Vengeance in Hamlet
Time and time again, we as a complex society have recognized in many pieces of great literature the idea of man and revenge. Throughout history, the idea of vengeance has destroyed large communities, populations and entire civilizations. The problem with man and revenge is that one may be side-tracted of why or whom he is avenging. This similar idea is conveyed in the theme of Shakespear's Hamlet , "Vengeance can confuse a man's mind and soul to the point where he may not be sure of whom he is really avenging." Shakespear uses foils in this play to allow us readers to understand Hamlet as a man and why and whom he is really avenging, and Laertes and the ghost are foils for Hamlet in this play which help us readers understand his character and his actions.
Laertes was a stable-minded student who was Polonius's son and Ophelia's brother. He was a strong-willed young man whom studied over seas, was protective of Ophelia, loved his family, and kept his loyalty to King Hamlet and then to King Claudius. Hamlet and Laertes had never been friends, for Hamlet was of a higher social class. In one aspect, Laertes respected their differences and in another, it made him leary of and curious about Hamlet and his ways. Also, hamlet had feelings for Ophelia for which Laertes despised and warranted off. Although Hamlet Huang 2
and Laertes differ, Laertes acts as a stable foil for Hamlet whom makes sound decisions and acts on his words instead of just speaking. Laertes allows us readers to explore how Hamlet should have acted instead of how he did: Inactive, in a state of delay, and full of words. The moment Laertes heard of his father's death he left for Denmark, rallied up some followers, and marched past the King's guards to the Royal Court and demanded an answer. "O thou vile King, give me my father," Laertes bellowed at the King. Claudius relays to Laertes that Hamlet is to blame and once again Laertes is ready to fight. He challenges Hamlet to a dual and he immediately accepts. Why though is Hamlet so eager to bring Laertes to his death and not Claudius whom murdered his father and destroyed his family? With Laertes as a foil, we are able to question Hamlet's actions and delay of actions.
One can sense vengeance in the presence of the ghost. The ghost or the spirit of King Hamlet walks the night in order to relay a message to his son Hamlet. When the ghost approaches Hamlet he is told that Claudius murdered his father for the crown and Gertrude's hand in marriage. He is also told not to punish his mother or, "Taint not thy mind nor let they soul contrive against they mother aught. Leave her to heaven and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge, to prick and sting her." (Ghost, p. 650) Although Hamlet believed the words of the ghost, he antagonized his mother and contrived a plan to obtain evidence of these actions accused. Hamlet's plan was to contrive a play within a play for which the players would present to Claudius and Gertrude. The play consisted of a reinactment of his father's murder. Hamlet watched Claudius's reactions and discovered the ghost had not lied. Yet he did nothing. Acting as a foil, the ghost is Hamlet's conscious always reminding him of his duty and questioning the delay. Without the ghost as a foil for Hamlet we would not question King Hamlet's death and Huang 3
what opsticles Hamlet had to hurdle over during this delay. With the ghost taunting him daily by use of his conscious, Hamlet had to tear apart the truth of whom he really wanted vengeance for. Why did he delay even after the ghost visited him a second time demanding vengeance and giving one last warning about Gertrude? Why could Hamlet kill Claudius only after he had brought Gertrude and himself to death? Through foils such as Laertes and the ghost we wonder who Hamlet really is and what was at the top of his priorities list- His father's murder being avenged or his mother's.
Many critics ponder this very theme, "Vengeance can confuse a man's mind and soul to the point where he may not be sure of whom he is really avenging." Some say Hamlet was a coward and some say he was outright crazy. Others like fraudian say he may have suffered from an Oedipus complex, which made him closer to his mother than his father. If that were the case, then it would explain the delay of vengeance for his father's murder and the immediate display of vengeance for his mother's. It would also explain why Laertes was the sound mind or actor of Hamlet's spoken actions because Laertes was sure of whom he was avenging. Although many theories on this account have been made, without foils such as Laertes and the ghost, critics would not be able to induce the questions for which they have always theorized.