What is it to be good? What is it to be evil? The more important question would more than likely be whether the two are decided by man's society, or worse, man's morality. At one point in time a person who worked on a Sunday was to be but to death. Clearly the definition of an evil act has been slightly altered, but to see the nature, the essence of evil, one merely has to open a book. In many of Shakespeare's plays, the nature of evil is a main theme. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare show through almost every character, including Claudius, Laertes, and Hamlet, that evil will cause evil. Shakespeare also shows quite beautifully through Ophelia and the entirety of the Act V Scene ii, that evil ultimately leads to ruin.
The root of all evil in Denmark is Claudius, Hamlet's uncle and new king. In the first scene the results of his treachery are revealed and in the fifth they are revealed as his own. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark"(I,v,90) and it's stench is flowing from under the newly tarnished crown. As the ghost of Hamlet's father informs Hamlet, "The serpent that did sting thy father's life/Now wears the crown."(I,v,39-40). This horrid deed is what starts the murderous ball rolling and it is what causes the deaths of eight people. Claudius kills his brother because he is the villainous man who takes what he wants and wants what he can't have. Unfortunately, what he wants is the crown of Denmark and the Queen that goes with it. More unfortunately, he took the well cushioned throne, the beautifully jeweled crown and the radiant queen. Most unfortunately, as the ghost explains to Hamlet:
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole
With the juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment, whole effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That swift as quicksilver it coursed through
The natural gates and alleys of the body,
And with a sudden vigour it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood....
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatch'd(I,v,61-75). This not only puts the play in motion, it turns the life of the main character upside down. It reveals that the uncle that he surely loved, killed his father. It shows that the same uncle is a cruel enough person to put aside not only a blood tie, but an entire life of growing up with someone, so he can wear a shiny hat and have a lovely wife. Killing a king is bad. Murdering a brother is unthinkable. Though, the death of the kind is far from the only way that Claudius shows his horns.
Laertes is a shining example of how evil will cause evil. On his own, Laertes is not an overly evil, or even bad, person. With the push of his fathers murder and the manipulation of Claudius, however, he is blackened and embittered. On the instant that he hears of his father's death he runs into the castle, sword drawn and hungry for the blood of a king, he demands, "Where is my father?"(IV,v,28). After some convincing from Claudius, Laertes decides to turn his blade on Hamlet instead. When Claudius asks Laertes what he would do to get revenge for his fathers death, his answer is, "To cut his throat i'th' church."(IV,vii,126). Claudius has gotten him so full of hate that he would do anything, no matter how terrible or sinful, to avenge his father. This is reenforced by the plans he and Claudius make to finally kill Hamlet. They plan to have a duel between Hamlet and Laertes with an accidental fatal nick. "You may choose/A sword unbated, and in a pass of practice/Requite him for your father."(IV,vii,136-138). Laertes doesn't think this plan is quite right, so he adds a little personal touch:
...for that purpose, I'll anoint my sword.
I bought an uction of a mountebank