Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

The Brutality of Hamlet in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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Having to enter and act in the brutal world of his uncle, Hamlet becomes a creature of that To what extent is this an accurate assessment of the character of Hamlet by the end of the play?

Hamlet, by the end of the play, had become a creature of his uncles brutal world to a certain extent. However, he was only born into this nature through the visitation of his fathers ghost. Hamlets knowledge of the murder and his fathers demand for revenge. In this Shakespearian tragedy, revenge is the main theme explored among many others. And deflects the Elizabethan society, its values and beliefs about revenge.

In Hamlets course of revenge, Shakespeare juxtaposes him with the two characters Laertes and Fortinbras, attempting to show the differences in achieving revenge, revealing Hamlet as the weaker avenger. Brutal refers to a person as being savagely or coarsely cruel, merciless and harsh. Hamlet was merciless particularly in killing Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. However, he was not savage or fierce, nor was he severely cruel and harsh. Claudius on the other hand was harsh, merciless and savage going to any lengths to be in and stay in power by killing the king, marrying the queen and plotting to kill through various means his largest threat, Hamlet.

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The Elizabethan society believed revenge to be a crime against the state and a sin against their Christian faith; nonetheless, Shakespeare used the idea of private revenge through the character of Hamlet, as the revenge tragedy was popular with the audience due to its violence, action and suspense. Hamlet is a play that explores the nature and consequences of revenge.

I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in Hamlet speaks to Ophelia of his sinfulness in desiring revenge for his fathers death and what is rightfully his the throne. However he believes that in his circumstance his sins become justifiable and honourable.

Some viewers of the play believe that Shakespeare attempted to attack the idea of revenge in order to present a view that avengers are morally wrong. Shakespeare explores the dilemma facing the good man, Hamlet, forced to act in an evil world however the audience is played in such a way as to feel it was right for Hamlet to kill the murderer of his father. Whilst this idea of revenge challenges Elizabethan morals and Christianity, Shakespeare used it to intrigue his audience.

When relating Hamlets mission to that of Laertes, we see that Hamlet is rather weak as an avenger compared to Laertes thoughtless, raged actions. It can also be seen that Hamlet never intended to be brutal, rather he just wanted to fulfil his fathers request for revenge. Unlike Hamlet who bides time to discover Claudius guilt, Laertes rushes in to avenge his fathers and sisters death and is prepared to act regardless of the consequences in his life and the after life. That both the worlds I give to negligence, /let come what comes, only Ill be revenged/ most thoroughly for my father.

Hamlet however is concerned about the possible consequences of his actions, particularly in the afterlife, and so justifies his procrastination. But that the dread of something after death, / the undiscovered country from whose bourn/ no traveller returns, puzzles the will, / and makes us rather bear those ills we have/ then fly to others that we know not of? Therefore Laertes is portrayed to be an avenger with a narrow sense of purpose, basically acting on impulse quite different to Hamlet who procrastinates and establishes a broader sense of purpose.

Hamlets dilatoriness can be viewed as him taking into consideration or doubting the moral rightness of killing for revenge, coming to a conclusion that in his circumstance it may be deemed acceptable. He that hath killed my king and whored my mother, / popped in between the election and my hopes, / thrown out his angle for my proper life, / and with such cozenage ist not perfect conscience/ to quit him with this arm?

Laertes on the other hand does not question his or societies morals in taking revenge, he merely acts without due consideration as when asked by Claudius, What [he] would undertake/ to show [himself] in deed [his] fathers son/ more than in words, Laertes replied, To cut his throat Ithchurch. This statement opposes Elizabethan region, values and law. Hamlet and Laertes are very distinguishable in their approach to revenge with the character of Laertes proving Hamlet to be less brutal than him.

Shakespeare also juxtaposes Fortinbras and Hamlet, contrasting their individual actions and purpose of undertaking revenge. Hamlet compares himself to the dedication and vengeance of Fortinbras, realising he is somewhat of a coward, which would explain the time taken to complete his duty.

In Hamlets soliloquy, all the reasons are listed as to why he should take revenge however he discovers that he is quite the opposite to Fortinbras who is motivated, will stop at nothing, and ready for battle yet has not reached this piece of territory that is not worth fighting for nor holds the capacity to even burry the army on. But greatly to find quarrel in a straw/ when honours at the stake. How stand I then,/ that have a father killed, a mother stained, / excitements of my reason and my blood,/ and let all sleep, while to my shame I see the imminent death of twenty thousand men.

Hamlet is ashamed of himself as he has such a great cause for revenge and has taken no action upon as opposed to Fortinbras and his army. He now finds himself with another example quite the reverse to his character and another reason for pursuit. Hamlet undergoes a battle between honour and conscience but realises like Fortinbras, it is not the cause that counts, the honour and pride upheld and gained is the most important factor. Oh from this time forth/my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth.

Hamlet finds himself in resolute and once again we see him take certain steps to be particularly brutal towards Claudius. The contrast between these two characters is that Hamlet weighs up the worth of all actions whereas Fortinbras, like Laertes, mindlessly rushed to avenge his fathers death by acquiring useless land. This comparison also shows that Hamlet is weak, not necessarily physically but mentally and therefore is not as brutal as Fortinbras.

If Claudius character is what Hamlets brutality is being measured against, whereby the actions Claudius indulged himself in were the killing of the king and plotting against Hamlet with the means of killing him, then Hamlet by no means is brutal compared to his uncles selfish deeds. However if Hamlets killing of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and his treatment of Ophelia, were to be measured in terms of ruthlessness in regards to his vengeance, then yes Hamlet would be deemed brutal.

As the audience learns early in the play, Hamlet is a man on a mission, caring about nothing or no one except his purpose. Yea, from the table of my memory/ Ill wipe away all trivial fond records, /all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past This statement accounts for Hamlets murders as these men were merely in the way, as well as his antic disposition and hence his mistreatment of Ophelia. But what one must remember is that Ophelia became a victim of her fathers plan and therefore it is no wonder why she was neglected by Hamlet. Hamlets murder of the three gentlemen reveals that he was merciless however he excuses this by saying it was their own scheming they fell victim to.

His pitilessness shows through his reaction to killing Polonius. Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell. /I took thee for thy better. Hamlet also felt no guilt toward Rosencrantz and Guildensterns deaths as they supposedly enjoyed the work they did for Claudius and so deserved to die. As for Claudius death, is it not natural for Hamlet to want to kill him the same way his father died without repentance, in a more horrid hent.

However Claudius death does not arise from Hamlets actions only, but like the other men before him he fell victim to his own plans as Laertes points out. He is justly served, it is a poison tempered by himself. Therefore whilst these murders were initially performed by Hamlet, the victims were destroyed through their own plotting. Is it not true to say then that although Hamlet held one aspect of brutality, being merciless, he was not in actual fact brutal?

Hamlet is brutal to the extent that he is merciless however he did not enter completely into his uncles cruel, harsh and savage world. To a certain extent, Hamlet was forced into a world of treachery through the selfish actions taken upon by Claudius, that being the murder of the king, the marriage to the queen and in doing so the theft of the throne from Hamlet. As discussed before, after the visitation of the ghost, Hamlet committed himself to avenging his fathers death, which seemed like justice in his mind.

However, Shakespeares underlying comparisons between Laertes, Fortinbras and Hamlet, discovers that Hamlet is not the man to be savage, fierce or particularly harsh in taking revenge. Rather that he was forever thinking about his actions, procrastinating and weighing up all costs and consequences. Hamlet undoubtedly played a part in the murders of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern however their deaths also payed tribute to themselves.

As for measuring Hamlet against his uncle, Claudius is indubitably brutal and hence his character proves Hamlet to be otherwise, as he does not succumb to all the characteristics of brutality. Hamlet is brutal to the extent that an individual responder believes. However, this argument based on certain facts attempts to show that he was only acting in accordance to what he believed was morally and circumstantially right. Hamlet revealed only one aspect of brutality from his character, that being mercilessness. Therefore, how can a person, or character, be judged on one component of an entire definition? Hamlet was not entirely brutal, however he was very vengeful.

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