Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

The Revenge and Tragedy in the Story of Hamlet

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The story of Hamlet comes from a long line of revenge tragedies in which a character attempts to avenge the murder of a family member. Just as revenge is present in literature, it is also present in todays society. It is always there, lurking in the darkness of the human mind, watching. waiting for an opportunity to lash out at the surrounding world. Shakespeare suggests in Hamlet that revenge is a debilitating force, and the pursuit of it can infect the most noble of all souls. Once tainted by this infectious disease, no weak minded individual can be cured of it. Revenge is an unavoidable power moving the mind closer towards destruction.

In order for revenge to truly corrupt Hamlet, he had to be an innocent and noble character from the onset of the play. Without this innocence and respected status, Hamlet would have nothing to lose, revenge would have no affect on him because the evil would already exist. There has to be a shift from good to evil in order for Hamlet to be a tragedy, and it is the darkness of revenge that provides this shift. It is from Ophelia that a reader gets their description of Hamlets character before it was corrupted. She reveals everything about Hamlet that would make him a noble man. It is in their first meeting in the play, that Ophelia states, O, what a noble mind is here oer-thrown!

The courtiers, soldiers, scholars, eye, tongue, sword; th expectancy and rose of the fair state, the glass of fashion and the mould of form, th observd of all observers (III.1.142-146). First of all, she herself states that he has a noble mind. Then Ophelia comments on how he can relate to everyone in some small way. This ability makes Hamlet the pride of Denmark, and the most loved. He is also considered to be a model for all men, thus meaning that people admire him and look to him for guidance. One can base the entire notion of Hamlets nobility on this one quote. What else does a person need in order to be considered noble? He is admired, he is loved, and he is a role model, thus Hamlet is noble.

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The nobility of Hamlet was corrupted by the power of revenge. Hamlet, although saddened by his fathers death and the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude, was not consumed by it. These were in no way the sources of his diseased soul, rather it was the desire for murderous revenge that slowly turned his heart black. The deterioration of his righteous mind began when he first learned of his fathers foul murder and and vows swift revenge.

Hold, hold, my heart; and you, my sinews, grow not instant old, but bear me stiffly up (Shakespeare I.v.93-94). Hamlet not only vows revenge, but he hands his mind, soul, and everything he holds dear over to it. He is no longer loyal to his father, but to revenge alone. It is at this exact moment that Hamlet and all his actions become truly dark; revenge has begun to consume him.

The destructive force that revenge possesses comes from its consummation. Once an individual stands in the light of revenge, there is no turning back; revenge is unavoidable. It is impossible to commit a crime or ponder the thought and not be affected by it in some way. Hamlet can try and justify his cause with the belief, An eye for an eye, but it is no use. Murdering his uncle is not his decision nor his duty. There is no such thing as an appropriate sin, or sinning elegantly.

All sins are immoral no matter what the intention. Hamlet is too intent on the damning of Claudius soul. Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven, and that his sould may be as damnd and black as hell, whereto it goes (Shakespeare III.iii. 93-95). Just because Hamlets father was murdered does not mean that he has the right to murder Claudius, much less damn him in the process. It is Hamlets decision to damn Claudius, that exposes the ultimate degredation and destruction that revenge has brought upon Hamlets soul.

Revenge is negative, but the affects that revenge produces can be far worse. In the case of Hamlet, the results were catastrophic. The first victim was the unsuspecting Polonius. The death of Polonius and young Hamlets desire for insatiable need for revenge sparked a chain reaction that soon engulfed everything and everyone around the young prince. Hamlets relentless pursuit not only caused the death of many people, it triggered the downfall of an entire kingdom.

Hamlet warns that revenge is a force not meant to be tampered with. The struggle to achieve revenge, will not relieve a person of pain, it will only cause more. In writing Hamlet, Shakespeare demonstrates that revenge is not the answer, and that it in the end solves nothing. By doing this, Shakespeare leaves the audience with the moral dilema of how to live there own lives. If the path that Hamlet chose was unfulfilled, then what path is the audience supposed to take? Forgiveness. The act of forgiveness is the only path to true happiness and salvation, not only because it spares the soul of the individual affected by the crime, but also because it delivers the offender from eternal damnation.

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