Revenge and Delay in Hamlet
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare is one of his most influential tragedies telling the story of treachery, revenge and moral corruption. The play is about Prince Hamlet who seeks to exact revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering his King Hamlet, Claudius’s brother. Hamlet’s father then succeeds the throne and takes as his wife Gertrude, the old King’s Widow and Prince Hamlet’s father. “As doth well appear unit our state, But to recover of us by strong… ”(1.
1. 01-102) These word by Horatio, Prince Hamlet’s close friend reveals to the reader one of the crucial themes in this play, the need for revenge, not just by Hamlet but by Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway and Claudius through Laertes. Their emotions, thoughts and action are fueled by their craving for vengeance and as the three revenge plots intertwine, it is revealed that the nature of revenge is not simple but complicated as the reader see’s Hamlet’s inner struggle to take action, and his inability to make decisions.
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The indecision, hesitation and delay are what make the plot stand out from other revenge stories. The main plot in the play is that of Hamlet who is visited by the Ghost of his father telling him to avenge his death. Hamlet’s response was “Hast me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift, As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge” (1. 5. 29-31)Sets the plot for revenge but later he is seen having his doubts as expressed in the line “Fie upon’t, foh! About, my brains! ” (2. 2. 574).
After Hamlet establishes Claudius’ guilt, by staging the murder of Gonzago he gets the opportunity to kill the unattended Claudius in his chamber but allows this opportunity pass after soliloquizing the matter and saying that killing Claudius will not be revenge as he will go to heaven. Throughout the play he is reflective and pensive and delays the moment as long as he possibly can. He is later exiled when he accidentally kills Polonius. After another visit by his father’s ghost he makes up his mind.
He returns to Denmark and in a fencing match that ensues, he manages to kill both Laertes and Claudius even though he dies from the wound he received from the Poisoned tip of Laertes sword. Claudius on the other hand, uses Laertes as tool to carry out his plan to kill Hamlet. Laertes is blinded by the need of vengeance such he would do whatever it takes to accomplish this without any hesitation whatsoever. Claudius takes advantage of this situation and it’s quite evident in the following lines: “Laertes, was your father dear to you? Are you like the painting of a sorrow” (4. 7. 05-107) and “To show your father’s son in deedmore than in words? ” (4. 7. 123-124) Laertes replies: “To cut throat i’the church. ” (4. 7. 125)Claudius cultivates this thirst and his ability to act rashly which drives him in a fencing match with Hamlet. This turns into a bloody ending and ultimately leads to Hamlet and Claudius’ death. Fortinbras, the prince of Norway wants to avenge the death of his father by creating so large an army that would over the Danish army. He is a strong-willed leader described as “Hot and full” (1. 1. 96), with a tendency to act rashly as opposed to Hamlet’s continual hesitation delay.
While Hamlet is contemplating on the issues of life, death and morality of revenge, Fortinbras is out to conquer lands. However, he also listens to his friend Horatio who advices him to wait before he attacks Denmark. This allows him in the end to achieve his vengeance without doing much. Hamlet himself considers Fortinbras a model of greatness, as he passed him with his army he remarks, “To be great, is not to stir without great argument but to find quarrel in a straw, When honor’s at the stake. ” (4. 4. 52-55) Fortinbras is not bothered too much with thoughts and is quick to take action to preserve his family’s honor.
In conclusion it can be said that the main reason Hamlet fails on his mission of vengeance is due to his hesitation partly brought by his own cowardice and partly due to his inner conflict with the moral outlook of it all. Laertes fails because he is too quick to move into action without careful consideration of the situation at hand. Fortinbras on the other hand, succeeds because even though he was quick to take action, he listens to his uncle’s advice. In the end, this teaches the reader the importance of thinking clearly, coherently and sticking to our principles prior to taking any actions.
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