Justice in Hamlet
Hamlet, a timeless tragedy written by literary mastermind William Shakespeare, has puzzled scholars for decades. Hamlet, who is arguably the most enigmatic character in English literature, is a vividly thoughtful young prince who conspires revenge on his uncle Claudius for the murder of his father King Hamlet. Hamlet becomes obsessed with achieving this justice for his father’s death, a duty he views as noble, but he quickly comes to realize that carrying out the murder is not as simple a task as he originally thought.
As evidenced by events that unfold that result in the death of many of his friends and family, and also himself, a sense of justice can become easily warped and corrupted when revenge is the motivator. Hamlet’s quest for justice is first introduced when he is visited by an ambiguous ghost who claims to be his father, the former king. The ghost tells Hamlet the details of his murder, including that his uncle Claudius is the culprit. Hamlet, shocked and angry, avows to avenge his father’s death.
He swears he will forget all of the fond memories he had of his uncle Claudius, saying, “from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records” (Act 1, Scene 5). He replaces these memories with a tarnished image of Claudius as a murderer, and resolves that, in order for justice to be guaranteed, Claudius must also be murdered. However, despite becoming infatuated with this revenge, Hamlet delays multiple times in killing Claudius. His initial delay was to prove Claudius’ guilt, which he does so by staging a play that reenacts King Hamlet’s murder.
A perfect opportunity arises later for Hamlet to carry out his revenge, but Claudius is confessing his sins, which conflicts with Hamlet’s idea of true justice: he does not want Claudius’ soul to go to heaven after his death. Instead, he decides to wait to murder Claudius until after he has committed a sin. Although these actions seen to indicate Hamlet’s infatuation with perfecting the time and circumstance of Claudius’ murder, Hamlet acts rashly after seeing a figure behind a curtain: he believes this to be Claudius, and impulsively stabs the figure, but it ends up being Polonius, the father of Ophelia and Laertes.
This brings about more problems for Hamlet, adding further complexity to a situation that was originally supposed to be straightforward: Ophelia, gone mad by the death of her father, commits suicide by drowning herself, and Laertes, encouraged by Claudius, begins his pursuit of justice by avenging the deaths of his father and beloved sister. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet is presented as a normal, albeit bitter, young man. Upon hearing of his uncle’s treachery, Hamlet initially seeks out justice for his father’s murder, determined to catch Claudius in a confession and expose him.
However, Hamlet’s original intentions of serving justice become lost, first when he decides to play the ‘antic disposition’, then when he sets up the play ‘The Mousetrap’, arranging the execution of his school friends, and finally when he forces Claudius to drink from the poisoned goblet. However, due to Hamlet’s consumption with revenge, all of his loved ones die until he is left with nothing by the play’s end. Realizing that his vengeful actions have, in some way or another, caused the deaths of those he loved, Hamlet’s death is somewhat suitable, but certainly not satisfying.
The reader does not finish the play with a feeling that justice has been served. Instead, we are left with a stark, bloody conclusion to what the seeds of revenge can sow. But the other themes of death are seen in Laertes pursuit of justice for the death of his father by Hamlet’s hand and as a consequence his sister Ophelia’s death. Characters who want justice: Hamlet – To restore justice Hamlet needs to expose not just Claudius but his mother as well, something he finds difficult.
He does indeed finally kill his uncle after his mother has been poisoned but only becomes king long enough to name his successor as he is dying himself at the time he kills Claudius. He can restore justice by becoming the rightful king of Denmark and exposing his uncle as a murderer. i am justly killed with mine own treachery. Well, consider the price that was paid in order for Hamlet to exact his revenge: Ophelia shunned, gone mad, then dying; good friends manipulated then murdered; Polonius mocked then murdered; Laertes driven to murder and violence; and a mother reprimanded and killed.