Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Essay

  • Length: 4 pages
  • Sources: 10
  • Subject: English Literature
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #49701690

Excerpt from Essay :

Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: Why Does Death Prevail

William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark begins and ends with death. The play begins with the ghost of Hamlet's dead father, haunting the battlements and urging his son to avenge his foul murder; the play ends with the death of Hamlet himself. The play also famously is driven by a quest for death, namely the desire of Hamlet to avenge his father's murder. But much as Hamlet burns in hatred for his uncle, the play also shows acute consciousness of the fact that violence merely begets more violence. Even though Hamlet's revenge may be justified, particularly after Claudius seeks to take Hamlet's life through secretly poisoning Laertes' sword, the act of murdering anyone, justly or unjustly, will never have a good end. Although the play suggests that revenge may be morally necessary (even Hamlet doubts this at times), revenge is never something glorious, only bloody.

Hamlet is aware of the horrible nature of revenge early on in the play. While he says that the ghost only confirmed what he suspected about Claudius, he also mourns: "The time is out of joint: O. cursed spite, /That ever I was born to set it right!"(I.5). He acknowledges his responsibility to mourn his father's death but simultaneously wishes he had never been born to do so. Instead of immediately trying to kill Claudius, Hamlet instead procrastinates, pretending to be mad and then testing the likelihood of Claudius' guilt using a play. Hamlet even is leery about killing Claudius when he sees the king praying. "Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent:/When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage" (III.3). This self-justification suggests Hamlet's reluctance to engage in physical violence, except when he is irate and half-mad himself. Hamlet does eventually strike out in the scene in his mother's closet, but accidentally kills Polonius, rather than the king. Scholars have endlessly debated why Hamlet takes so long to kill Claudius and one obvious explanation is that he simply does not want to and is aware of the fact that if he kills Claudius, more deaths will simply follow. Revenge does not end the cycle of death, it only begins it.

Hamlet's feelings about the pointlessness of violence are further illustrated when he sees Fortinbras, the Norwegian leader fighting for a contested piece of territory. In the words of one of Fortinbras' soldiers, "We go to gain a little patch of ground/That hath in it no profit but the name" (IV.4). Unlike Hamlet, who is very wary about engaging in violence when he is composed, Fortinbras thinks nothing of fighting for a small patch of land. Hamlet tries to use this sight to whip himself into more revengeful thoughts but he also show little admiration for Fortinbras who: "Makes mouths at the invisible event,/ Exposing what is mortal and unsure . . . for an egg-shell" (IV.4). Hamlet is conscious of the fact that violent anger and a desire to seem powerful will result in the deaths of many people, even though he still feels bound to avenge his father (despite the fact that Claudius does not seem to be a particularly bad or incompetent king).

Throughout the play, it is not only Hamlet who suffers the effects of rebounding violence. Polonius is shown spying on his own children in an attempt to increase his reputation in the court. Eventually, he is accidentally killed by Hamlet when he is spying. Hamlet says, "I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so, /To punish me with this and this with me, /

That I must be their scourge and minister" (III.4). Hamlet does not glory in Polonius' death but rather views it as a punishment, that he is now a murderer and did not even mean to kill the man he murdered. Polonius' death also fulfills the sense of circularity in the play, of getting one's just desserts. Polonius is killed while spying as he lived while spying. This sense of fulfillment for one's meddling is further exemplified in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who, upon being charged to bear a letter to the King of England telling him to kill Hamlet instead meet their death. Hamlet says: "For 'tis the sport to have the engineer/Hoist with his own petard" (III.4). But yet again these vengeful deaths, particularly that…

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