The theme of revenge is a primary source of discord among the characters in Hamlet. Vengeance affects each person who is exacting it and those present around them. In particular, Hamlet, Laertes, and Claudius’s retribution leads to their demise. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet can be defined as a revenge tragedy. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the reader sees a noble, heroic central character that is destroyed because a defect in his character either causes him to involve himself in circumstances which overpower him, or make him incapable of dealing with a destructive situation caused by another character or by circumstances.
The play ends with the death of the central character. But before he dies, he achieves insights which make him a more perceptive human being than he was when the play began. This central character, Hamlet, shows his love directly and indirectly to the reader. Hamlet is noble in birth and person, a prince of extraordinary intelligence: and, as the action of the play proves, he is heroic. His defect (indecision, excessive imagination, irrationality, madness, etc. ) prevent him from seizing control of the world Claudius has created.
His death closes the play, but only after he experiences and expresses illuminations about human life and death. After Hamlet’s Father died, it cast an unwanted and heavy cloud upon Hamlet’s soul. Throughout the play Hamlet learns that his Father’s death was no mistake, but it was Hamlet’s Uncle’s plan to murder him. This, of course, throws a much larger burden on Hamlet’s hands and the thirty year old prince seeks revenge continuously. Hamlet learned from the ghost of his Father about the betrayal Claudius had planned.
The ghost of his Father tells him to “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder,” Act 1, Scene 3; Line 74]. He also directs Hamlet away from killing his Mother. Revenge causes the characters in Hamlet to act blindly through anger and emotion, rather than through reason. It is based on the principle of an eye for an eye; this action is not always the best means to an end. Fortinbras, Laertes, and Hamlet were all looking to avenge the deaths of their Fathers. They all acted on emotion driven by the want of revenge concerning their
Father’s deaths, and this led to the downfall of two, and the rise to power of one. Since the head authority figures of the three major families were each murdered, the eldest sons of these families felt that they needed to take some kind of action to avenge their Father’s deaths. This need to bring honour to their respective families was ultimately the demise of Laertes and Hamlet. Firstly, Hamlet displays anger toward his Uncle, King Claudius for marrying his Mother, Queen Gertrude, so quickly after the tragic death of his Father, King Hamlet.
However, the main source of his anger begins with his feelings of despise for his Mother who chose to marry Claudius so soon after her own husbands’ death. Hamlet constantly allows this incident to brood in him and overrule every other thought and action he takes. Hamlet is convinced that the level of grief he feels for his Father’s death is the standard that everyone around him should be following. Since Gertrude does not express the same intensity of sorrow that Hamlet does, he is left furious at her and those in similar standing. ‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, Nor customary suits of solemn black, Nor windy suspiration of forced breath, No, nor the fruitful river in the eye, Nor the dejected haviour of the visage…” [Act 1, Scene 2; lines 77-86]. Secondly, King Hamlet’s ghost shares with Hamlet the cause of his death and how his murderer, Claudius, seduced Gertrude even before his death. “ ’Tis given out that, sleeping in mine orchard, A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged process of my death,” [Act I, Scene 5; lines 35-37]. “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown. [Act 1, Scene 5; lines 39-40]. “O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power So to seduce! – won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen;” [Act 1, Scene 5; lines 45-47]. Nevertheless, the ghost warns Hamlet to leave Queen Gertrude alone, to kill Claudius but not harm her. “Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive Against thy mother aught; leave her to heaven,” [Act 1, Scene 5; lines 86-87]. In response to the ghost’s news Hamlet does not take action instantly, but instead, records the event in his journal showing a fascinating personality characteristic.
Interestingly, there were three major families in the tragedy of Hamlet. These were the family of King Fortinbras, the family of Polonius, and the family of King Hamlet. Fortinbras, King of Norway, was killed by King Hamlet; slain by sword during a man-to-man battle. “… Lost by his father, with all bonds of law, to our most valiant brother. “[Act 1, Scene 2; lines 24-25]. This entitled King Hamlet to the land that was possessed by Fortinbras because it was written in a sealed compact. Furthermore, Hamlet is slow to act in regards to killing Claudius but he does act rashly, without thinking.
He is presented with numerous opportunities to kill Claudius but does not take those chances, which result in Hamlet being the murderer in the accidental death of Polonius. Polonius was an advisor to the King, and Father to Laertes and Ophelia. He was definitely a prying Father who did not trust his children, and at one point in the play, used his daughter to probe Hamlet. Young Hamlet killed Polonius while he was secretly listening in on a conversation between Hamlet and his Mother. “How now! A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead! “[Act 3, Scene 4; Line 25].
King Hamlet of Denmark killed King Fortinbras, only to be killed by his brother, Claudius. “… My offence is rank, it smells to high heaven; A brother’s murder… ” Each of these events affected the sons of the deceased in the same way. Laertes discovered his Father’s death, and immediately returned home. He confronted King Claudius and accused him of the murder of his Father. Claudius told Laertes that Hamlet was responsible for his Father’s death. Laertes takes action, deciding to scheme and kill Hamlet in order to avenge the death of his Father.
In addition, he and Claudius concoct a plot to kill Hamlet. “I will do’t: And for that purpose I’ll anoint my sword. I bought an unction of a mountebank, So mortal, that but dip a knife in it, Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare,” [Act 4, Scene 7; Lines 140-144]. Laertes and Claudius follow with a proposal of a duel to Hamlet, which he accepts, even though he senses a foreboding. Hamlet does end up dying of wounds from the poisoned tipped sword Laertes used. “… Hamlet, thou art slain… the treacherous instrument is in thy, unbated and envenom’d… ‘[Act 5, Scene 2; lines 306-313].
Throughout the play Hamlet proceeds to try and prove his Uncle’s guilt, and then finally kills him while he himself is dying of poisoned wounds inflicted by Laertes during their duel. “The point envenomed too! Then venom, to thy work… Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, drink off this potion, is thy union here? Follow my mother. “[Act 5, Scene 2; lines 314-315, 317-319]. This left the King dead, and his Father’s death avenged, with Gertrude dying shortly beforehand of the poisoned wine she drank as Claudius watched her. “No, no, the drink, the drink! O my dear Hamlet! –The drink, the drink! I am poison’d! [Act 5, Scene 2; lines 301-303]. The lack of thought used in exacting the revenge led to the deaths of Laertes, Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude. Laertes planned with Claudius to kill Hamlet with the poisoned tipped sword, but they had not thought that the sword might be used against them. With Laertes believing the King’s accusations that Hamlet had murdered his Father, he fights Hamlet and wounds him once with the poisoned tipped sword. Hamlet proceeds to wound Laertes with the same sword, exacting his death.
Hamlet had many chances to kill his Uncle, but his rage outweighed his better judgement; and he chose to wait until he assumed God could see no good in Claudius, and then strike him down into a world of eternal damnation. “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying… A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven. “[Act 3, Scene 3, lines 74-98]. Hamlet waits until he can kill his Uncle while he is performing a sin but unfortunately for Hamlet, his next chance to exact revenge on Claudius is his own death.
Revenge, being the driving force in the play Hamlet, is also one reason why it is a tragedy. Hamlet allows his revenge for his own justice to become his everything, consuming him. It is this rage that eventually drives him to madness and murder. Ironically, Claudius, Laertes, and Hamlet all died of the same sword. Revenge was the core strength behind three of the main characters of the play, ensuing in each of their downfalls. “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity a while, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, To tell my story. Act 5, Scene 2; lines 339-342]. The self interest demonstrated by Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet caused destruction in their own lives, which of course affected many lives around them. Driven by retribution, they did not consider the affect their anger would have on themselves or those they loved. “Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, And, in this upshot, purposes mistook Fall’n on the inventors’ heads: all this can I Truly deliver. ” [Act 5, Scene 2; lines 375-379].