was telling the truth about Claudius. The play re-enacts the murder of King Hamlet, and sends Claudius running. Convinced that Claudius is the murderer, Hamlet plans to kill him and take revenge for his father. When he arrives in the King's chambers, however, he finds Claudius trying to pray. Hamlet decides that to kill Claudius now would buy him a "free ticket" to heaven. Not wanting to give him that luxury, since Claudius did not give it to his father, Hamlet decides not to kill him yet, thinking, "A villain kills my father, and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven."
Next, Hamlet goes into the Queen's chambers, where he kills Polonius, thinking him to be the king. Though the Queen is shocked, Hamlet does not seem to have any feelings about it. He seems indifferent and slightly annoyed. "Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell. I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune. Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger." Later, however, Hamlet does show remorse for killing Polonius. He repents, and accepts heaven's punishments for the rash act.
After the death of Polonius, Hamlet refuses to tell anyone where he has hidden the body. He taunts Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the King, saying, "He is at supper... Not where he eats, but is eaten." The king decides to send Hamlet to England, where he is to be killed. While leaving, Hamlet runs into Fortinbras' army, and is impressed by the action taken by Fortinbras to avenge his own father. Hamlet berates himself for his own inaction, and renews his resolve for bloody action.
When Laeretes returns from France, he finds his father dead and his sister mad. Ophelia has not taken the death of her father and her treatment from Hamlet well. Later, she falls into the brook and is drowned. It is very possible that she killed herself, and was only given a Christian burial because of the King's intervention.
Upon his return, Hamlet runs into the gravediggers and jokes with them about death. When the gravedigger digs up the skull of Yorick, however, it becomes more personal to Hamlet. He starts thinking of death as the "Great Leveler". No matter who a person is, he ends up the same as everyone else. A King and a stable boy are the same in the end: worm food. As Hamlet meditates on this idea, Ophelia's funeral approaches. Hamlet and Laeretes end up fighting over who loved her more, which brings to light the moral subject of showing love for fellow men before it is too late.
The final act of the play is lined with more death than all of the earlier acts combined. Laeretes, wishing revenge on Hamlet, has plotted with the King to kill him with a poisoned sword and drink. During the match, the Queen unknowingly drinks the