One important theme in Hamlet is the relationship between states of reality or awareness, centering chiefly on the ghost and Hamlet's perception of its existence and commands. Such a query raises metaphysical and epistemological issues. In drama these ideas are often embodied in terms of motifs that serve as modes of expression for the character and thereby forces the reader to note their recurring significances. In Hamlet, the use of dreaming, sleep and death imagery appear with frequency, especially in the "to be" soliloquy.

In studying Shakespeare, one seldom focuses on motifs in a single play, but rather searches the canon to discover how they were used elsewhere. You may do this in two ways:

1. Use a Concordance copies of which are in the library, or

2. Do a word search electronically.

Note as well that critics have devoted attention to motif analysis such as: Spurgeon, and Clemen.

The excerpts below will help with Hamlet. What others can you find?

II HENRY IV: (One of Henry's sons talks while observing his father on his deathbed)

My gracious lord! My father!
This sleep is sound indeed, this is a sleep,
That from this golden crown hath divorced
So many English kings.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE: (The duke comforts Claudio who is to die)

Reason thus with life:
If I do love thee, I do lose a thing
That none but fools would keep...thou art death's fool
The best of rest is sleep...
And that thou oft provest, yet grossly fear'st
thy death, which is no more.

MACBETH: (Macduff announces the murder of King Duncan)

Malcolm. Banquo. Awake!
Shake off this downy sleep, death's counterfeit,
And look on death itself.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM : (Demetrius states one of the major themes)

Are you sure
That we are awake? It seems to me
That yet we sleep, we dream?

RICHARD III: (Clarence has a horrible dream, which is a foreshadowing of his death)

Oh I have passed a miserable night
So full of ugly sights, of ghastly dreams,
That, as I am a faithful Christian man...

ROMEO AND JULIET: (Romeo tells Juliet)

Oh blessed night! I am afraid
Being in night, all this is but a dream
Too flattering-sweet to be substantial.