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Theme of Revenge in Hamlet

By Sjiang1 Mar 26, 2013 1109 Words
In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the theme of revenge is so prominent that it could be considered its own character. The vengeance in Hamlet is essential to the development of Laertes, son of Polonius, Hamlet, prince of Denmark, and Fortinbras, prince of Norway. Revenge is an unnecessary evil causing humans to act blindly through anger rather than through reason. Referring as far back as Hammurabi’s idea of “An eye for an eye,” revenge is merely a chain of wrongdoings stimulated each time by a reciprocated act of evil. Revenge is set to conquer anyone who comes to seek it.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet while there is the theme of revenge, that theme is divided into two separate entities. There is Laertes’ active seeking of vengeance and “Hamlet’s inner struggle to take action.” (Shmoop 1)

Laertes is extremely quick to take action to avenge the murder and suicide of his only remaining family. Returning home from an adventure for his own educational purposes, Laertes learns of his father murder by a sword through a tapestry. Upon arrival, Laertes finds his delusional sister, Ophelia, too involved in her songs of “Hey nonny, nonny” to really understand anything happening at that moment. Ophelia drove herself to an actual insanity from death of her father, or perhaps the rejection of Hamlet. Hours later, Ophelia is found in a pond after she committed suicide. Laertes wishes to seek revenge on Hamlet for his direct and indirect cause of his family’s deaths.

Claudius is now also presented with his chance for his own revenge against his nephew, or his son in accordance with his incestual marriage. However, Claudius is only seeking “revenge” for fear of being found out, and hides his cowardice by helping Laertes kill Hamlet.

Hamlet is a completely different example from Laertes. Through his father’s ghost, Hamlet is given the task of avenging his father in his untimely death. “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” (Act I, Scene iv, Shakespeare) Hamlet was given multiple opportunities to take the life of his uncle, but failed to do so. Not even sure of himself or of the request the father of his ghost, that he may or may not have seen, demanded. “To be certain of Claudius’s guilt, Hamlet decides to re-enact the murder of his father with the production of The Murder of Gonzago (known also as the play within the play or The Mousetrap).” (Shakespeare-online 2) “The play’s the king Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” (Act II, Scene ii, Shakespeare) However, even when he is completely sure Claudius is guilty of killing his own brother, he still finds trouble acting. Hamlet finds Claudius after the play to exact his revenge, but finds Claudius praying. With his sword at the ready, he starts to talk to himself about how he cannot kill his uncle while his father is “Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away.” (Act I, Scene iv, Shakespeare) Hamlet actually manages to convince himself to not act now, and that another opportunity will present itself. If Hamlet had only taken the time he used to talk to himself to quietly listen he would have notice Claudius’ inability to utter a prayer, leaving the perfect opportunity untaken.

What does separate Hamlet from others around him is his reason for his revenge. Hamlet achieves his revenge in the final scene of the final life. “In large part his course to the fifth act is the result of his moral sensitivity, his unflinching discernment of evil and his determination that it shall not thrive.” (Prosser 1) His “hatred of corruption” and his “vision of what man should be” fueled him through all his pretenses into his final moments. While “Hamlet is definitely a great example of a typical revenge tragedy” (NovelGuide 4) he is unique in the way he hesitates in his path to destroy what is evil and to preserve whatever little good is left. Hardly mentioned at all, there was another character in Hamlet that received his revenge at the end of the play. Fortinbras, prince of Norway set off to regain the lands of Denmark, which were lost to King Hamlet Senior years ago. Fortinbras was returning to win back his lands, which he did, and he did so very peacefully. Fortinbras regained the lands that were rightly his, as there were no more heirs to the Danish throne. Horatio almost foreshadows the movements of Fortinbras, but no further of him is mentioned until the end of the play. “Now, sir, young Fortinbras, Of unimproved mettle hot and full, Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes, For food and diet, to some enterprise That hath a stomach in't; which is no other— As it doth well appear unto our state—But to recover of us, by strong hand And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands So by his father lost.” (Act I, Scene I, Shakespeare) Fortinbras choice for revenge is the only one that ended up with no more murder involved. All three characters, Laertes, Hamlet, and Fortinbras, were so obsessed with avenging their father’s death, nobody survived to be able to gloat about his victory, except for Fortinbras. Revenge is characterized by a chain of bad choices with another individual feeling he is obligated to make the situation fair once more. Hamlet by William Shakespeare is powerful play that exemplifies the cruelty of revenge and how much anger and how little reason are truly involved. There is never a real need for revenge, as more of it will eventually lead to the demise of everyone involved. Thousands of years before Shakespeare wrote his plays, Hammurabi created the first law book, almost foreshadowing the dangers of revenge. “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind”, while murder for murder will only lead to more murder.

Works Cited

"Elizabethan Revenge in Hamlet." Novel Guides. Web. 1 Jan 2013. <>. Prosser, Eleanor. "Hamlet and Revenge." HowlandPak. HowlandPak, Web. 1 Jan 2013. <>. Mabillard, Amanda. "Revenge in Hamlet." Shakespeare Online, 12 2011. Web. 1 Jan 2013. <>. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. London, England: 1603. Print. "Shmoop." Hamlet. Shmoop University, Inc. Web. 1 Jan 2013. <>.

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