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ENG 102 - Hamlet (Jamison)

3. Narrow Your Topic

Narrow SignOnce you've done some initial background reading, it's time to narrow down your topic to what you really want to focus on.  Remember your assignment requirements and consider what you've read thus far.

Ask yourself:

What aspect of Hamlet do I want to focus on?

What interests me about the topic?

What do I want to write about?

As you start to narrow this down into a topic/thesis, you'll want to continue to look for more sources. As you research, you might tweak or adjust your topic/thesis.  In order to help you find more related sources about your topic, you'll want to identify keywords to help you search.

Helpful Hints on Searching Shakespearean Criticism

Shakespearean Criticism

Call Number: PR 2965 .S43 b. 169 (Giles Reference)

Click the link above
Click Shakespearean Criticism
Locate volume number and click to open
Click "Volume Table of Contents"
Choose play you are researching then click the "Introduction" for the play
In the page number box, type the page number you would like to view and click go

For a particular theme in a Shakespeare play, the Shakespearean Criticism reference set has a "Cumulative Topic Index, by Play." It is organized by play and underneath each play, give various topics with the volumes and page #'s that refer to that play and that topic. When doing research on themes in Shakespearean Criticism, you may need to look under different headings.

Shakespearean Criticism also has a "Cumulative Character Index" and "Cumulative Topic Index" organized by topic and then broken down by play. These indexes are at the back of every volume.

Library databases are also helpful for finding information on a particular theme in a Shakespeare play. For information specifically on the theme of "madness," go to the library homepage; select the link for Literary Criticism under Topic Databases on the right-hand column. Start with Literature Resource Center and search "Hamlet AND Shakespeare AND madness." This search lists 4,000+ articles of literary criticism. 


As you think about what concepts you want to research, think about what particular words might be found in a good article about that topic.  For instance, if you are writing about madness as a theme in Hamlet.  Think of related keywords:

  • madness AND Hamlet
  • melancholy AND Hamlet
  • insanity AND Hamlet
  • madness OR insanity AND Hamlet

You can combine Hamlet with some of your search terms to find articles connecting the two ideas. Unlike Google, our databases work best when using connector terms, such as AND or OR.

When using connector terms (also called Boolean Operators), remember that AND means you are searching both terms together. Searching madness AND Hamlet will get you results related to both madness and Hamlet

OR gives you more results. OR tells the database that you want information about madness OR insanity, since those are both names for the same term. 

Keywords work best by trial-and-error. Never do only one search. Some keywords will work better than others, and some keywords may lead you to different articles than you found in your first search.  Search the databases with the keywords you selected to find relevant articles. And remember to ask a librarian if you need assistance coming up with keywords or looking for sources.