A Comparative Analysis of Hamlet and Fifth Business

For this essay, you will write a comparative essay using Hamlet and Fifth Business.

Sample topics:
– revenge
– role of women
– foil analysis
– mother issues
– pains of procrastination

Not analytical topics:
– Hamlet‘s protagonist dies while Fifth business does not
– both have foils (need cause/effect)
– both have insane people
** these all deal with the plot!

Part A) Choose a topic and then brainstorm your ideas. Create a rough draft and, once you have made the necessary revisions, submit this “edited essay” to your teacher, which shows the editing/revisions you’ve done (perhaps in a different colour of ink, or in the margins, or highlighting, etc.). See note below on editing. 

Part B) After you have finished editing your essay, submit your final good copy to your teacher. Make sure you have a title page, your pages are numbered, and you have a work cited page for your texts.

A Comparative Analysis of Hamlet and Fifth Business


 Hamlet by William Shakespeare and Fifth Business by Robertson Davies are two distinct books written at different times, in different places. Still, they share some common themes. Literature is timeless, and what one author depicts at one time may become relevant at a different time. The same is evident when conducting a comparative analysis of the works of two artists. Davies writes most of his work in prose, while Shakespeare preferred plays and sonnets. Readers of literature celebrated both artists during their time, and their content remains a subject of analysis in the contemporary world. The most prominent themes presented by the authors of Hamlet and Fifth Business are spirituality, the role of women in the society, revenge, and the timelessness of literature and art.


Both the Hamlet and Fifth Business is works of literature that reveal that not all is physical in this world. There are dimensions or domains of reality that humans cannot access with their physical senses. Nonetheless, this domain of reality influences human activity. In Hamlet, the author introduces the reader to the ghost of the King, who manifests in the physical sense to haunt those responsible for his death. In Hamlet, the author represents ghosts as benevolent spirits that uphold the virtues of morality and responsibility.

Shakespeare stresses this point mainly in Act III when Hamlet gets a rare opportunity to kill Claudius and hesitates because his conscience reports that Claudius was repenting. Therefore, if he murdered Claudius, Claudius would go to heaven. Shakespeare writes, “…now he is praying…and, so he goes to heaven” (Hamlet 3.3.75). The play also mentions heaven and hell several times, implying a belief in the supernatural and the afterlife. The idea of supernatural events, as presented in Hamlet, corresponds with the Christian doctrines that dictate that followers abide by strict codes of morality. Violation of these codes brought about eternal suffering, also known as hell, while adherence to the laws earned individual eternal happiness equivalent to heaven.

In The Fifth Business, there is evidence of a belief in the supernatural that oversaw human actions and interactions. The character of Ramsey grapples with the possibility that God bestowed Mary Dempster with great supernatural gifts and responsibilities. Ramsey implores that the clergy awards Mary Dempster with sainthood based on his experience of three miracles that affirm that she was a saint. Ramsey explains, “I had once been fully persuaded that Mary Dempster was a saint…” (Davies).

The belief in individuals blessed with great spiritual insights corresponds with the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church stipulates the foundation for declaring sainthood. An individual must perform three miracles that the church can verify before declaring them a saint. The concept of miracles brings into perspective aspects of spirituality. The aspect of mysticism alluded to in Fifth Business corresponds to the Hamlet for numerous reasons. Both facets have a foundation on traditional Christian beliefs. Although the authors created the two works of literature at different times, spiritualism influences the thematic expressions in both cases. Therefore, spirituality is a common theme in both Hamlet and Fifth Business.

Role of Women in the Society

William Shakespeare sets a patriarchal society for events to play out in Hamlet. Women played passive roles in the family, and much of their activities depended on men’s perception of femininity. The novel Fifth Business displays women as playing supportive roles for their male counterparts in a male-dominated society. The soliloquy of Hamlet in Act 1 reveals the perception of women in society.

Hamlet says, “Frailty, thy name is a woman” to imply that the male-dominated society perceived women as weak (Hamlet 1.2.145-150). In essence, society viewed women as weak gender, as is the trend in much of modern societies. The depiction of women in the poem remains consistent with observations made by the character of Hamlet. Therefore, the perception of women in the play prevailed in society when William Shakespeare wrote the play. For instance, Ophelia does not make decisions based on her thoughts and feelings but relies heavily on her father’s perception, even on private matters such as love. Ophelia rejects Hamlet’s advances because his father advised him that Hamlet was not mentally well.

On the other hand, Hamlet puts unnecessary blame on his mother for marrying Claudius after King Hamlet’s death. The playwright does not give Gertrude a chance to defend herself in the play. Consequently, women played passive roles in societies dominated by men. Davies, in his novel Fifth Business also portrays women as capable of only playing supportive roles in the community. The author attempts to outline the concept of gender roles when the persona informs the audience that “…drawing pails of water from their outside well…this was fully understood to be a woman’s work…” (Davies). In essence, there were specific roles designated for women, while society bestowed an extraordinary amount of favor on men. As a rule of thumb, women took the roles in the affairs of the home and children.

On the other hand, men oversaw essential functions such as Church ministry. Just like in Hamlet, there were distinct gender roles, and society preserved the essential functions for men. Besides, readers seldom see the author present to the audience the idea of an independent and strong woman. For instance, Mary Dempster acts as the wife of the minister. She must fulfill numerous conditions to play this role successfully.

When she becomes mentally unstable because of the injuries she sustained, the people in the town stigmatized her. Countless people suggested that she was not fit to serve as the minister’s wife. A Tramp took advantage of Mary Dempster’s mental ailments and raped her. The society blames Mary for the events and takes no actions against the Tramp. In both the play and the novel, it is evident that gender stereotypes are real, and that the societies are male-dominated.


Revenge is a central theme in both works of literature. William Shakespeare builds the plot on the tenets of the pursuit of justice by the character of Hamlet. After a confrontation with the ghost of his dead father, Hamlet decides that he must seek justice by killing Claudius. The ghost tells Hamlet to “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1.4.25-30). Before encountering the ghost of his father, Hamlet was not aware of the King’s murder.

However, the ghost reveals that his uncle murdered the King and took the throne. The young Hamlet devises a plan to ensure that justice prevailed. The objective of Hamlet is to kill Claudius. However, he has the burden of responsibility to prove that Claudius was guilty of murder. Therefore, Hamlet does not avenge the King’s death immediately but executes a plan to prove that Claudius was culpable of the murder.

The murder of Percy Boyd in the novel reveals the theme of vengeance in the plot. At the beginning of the story, Boyd throws a snowball at Ramsey, but instead, the snowball hits Mary Dempster. Mrs Dempster later develops mental problems attributed to the trauma. Although the central theme of Fifth Business is not revenge, the subject features strongly and brings into perspective a critical similarity between the novel and the play by Shakespeare.

Hamlet’s psychological temperament is ruined by his mother’s hurried marriage with his uncle Claudius. Such type of behaviour (of his mother) shatters Hamlet’s belief in the faithfulness of every woman. Hamlets generalize the notion of faithfulness with each woman led by the mental problem since he never imagined that his mother must act similarly soon after her husband’s death.

In this, acute pressure of such unbearable existence, Hamlet at times gave considerations upon self-extinctions just to put to an end to intolerable psychological trauma. He is so psychologically broken that life has no meaning to him any longer(Hamlet 3.3.75).. Before the appearance of the ghost, Hamlet’s mind was messed up only with the sorrow of his father’s death and mother’s marriage. Now the exposure of father’s murder adds to his highest psychological trauma. He is alongside his mental balance with the responsibility of killing Claudius to calm his father’s lingering spirit.

There has always been a mystery to the human mind on who killed Percy Boyd. The fifth business shares the theme of the paranormal many times in the novel itself. Paul dempster killed Percy Boyd Staunton. This is confirmed by the fact that Paul was a getaway artiste and, hypnosis may have played a more significant role in the killing. Ramsay’s innocent engagement in friendly activities like the throwing of snowball or training of card tricks to a small boy, in the end, justify neither harmless nor inoffensive.


Hamlet by Shakespeare and Fifth Business by Davies is different from several perspectives. Structurally, Hamlet is a play, while Fifth Business is a novel. The authors composed these works of literature at different times. However, they have several similarities that provide proof that artistic research is timeless. Spirituality features in Hamlet as depicted by the role played by the ghost. In the Fifth Business, the concept of spiritualism takes place through Ramsey’s obsessions with saints. The purpose of women is also consistent in the two works of literature where women played insignificant and passive roles in society. There are also instances of gender discrimination in both practices. Finally, both Shakespeare and Davies utilize the theme of vengeance to communicate important information to the audience.  

Works Cited

Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business. Toronto: McMillan, 1970.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. London: Methuen, 1899.