Revenge in Hamlet

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Revenge, or Wild Justice
“Revenge has no more quenching effect on emotions than salt water has on thirst.”(Walter Weckler). Young Hamlet, the tragic protagonist of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is not the first character to be consumed by a revenge that leads to his downfall, nor will he be the last; yet Hamlet carries out his revenge with such terrible pathos, that it is worth contemplating and trying to understand. Just like salt water, which quenches thirst at first, but makes matters worse in the long run, revenge is deleterious, and it turns on the avenger in the end.

“Yea, from the table of my memory, I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records…. And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain… So uncle, there you are. Now to my word; It is ‘Adieu, adieu! Remember me.’ I have sworn ‘t.” (Act 1), Hamlet swears to himself after the ghost of his father departs. The play has barely started, yet Hamlet is already revenge bound. Avenging the late king’s murder becomes the primary purpose of his existence. In the acts that follow, Hamlet constantly, almost obsessively ponders revenge, allowing it to eat at his insides and torment his soul. “Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I: … Am I a coward? … But I am pigeon- livered, and lack gall To make oppression bitter,” (Act 2). Hamlet chides himself for not acting sooner. At the end of the play, Hamlet carries out his revenge successfully, but doesn’t survive to tell the story, as he is slain by a sword coated in deadly poison.

“Revenge should have no bounds,” (Act 4) Claudius tells Laertes, while trying to turn him against Hamlet. Laertes is yet another character that falls prey to vengeful thoughts and actions. “To cut his throat i’ the church.” (Act 4) says an angry, grief-stricken Laertes. He is confused and upset, and his desire for revenge outweighs any capacity for reasonable thought. In the beginning of the play, Laertes is a lively,...
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