Central Idea of Revenge in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, several themes within the play comprise it’s story line and ultimately holds major influences on the plot. Conflict underlies almost every scene and is reinforced by the central idea of revenge. Several characters attempt to entice their enemies and even lead them to their own death through schemeful acts of manipulation.
The idea of revenge is first presented when Shakespeare creates conflict with Hamlet and Claudius which leads to a series of betrayals, treachery and deception. Revenge is the underlying theme within the storyline and is reinforced with motifs of power and corruption leading to the vengeance most of the characters seek to obtain.
When developing the central focus of the play, Shakespeare inserts a dialogue between the ghost that haunts the castle and Hamlet,Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder, (I.v.25) indicating and introducing a revenge plot between Claudius and Hamlet. Much is said between this dialogue which invigorates Hamlet’s pursuit of revenge. Instead of rushing to accuse Claudius of such tragic crime, Hamlet ponders upon what he believes is a more effective and schemeful alternative. He decides to dominate Claudius through guilt by presenting a play that would ultimately expose him. The true accounts of King Hamlet’s death would come to light in front of all and Claudius’ reaction would confirm his criminality. Throughout the whole play, the driving force is Hamlet’s ambition to inflict total vengeance of his father’s murder.
Through a series of developed plans to trick one another, Shakespeare creates a plot focused essentially on revenge. Specifically, it plays a major role in the development of the characters within the play – Fortinbras, Hamlet and Laertes as they all approach the same desire for revenge while pursuing it differently. Although Hamlet has met with the ghost of his father who specifically instructs him to gain revenge in the name of his murder, Hamlet seems uncertain to kill his uncle as a form of payback. However, upon his father’s command Hamlet swears to retaliate in some form against Claudius and promises to prove his love and loyalty by fulfilling his duty as son. Unlike Fortinbras and Laertes, Hamlet did not question the motive of his advisor and why he should take the advice but as time passes he feels as though he’s fallen short with gaining ultimate revenge and begins to doubt himself. Out of disgust Hamlet says, What an ass am I! This is most brave, that I, the son of a dear father murdered, prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell and must like a whore unpack my heart with words and fall a-cursing like a very drab (II.ii. 594-598) This statement is a clear indication that Hamlet knows how he should act and what initiatives he should take but does not want to act out so hastily.
After reaching his breaking point and seems on edge of madness, Hamlet acts out destructively and kills Polonious father of Laertes whom upon hearing of his father’s murder reacts swiftly. After being notified that Hamlet is responsible for his father’s murder he swears he will have revenge, Only I’ll be revenged. Most thoroughly for my father. (IV.v. 133 – 134). He immediately agrees to take part in the King’s plan to kill Hamlet and conspires with the king to deceive and challenge him to a fencing match where Laertes will kill Hamlet with a poisoned sword. For reassurance, Claudius prepares another form of murder in case all else fails and prepares a cup filled with poison for Hamlet. Although claudius and Laertes seem to prepare themselves for the murder of Hamlet, their death comes along with it too, which points back to the theme of vengeance.
Young Fortinbras motive is to essentially regain the land that his father has lost to Hamlet’s father. Over the years, Fortinbras has brewed up a plan to avenge his father’s death. He has lived in Norway for many years, undisturbed by the Danish Crown, which has had its own problems in the past, including the death of their king and the reelection of an incompetent, know nothing king. With Claudius, the new King in power, Norway is able to go on with their plans of reconquest of the lost territory. Shakespeare depends on the reactions of Hamlet, Fortinbras and Laertes to convey the theme of revenge. Their rage has taken different forms and collectively reveals the i diversity of human feelings in bringing the theme of revenge into life. Hamlet, who acts slowly and with much contemplation, and Laertes, who acts with intense anger show polar opposites amongst these two characters. Meanwhile, Fortinbras’ rationality and deliberate measurements represents in some sense a combination of the two.
The play shows the strain of knowing the truth about people, living in a world of appearances. Fundamentally, Hamlet expresses the dilemma of living in that world. Marcellus’ remark “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Hamlet 1.2. 65), reveals the corruption that is found on all levels in the state. As a result, there are frequent references to corruption. Claudius is irredeemably corrupt, guilty of the murder of not only a king but his brother as a King. Hamlet refers to Claudius as “a Canker in our nature” (Hamlet 2.2. 290). The relationship between Claudius and Gertrude, which starts with adultery, is immoral, but this is overlooked.
Because of the vengeance that both Laertes and Hamlet take, revenge is a major theme in Hamlet. It seems ironic that the three characters who were involved with all of the revenge (Claudius, Laertes, and Hamlet) all died from the same sword. Revenge was the driving force behind both Laertes and Hamlet, but both of them also approached their downfall because of it. Their lack of thought behind their plans not only eventually killed them, but Laertes lack of thought also killed his partner in the conspiracy to kill Hamlet, King Claudius, which realized Hamlet’s revenge.
Hamlet’s revenge is delayed in three significant ways. First, he must establish Claudius’ guilt, which he does in Act 3, Scene 2 by presenting the murder of his father in a play. When Claudius storms out during the performance, Hamlet becomes convinced of his guilt.
Hamlet then considers his revenge at length, in contrast to the rash actions of Fortinbras and Laertes. For example, Hamlet has the opportunity to kill Claudius in Act 3, Scene 3. He draws his sword but is concerned that Claudius will go to heaven if killed while praying.
After killing Polonius, Hamlet is sent to England making it impossible for him to gain access to Claudius and carry out his revenge.
During his trip, he decides to become more headstrong in his desire for revenge.
Although he does ultimately kill Claudius in the final scene of the play, it’s not due to any scheme or plan by Hamlet, rather, it is Claudius’ plan to kill Hamlet that backfires. Revenge is represented as the ultimate destructive force in Hamlet. It draws out the worst traits in the characters seeking it, and has negative consequences on bystanders.
For a play to be considered a revenge tragedy, revenge has to be a prevalent theme throughout. Revenge needs to be intertwined in character interactions, and have a strong hold on the driving force of the plot. The desires of Hamlet, Laertes, and young Fortinbras each exhibit how the plot of Hamlet, by William Shakespeare revolves entirely around revenge. The theme of revenge starts off very early in the play, when Hamlet speaks with the ghost of his deceased father. When the ghost tells Hamlet how Claudius murdered him, Hamlet is infuriated and overtaken with feelings of responsibility to right the wrong that has been done; to murder Claudius.
Hamlet, through soliloquy, tells his audience that he has a master plan of revenge for his father. He plans to act insane, and commits to the role very well; almost too well. The portrayal of Hamlet’s initial undertaking of his insanity act is easily shown by what he says to Gertrude, “That essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft.” This shows that Hamlet was only acting crazy as a component of his revenge scheme. However, later in the play we witness the murder of Polonius by Hamlet. Hamlet killed Polonius without meaning to, thinking he was killing the king who murdered his father. But right as he realizes what he has done, he has no sympathy or regret for his actions, and simply brushes it off as a mistake well spent. Hamlet says after the deed, “How now? A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!” Hamlet (III, iv, 23) This quote is clearly an argument for Hamlet’s right state of mind, and only further develops the plot of the story. He begins to become a reckless killing machine, which changes from what he wanted in the beginning; to only kill Claudius.
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