Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Essay Example


Revenge is the overall driving force of the play Hamlet, as revenge is what compels Hamlet and Laertes to pursue their goals, and is what indirectly causes the death of the cast. Hamlet undertakes this to achieve revenge for his father against his step father for murdering him and then stealing his wife and throne, while Laertes is motivated by revenge against Hamlet after he learns that Hamlet murdered his father. Hamlet and Laertes only achieve what feels like a satisfactory attempt at their revenge because the plot was not focused around the revenge in the scene itself but the emotional weight of the redemption of Hamlet through Laertes. 

If the focus of Hamlet was for the story to be about revenge, then we would have seen something similar to Julius Caesar where Hamlet murders Claudius in the climax, and we see similar results where he must battle Polonius and Laertes in the falling action. Instead we witness Polonius murdered in the climax, Laertes be corrupted in the falling action, and thus both him and Hamlet restored, and Claudius also just happens to be murdered in the resolution. The reason Shakespeare arranges this is to set up Laertes as a foil to Hamlet, we watch this in the scene where he confronts the King (IV.III.136-142) “To hell, allegiance! Vows to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation. To this point I stand, That both the worlds I give to negligence, let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father.” Laertes comes right out swinging telling the King what he thinks. He directly tells the king to hell with allegiances and they are nothing more than vows of the blackest devil, he does not care that he may be damned.  He shows extreme conviction, as he loved his father so much that he would go to any means to achieve revenge, and is ready to do it, unlike Hamlet. 

This directly contrasts Hamlet as we learn throughout the play, he hides his intentions and gets too caught up in his thoughts to act, and even Hamlet recognizes this when he scolds himself for being a coward (IV.IV.58 – 68). When honour’s at stake. How stand I then, that have a father kill’d, a mother stained, excitements of my reason and my blood, and let all sleep?” Hamlet is questioning himself on his actions when his mother and father have been killed, and criticizes himself on how he has done nothing. He is in deep internal conflict and is questioning his character, and is even embarrassed by his indecisiveness, as these men are willing to die “fantasy and trick of fame”, while he “let all sleep”. When he states “O, from this time forth my thought be bloody or be nothing worth” This should be a turning point on the play, but ironically after saying this, Hamlet still obeys Claudius and leaves for England, where if he was not lucky, he would have died. This is just another complexity of Hamlet, he claims that he will now be decisive set his eyes on murder and yet he still lets himself be sent away. Hamlet is thoughtful to his own downfall, and it causes him to be indecisive, the opposite of Laertes. Setting these two up as enemies in both character traits and literal goal causes people to become more emotionally invested in the stories of the two characters, as now they compete against each other. 

When the Act V scene II rolls around, we now have two fallen characters: Hamlet, who is fallen in the eyes of the royals due to of his antic disposition, and then Laertes, who has been swayed by Claudius to murder Hamlet. The story now centers around what happens to these two characters and Laertes is now the antagonist to Hamlet, and they are foils to each other. The most likely reason for this is that Shakespeare wants to make the redemption of Hamlet Laertes more meaningful, and he achieves this by having them as enemies moved by each other to forgive each other as friends. We watch Hamlet ask for forgiveness from Laertes from murdering his father in Act V scene II lines 212 when he asks Laertes “Give me your pardon, sir. I’ve done you wrong”. Laertes then sides back with Hamlet in Act V scene II when he tells Hamlet that Claudius is responsible for his mother’s death. After this, he then asks for forgiveness when he says “Exchange forgiveness with me, Noble Hamlet: Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee, nor thine on me [dies]” This is a turning point for Laertes. Throughout majority if not the whole play, Laertes has had either doubts or resented hamlet ever since we observe Ophelia speak to him about Hamlet, and Laertes’ reaction when Claudius tells him about his father. Laertes forgives Hamlet for causing his death and for killing his father. This forgiveness from a once opposing character is symbolism for Hamlet’s redemption as a character to the lords of Denmark, and is a turning point as his honor is restored. 

This is why the overall revenge arc of the story seems to be satisfactory, because it is overshadowed by the redemption arc. The murder of Claudius itself was absolutely short, hamlet delivered two lines of dialogues, then stabs him, Claudius cries out, and then dies. This is done on purpose, so that the murder would not overshadow the redemption. Hamlet and Laertes have been set up as foil characters who will come into contact through conflict, and Hamlet’s and Laertes asking for forgiveness and receiving makes up a much larger portion of the first and second scene in act five. The emotional weight of these two overcoming their hatred for each other and looking beyond their differences to forgive each other before dying makes for a much more tragic ending than what would have happened had Hamlet just killed Claudius.

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