Loyalty and Betrayal in Hamlet

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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 female behaviour, attacking the institution of marriage and declaring that women make ‘monsters’ out of men. Perhaps his most crudest and most aggressive comment comes when he hints that to take the edge off his desire he’d have to leave her ‘groaning’ in pregnancy and childbirth. Polonius seemly hear all these vulgar and misogynistic rants and becomes ever more convinced that Hamlet is mad. He never rests easily until he ends up behind yet another arras, scheming, yet this time in Gertrude’s room and gets himself killed. The act of betrayal, by both Polonius and Gertrude has far-reaching consequences; Polonius is killed by Hamlet, Ophelia becomes mad and Laertes demands vengeance. Polonius’s betrayal disgusts Hamlet and he can only but refer to him as ‘a foolish prating knave’ and his mistreatment of his body when he says he will ‘lug his guts in the neighbour room’ can equally be taken as his disgust towards him. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also sow the seeds of their own destruction by betraying their lifelong friend. From their point of view of course, they are being loyal to the king. They are faithful, obedient subjects, merely doing services to their king, trying to find out the reason for Hamlet’s madness. To Hamlet however, their willingness to do the King’s bidding is just more evidence of the corruption of the court. He urges them to treat him as a friend, to be loyal to him, to tell him the truth-;’were you not sent for?’ They eventually and reluctantly agree that they were sent for. But this is not the last of it. They continue to do the King’s bidding, becoming more discourteous to their friend. Guildenstern tries to persuade him to put his ‘discourse into some frame’ and make ‘a wholesome answer’ while Rosencrantz rebukes Hamlet for his behaviour to his mother. Loyalty is a quality greatly valued by Hamlet but it must be loyalty based on truth, justice, integrity and right thinking-not the kind of loyalty practised by Polonius. There is only one...
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