Revenge is the Overarching Theme of the Play Hamlet
Revenge is a strange idea. It has been around since the dawn of time. An Eye for an eye, right? If someone hits you, you hit them back harder. In the play, Hamlet, William Shakespeare, Revenge is the overarching theme of the play. It shows what revenge can do to a person. Hamlet views revenge as a good deed: something that he must complete to avenge his dad. Revenge is binary, meaning it isn’t only the act of revenge, there are many layers to it for example, who it hurts or who it benefits. The play has several critical turning points where revenge is apparent and shows what revenge can do to people, especially Hamlet. Revenge is necessary to preserve honor, according to Hamlet, therefore, Hamlet’s actions to choose revenge were justified. Hamlet seeks revenge due to his existentialism if we examine his views on life we see he rejects the role of regular society to dictate morality and its role in the process of morality choices. Hamlets existentialism allows his decisions to be amplified and elevated and ultimately he justifies his behavior.the first point of emphasis on revenge occurs when Hamlet speaks to his father, Old Hamlet.
In Act 1 scene 1, Hamlet talks to his dad in the form of a ghost, and learns his father was murdered, by Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle and his father’s brother, Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.(1.5, 25) This quote is the beginning of Hamlet’s existential crisis. He is ordered from his father to murder his killer which Hamlet was ready to take revenge for his horrible murder. Hamlet believes that he will feel alleviated, relieved, and internally motivated due to avenging his father, Haste me to know ‘t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.(1.5, 30) This quote reveals that Hamlet isn’t afraid to kill anyone, and is happy too. It shows that revenge is evident in the play, and that is will be a major factor in what the characters desire. But it isn’t that simple. Murder is against Hamlets morals, And so he goes to heaven. And so am I revenged. That would be scanned. A villain kills my father, and, for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven.(3.3,75-80) Here is yet another reason Hamlet should be justified in his quest for revenge. If Hamlet is going to kill Claudius, then he wants him to suffer for the rest of eternity for what he did to Hamlet’s father.
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He doesn’t want to give Claudius the satisfaction of going to heaven and having a good afterlife because he was killed in prayer. Hamlet wants him to pay. Hamlet throughout the play does not act on the murder that he promised his father. In Act Two, scene two Hamlet expresses that he hasn’t done anything That I, the son of a dear father murdered, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words And fall a-cursing like a very drab, A scullion! Fie upon ‘t, foh! (2.2, 545) Hamlet is only able to act through his emotions and words. He pours out his heart in his soliloquy at the end of this scene. He acknowledges his inadequacy in what his father had asked him to do. Hamlet regards to himself as an, ass and is conflicted, O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right! Nay, come, let’s go together.(1.5,190) Murder is still against Hamlet’s morals, but that is in opposition of what Hamlet is asked by his father. In addition, the way that he viewed his father is important to understand why there is a controversy in the first place. He viewed his father as a powerful, fair, and noble King, So excellent a King, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr. So loving to my mother(1.2, 140) which is why Hamlet was so dire for revenge.
In an ongoing battle between overcoming morality and his morals, Hamlet comes to the realization that all actions in one’s lifetime are meaningless. That, Alexander [the Great] was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam(5.1,190) That even the Conqueror and King of Macedonia is dead. He is now dirt that is useless, unless you are stopping up a hole. He is accepting the fact that there is no heaven or hell, or any afterlife for that matter. If your dead, your dead. This point in time is where hamlet rejects his morals and will continue with his plot to kill the King. Hamlet over the course of the play, develops depression as a result of his inadequacy.
In Hamlet’s most famous silique can reveal a lot about the character that he developed into: To be, or not to be? That is the question Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep No more and by a sleep to say we end (3.1, 57-63) Due to Hamlet’s duty bound revenge that was consequently forced upon Hamlet, he considers how easy it would be to kill himself and end all of his troubles. Hamlet toys with the idea: although a sin, is suicide another option for not getting revenge? Hamlet’s motifs to inflict harm on someone for a wrong suffered at their hands is due to the fact that Hamlet feels like nobody is on his side. His mother betrayed his father and then tells Hamlet, Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off, And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark… All that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity.(1.2, 70) Hamlet is told by his own mother that death happens, she has no sympathy for Hamlet who just lost his father, even worse he was murdered. When the ghost of King Hamlet says, “That incestuous, that adulterate beast” (1.5,49) he is implying that she never loved him, cheated on him when he was alive, and used him for the power and wealth. Gertrude then makes Hamlet feel as if he is in the wrong for mourning his father’s death, Why seems it so particular with thee?(1.2, 75) asking why is this so particular or important to you? He feels that his own mother doesn’t even care about him or his dead father.
Hamlet feels attacked by both Gertrude and Claudius, Claudius tells Hamlet, To do obsequious sorrow. But to persevere In obstinate condolement is a course Of impious stubbornness. ‘Tis unmanly grief.(1.2, 90) Claudius is telling Hamlet to stop being a coward and face reality, that everyone dies, and to just get over it. Claudius wants Hamlet to now see himself as his father figure and King. Hamlet is justified in his revenge on Claudius due to many reasons, one being the fact that he asked god for forgiveness but asked- May one be pardoned and retain th’ offense? (3.3, 55) No, one cannot be pardoned, because if one is asking for forgiveness but is unable to take any responsibility they don’t deserve forgiveness, and in Claudius’ case, he deserves his fate.
The King and Queen send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet to see why he is going crazy. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were Hamlets old friends, which Hamlet hadn’t seen for a while. And instantly, Hamlet realizes why they have came, in the beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinore? To visit you, my lord, no other occasion.(2.2, 259) Hamlet knows that they are lying and believes that potentially they could be betraying his friendship and working for the King and queen. After the death of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were asked by the King and Queen to take Hamlet to England, with a letter instructing Hamlet’s death. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deny that they are working for the King, when in reality they are. Hamlet gets crossed by his two friends, and changes the letter to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sent to their deaths. This highlights revenge and how once Hamlet rejected his morals, his views on others is diminished. Their deaths highlight negative effects of revenge because they are in a situation between the King and Queen, who at the time had total power, and could have anyone executed, at any time, and Hamlet who is their friend.
Shakespeare’s use of the two side characters played a big roll in how Hamlet’s conscience changed over the course of the play Unlike Hamlet, delaying executing revenge, Laertes does the opposite, That both the worlds I give to negligence. Let come what comes, only I’ll be revenged Most thoroughly for my father.(4.5, 108) Laertes, who at the time of his father’s death was in France, immediately came back to Denmark. Laertes like Hamlet was mournful of his father and sister, but unlike Hamlet Laertes promises that, But my revenge will come.(4.7, 29) He promises revenge, because contrasted to Hamlet, Laertes doesn’t have the same morals that he must overcome for vengeance. He already had bad blood with Hamlet, being that he and Laertes sister, Ophilia were in a romantic relationship. Laertes father Polonius was, a noble father and his sister, Stood challenger on mount of all the age For her perfections he praised them and now that they’re gone, Laertes needs to feel compensated for his loss, and the only way he can fill this empty void is through revenge.
William Shakespeare uses these characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as interesting characters in the play. Hamlet tries to blame his suffering on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because they betrayed Hamlet. Hamlet is alienated by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because once he was crossed by his uncle and mother he couldn’t trust that anyone. And due to his existentialism, and lack of morality, Hamlet acted in the manner he did, rather than realizing that they would have been executed by the King and Queen if they would have told Hamlet they were sent to spy on him. Revenge as a whole shapes the play, Hamlet.
A lot can be learned and taken away from the theme such as why people think revenge is necessary or what are its consequences, both good and bad. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the only thing that was achieved was revenge. Although it can be justified, the play comes to the conclusion that revenge is negative. Revenge isn’t just a theme in the play or an action that the characters take over the course of the play, but it serves as a greater role in understanding both Shakespeare’s writing styles, and the struggle one makes to obey their morals. Shakespeare’s creativity and knowledge allowed his plays to have the deep character archetypes that have complexity to them.
For example, Hamlet had a lot going on in his life: His girlfriend ended their relationship, his dad was murdered by his uncle and remarried to Hamlets mother. And this allows for more broad understanding of why Hamlet delayed so much in his revenge, rather than just, Hamlet wanted to kill Claudius because he did him wrong. In a sense that is correct, but that isn’t the full extent of theme in Hamlet.