Loyalty and betrayal in Hamlet
Loyalty is a significant theme in ‘Hamlet’ because Hamlet himself judges people by their loyalty or disloyalty-his mother, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Horatio and he acts accordingly. The significance of the betrayal theme is that many of the major events in the play result from the betrayal of one character by another. The most significant act of betrayal is that of Gertrude-whose marriage to Claudius after two months of widow-hood has such a traumatic effect on Hamlet. He complains that a beast ‘would have mourned longer’. Right from the beginning, even before the ghost appears, Hamlet’s attitude to women in general is coloured by his mother’s disloyalty and betrayal-‘Frailty, thy name is woman’. When he hears the true extend of his mother’s betrayal Hamlet is devastated. He is shocked at the speed of his mother’s remarriage when he says ‘Thrift, thrift/ the funeral baked meats/ did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables’. His father’s death and his mother’s betrayal led him to a life of pointlessness in a world that can only be referred to as ‘weary, stale and unprofitable’. To him, all women are deceivers; his disappointment is evident when he next meets Ophelia. Her position is intolerable and pathetic-in order to be loyal to her father she must betray the man she loves. She chooses to be loyal to her father and return Hamlet’s gifts-‘That I have longed long to re-deliver’. Of course, she is not telling the whole truth. She has not ‘longed long to re-deliver’ them at all, she is doing what her father has told her. Hamlet’s reaction is an indication of the contempt, distrust and bitterness he feels at this further evidence of disloyalty of women-‘Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners’? Hamlet repeatedly tells her she should become a nun, saying that if she marries she will give birth to sinners. At one stage he launches into a violent, misogynistic rant criticising various aspects of...
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