Hamlet: The Tragic Story of How Revenge Changes a Persons Sense of Humanity and Morality
Devon A. Lucero
Northwest Vista College
February 28, 2015
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the play follows the tragic stories of how characters cope and deal with death and the intense desire for revenge. Some acts are personal vendettas and others or done with methodical care and honor. Within the play itself, there are multiple scenarios that separate each characters and make their actions quite distinct from each other. Shakespeare has each character react in their own way; Laertes is rational, Hamlet overthinks, and Fortinbras acts too rashly. In each story, a lesson is presented to the audience of how revenge leads nowhere and only leads to harm.
Keywords: Hamlet, revenge, criticism, morality, humanity
In Hamlet, a tragic play, written by William Shakespeare, we follow the story of a young prince in Denmark, who is confronted with the knowledge that the late king, his father, was murdered by his own brother, who then marries the late king’s wife. In order to avenge his father’s death, Hamlet plans to kill Claudius, the late king’s brother, but in the process other factors come in between his plan and unnecessary deaths are caused. In the plays tragic end, only one character from the main group of Hamlet survives. Shakespeare utilizes irony to show how the characters of the played out their acts of anger and vengeance, and how in each conquest they each failed. As I read through the story, I picked up on subtle hints of how each character demonstrated their own sense of revenge and how Shakespeare controlled the outcome of each characters experience. Shakespeare constructed the story of Hamlet, to show how each man or woman goes through a different thought process when dealing with death, and how some people who cannot cope, lose sight of their humanity and morality when confronted with anger and blinded by vengeance.
Through following each character, Shakespeare alters each perception of how one should act in the presence of death and anger. Hamlet is first seen as melancholy for the loss of his father, the late king. He pines and despises his uncle for taking the throne and for trying to take the place of his father. Hamlet is also disgusted at his mother for only mourning her father for barely more than a month, before marrying Claudius, the late king of Denmark’s brother. While moping around the castle, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude and Claudius are concerned about how long Hamlet has mourned his father. When the guards tell Hamlet of a particular apparition they had seen that may have resembled the late king, Hamlet goes to investigate. When alone with the ghost, Hamlet learns that Claudius was the one who murdered the king, and the ghost then sets Hamlet on a mission to avenge his death. Hamlet struggles to turn his desire for revenge into action, and spends a large portion of the play waiting rather than doing. I believe that Hamlet waits so long to take action because he fears that if he killed Claudius, he would be no better than him. Instead of blindingly acting on just the words of a ghost apparition, Hamlet tries to investigate the truth.
Hamlet's speech in act three, where he chooses not to kill Claudius in the middle of prayer, shows that he still might hold onto some moral by refusing to kill an unarmed man or that he felt guilt in the moment. From the play though, you cannot decide whether he is procrastinating the killing of Claudius, or if he does it to avoid the belief that he truly desired Claudius' demise. Hamlet’s darker side of revenge was seen when he casually announces the plays scene where the king ‘poisons him I’ th’ garden for his estate’ (Shakespeare, 2012, 3.2.88), in front of all the audience and knowing well that the king would react to this statement. With conformation of the guiltiness, Hamlet wastes no time to murder Claudius. Even