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The Legally Annotated HAMLET

A scene by scene analysis of legal themes and allusions in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

by Mark Andre Alexander


[In Hamlet ] there is a consistent and coherent pattern of legal allusions to defeated expectations of inheritance, which applies to every major character. The allusions run the gamut from points of common knowledge by landowners or litigants, to technical subtleties only lawyers would appreciate, but their common theme is disinheritance and the way it can occur. It has already been suggested that the many legal allusions in the play indicate it was written with a legally sophisticated audience in mind. Who else, after all, but lawyers and law students would appreciate the Gravedigger’s parody of legal reasoning in a forty-year old decision [Hales v Petit] written in the corrupted version of Norman-English known as Law French?

– J. Anthony Burton in “An Unrecognized Theme in Hamlet” in Fall 2000 edition of The Shakespeare Newsletter.

Act One: Scene 1 | Scene 2 | Scenes 3 & 4 | Scene 5

Act Two: Scenes 1 & 2

Act Three: Scenes 1 & 2 | Scenes 3 & 4

Act Four: Scenes 1 to 5 | Scenes 6 & 7

Act Five: Scene 1 | Scene 2

Based on the Second Quarto of 1604. Folio substitutions are indicated with brackets [ ] in red.  Line numbering follows the Arden edition.

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