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Revenge in Hamlet

Topics: Hamlet / Pages: 4 (938 words) / Published: Jul 24th, 2013
Revenge in Hamlet The act of revenge is often regarded as a positive act of retribution that functions to restore balance in the moral order of nature, and is therefore not seen in itself as an act of evil, but rather as that of a divine vengeance. Likewise, a superficial reading of Shakespeare's Hamlet, is understood to be about a young prince's attempt of restoring balance in nature by avenging his father's murder at the hands of his uncle. But when one delves deeper into the textual depths of Hamlet's madness, the redundant murder of his uncle and his subsequent death, one may only conclude that Shakespeare is trying to show the audience that revenge is not an act of restoration in moral order, but rather as a trigger that only adds more to the turmoil and chaos that had initially come from the original transgressor's sin.
Hamlet used his madness as a means by which he could get close to, and eventually kill, his uncle Claudius. In order to do so, he had to remove all potential barriers, including noblemen and close friends, who may have posed a threat to the success of his assassination plot. Removing these barriers often meant death, as was true in the cases of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. These methods, done as a means to reinstate the balance of nature within the state of Denmark ironically created an even greater unrest within the chain of being than what was first opened with his father's untimely death, and are furthermore not resolved when Hamlet avenges his father's death at the end of the play. This unrest as a result of Hamlet's actions is noted by Claudius when he describes Hamlet as a "hazard so dangerous as doth hourly grow" (Ham. 3.3.6.), and that in order to contain him he must "[put] fetters upon his fear" (Ham.3.3.25.), indicating the danger Hamlets madness poses to society. Not only does he pose a physical danger to society, but his actions also further disrupt the chain of being, causing further political unrest. So by sending Hamlet to England, Claudius intends to metaphorically grab hold of, and repair, the political unrest and imbalance in nature that Hamlet's madness has set upon Denmark.
In the end, the king's plan to send Hamlet to England fails, and Hamlet returns and continues on with his plan to eventually kill the king, in order to restore the political balance and chain of being to its natural state. However, when looking into the implications of Claudius' murder, it is apparent that no political or moral shift in the balance of nature has occurred. As Claudius is murdered, he cries out "O defend me fiends, I am but hurt" (Ham.5.2.317), and unlike any other character, he does not ask forgiveness for his sins. Without forgiveness, Claudius' soul was given the fitting punishment of being sent to purgatory just as his victim, Hamlet Sr.'s ,was before him. This punishment, coupled with the fact that the current embodiment of God has just been murdered, leaves Denmark in the exact same political strife that existed in the beginning of the play. Furthermore, Claudius had already repented for his murder of Hamlet Sr. and was from then on free of sin. Hamlet however continued working on his plot of revenge (for an already forgiven sin) and, as a result, killed Claudius in nothing more than cold blood, once again creating more moral and political unrest in the state of Denmark. Hamlet's act of revenge was not just immoral and unethical, but also created a greater disruption in the chain of being that goes unresolved at the end of the play.
Hamlet's tragic demise at the end of the play further proves that revenge is not a restoration method, but rather a tool to which more chaos leads. Early on in the play, Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so" (Ham.2.2.249-250). This line explains that the definitions of good and evil are only matters of perspective and with that, the divine vengeance sought out through revenge is not an absolute. Accordingly, any citizen could rightfully avenge Claudius' death and have restored the balance of nature through killing Hamlet, because he believes Claudius to be righteous, while another man may rightfully kill this man in order to avenge Hamlet's death, because according to him, Hamlet is righteous. This chain of revenge has no end and only causes more strife and disruption in the chain of being. But by having Laertes and Hamlet kill each other at the end of the play, Shakespeare ensured that the chain of revenge ended where it began, with both the avenger and the avengers avenger dead, putting an end to all future strife. In this way, Shakespeare shows us that it is not because of the act of revenge that restores the moral balance in nature, but rather it is the act of discontinuing the opportunity for revenge to be committed that sets everything straight.
Revenge, according to Shakespeare, is a gateway plan of action that leads the situation into one of turmoil and chaos. This is exemplified in the effect Hamlet's madness had on others, the eventual murder of his uncle and his own demise shortly thereafter. Shakespeare doesn't seem to believe we have the true moral authority within us to take matters of other people's justice into our own hands, but rather all punishment should be subjected to divine vengeance at the hands of the divine power himself.

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