Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas expressed in a literary work. Think how the ideas of love, race or jealousy are developed by what the characters say and do in Hamlet. Themes are what connect the work to our lives today.
Motifs are recurring structures and literary devices that support and develop the major themes.
Symbols are objects or characters that represent another object or idea. Poison, for exmaple, is a symbol of betrayal, corruption, deceit and finally death.
Metaphors are a comparison that relate one object to another. For example, in one of Hamlet's soliloquies he compares sleep to death:
"To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to . . . " (III.i)
As you read the text, be alert to the recurring themes, motifs and metaphors. Use the resources listed on this page along with the suggested databases for researching the themes and literary devices within Shakepeare's Hamlet.