Theme of Revenge in Hamlet

Category: Hamlet, Ophelia, Revenge
Last Updated: 17 Mar 2023
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In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the theme of revenge is so prominent that it could be considered its own character. The vengeance in Hamlet is essential to the development of Laertes, son of Polonius, Hamlet, prince of Denmark, and Fortinbras, prince of Norway. Revenge is an unnecessary evil causing humans to act blindly through anger rather than through reason. Referring as far back as Hammurabi’s idea of “An eye for an eye,” revenge is merely a chain of wrongdoings stimulated each time by a reciprocated act of evil.

Revenge is set to conquer anyone who comes to seek it. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet while there is the theme of revenge, that theme is divided into two separate entities. There is Laertes’ active seeking of vengeance and “Hamlet’s inner struggle to take action. ” (Shmoop 1) Laertes is extremely quick to take action to avenge the murder and suicide of his only remaining family. Returning home from an adventure for his own educational purposes, Laertes learns of his father murder by a sword through a tapestry.

Upon arrival, Laertes finds his delusional sister, Ophelia, too involved in her songs of “Hey nonny, nonny” to really understand anything happening at that moment. Ophelia drove herself to an actual insanity from death of her father, or perhaps the rejection of Hamlet. Hours later, Ophelia is found in a pond after she committed suicide. Laertes wishes to seek revenge on Hamlet for his direct and indirect cause of his family’s deaths. Claudius is now also presented with his chance for his own revenge against his nephew, or his son in accordance with his incestual marriage.

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However, Claudius is only seeking “revenge” for fear of being found out, and hides his cowardice by helping Laertes kill Hamlet. Hamlet is a completely different example from Laertes. Through his father’s ghost, Hamlet is given the task of avenging his father in his untimely death. “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ” (Act I, Scene iv, Shakespeare) Hamlet was given multiple opportunities to take the life of his uncle, but failed to do so. Not even sure of himself or of the request the father of his ghost, that he may or may not have seen, demanded. To be certain of Claudius’s guilt, Hamlet decides to re-enact the murder of his father with the production of The Murder of Gonzago (known also as the play within the play or The Mousetrap). ” (Shakespeare-online 2) “The play’s the king Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. ” (Act II, Scene ii, Shakespeare) However, even when he is completely sure Claudius is guilty of killing his own brother, he still finds trouble acting. Hamlet finds Claudius after the play to exact his revenge, but finds Claudius praying.

With his sword at the ready, he starts to talk to himself about how he cannot kill his uncle while his father is “Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. ” (Act I, Scene iv, Shakespeare) Hamlet actually manages to convince himself to not act now, and that another opportunity will present itself. If Hamlet had only taken the time he used to talk to himself to quietly listen he would have notice Claudius’ inability to utter a prayer, leaving the perfect opportunity untaken.

What does separate Hamlet from others around him is his reason for his revenge. Hamlet achieves his revenge in the final scene of the final life. “In large part his course to the fifth act is the result of his moral sensitivity, his unflinching discernment of evil and his determination that it shall not thrive. ” (Prosser 1) His “hatred of corruption” and his “vision of what man should be” fueled him through all his pretenses into his final moments.

While “Hamlet is definitely a great example of a typical revenge tragedy” (NovelGuide 4) he is unique in the way he hesitates in his path to destroy what is evil and to preserve whatever little good is left. Hardly mentioned at all, there was another character in Hamlet that received his revenge at the end of the play. Fortinbras, prince of Norway set off to regain the lands of Denmark, which were lost to King Hamlet Senior years ago. Fortinbras was returning to win back his lands, which he did, and he did so very peacefully.

Fortinbras regained the lands that were rightly his, as there were no more heirs to the Danish throne. Horatio almost foreshadows the movements of Fortinbras, but no further of him is mentioned until the end of the play. “Now, sir, young Fortinbras, Of unimproved mettle hot and full, Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes, For food and diet, to some enterprise That hath a stomach in't; which is no other— As it doth well appear unto our state—But to recover of us, by strong hand And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands So by his father lost. (Act I, Scene I, Shakespeare) Fortinbras choice for revenge is the only one that ended up with no more murder involved. All three characters, Laertes, Hamlet, and Fortinbras, were so obsessed with avenging their father’s death, nobody survived to be able to gloat about his victory, except for Fortinbras. Revenge is characterized by a chain of bad choices with another individual feeling he is obligated to make the situation fair once more. Hamlet by William Shakespeare is powerful play that exemplifies the cruelty of revenge and how much anger and how little reason are truly involved.

There is never a real need for revenge, as more of it will eventually lead to the demise of everyone involved. Thousands of years before Shakespeare wrote his plays, Hammurabi created the first law book, almost foreshadowing the dangers of revenge. “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind”, while murder for murder will only lead to more murder.

Works Cited

  • "Elizabethan Revenge in Hamlet. " Novel Guides. Web. 1 Jan 2013. ;http://www. novelguide. com/ReportEssay/literature/shakespeare/elizabethan-revenge-hamlet;.
  • Prosser, Eleanor. "Hamlet and Revenge. " HowlandPak. HowlandPak, Web. 1 Jan 2013. ;http://howlandpowpak. neomin. org/powpak/cgi-bin/custom_page_display. pl? id=thomas. williams;cp=28;.
  • Mabillard, Amanda. "Revenge in Hamlet. " Shakespeare Online, 12 2011. Web. 1 Jan 2013. ;http://shakespeare-online. com/playanalysis/revengetragedy. html;.
  • Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. London, England: 1603. Print. "Shmoop. " Hamlet. Shmoop University, Inc. Web. 1 Jan 2013. ;http://www. shmoop. com/hamlet/;.

Blinding Revenge - Hamlet

Fundamental themes are preserved throughout history because they relate to everyday aspects of life. Surprisingly, very little has changed since Shakespearean times. Although technology has changed the way in which humans communicate, people still react to emotional stimuli similarly to those of the middle ages. Anger has always triggered annoyance, uproar and violence. Like several characters in Hamlet, today’s society experiences a thirst for revenge because of something unsettling that ultimately stirred up anger.

Individuals who strive for vengeance become overwhelmed with indignation. In some cases idiosyncratic deception and false imagery are used in order to attain what one seeks. Throughout Hamlet, Shakespeare emphasizes that revenge leads to chaos and ultimately inevitable debilitating consequences Revenge has the overwhelming ability to deteriorate a man into a monster. It influences Hamlet to make reckless decisions that ruin him and eventually lead to his downfall. Hamlet is driven to insanity by his own desire to kill Claudius. Hamlet becomes so obsessed with revenge that it quickly consumes him.

He exclaims in one of his soliloquy, “Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause And can say nothing- no, not for a king Upon whose property and most dear life A damned defeat was made” (II. ii. 595-598), feeling guilty and remorseful for not yet acting on his impulse for revenge. At this point, calling himself a coward for not having taken revenge, Hamlet clearly demonstrates his madness for vengeance. Moments later, blinded by revenge, Hamlet stabs Polonius on the impulsive whim that it may be Claudius spying on him. He feels no guilt for his reckless action, suggesting that he acted out of madness and had little thought through the affair.

Consumed by revenge, Hamlet has deteriorated into a murderer. Immediately after Hamlet murders Polonius, Claudius becomes blinded by his own desire for revenge. In his rage, Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Hamlet to England, where Hamlet fools the English into killing them instead of him. After sending them off, Claudius states, “I like him not, nor stands it safe with us to let his madness range,” understanding that the best method of containing Hamlet’s revenge is to keep Hamlet close; however Claudius’ anger leads him to send Hamlet to his unhonorable death (III. ii,L1-2). By attempting to avenge Polonius, Claudius ultimately sets up his own demise, as well as Rosencrantz’s and Guildenstern’s. If not for Claudius’ rash decision to send Hamlet away, Hamlet would have never been able to contact Norway and send the spies to their deaths by sabotaging the letter. Laertes’ vengeful decisions lead to detrimental consequences and the deaths of virtuous lives. Enraged by his father’s death, Laertes decides to make an attempt on Hamlet’s life. Playing cool and pretending to wish for a duel in fun, Laertes tries to gain his revenge.

As a result of his recklessness, the entire court of Denmark is killed. Lying motionlessly on the cold marble floor, Laertes whispers to himself, “The foul practice Hath turned itself on me. Lo, here I lie, Never to rise again,”his lungs gasping for one last breath of air (V. ii. 348-350). Only on his deathbed does Laertes realize the irony and the mistake he made by seeking revenge. This is because Laertes’ obsession with vengeance for his father’s death tempted him to plot for murder with the devious Claudius.

Treachery and vengeance, which blinded Laertes, actually lead to his downfall and make him feel at blame for the deaths of innocent people. Not surprisingly, the modern world is full of regretful acts of vengeance. Imperialist Japan shocked the world by bombing the United States at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. As a result, the United States launched a huge pacific offensive while also sending troops and resources into a large Europe campaign to assist against the Nazis. Similarly, Claudius’ killing of Hamlet’s father triggered Hamlet to seek revenge at all costs.

After essentially winning the war, the United States turned their eyes back to the Japanese who had so mercilessly brought them into the fight. Within a week of the dropping of the first atomic bomb, Japanese opposition crumbled. This historical win marked a huge accomplishment, but the US would soon come to regret their decision. By dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, the US gave away critical information as to the extent of their power. Major allies and enemies began constructing their own nuclear weapons, launching the world into the Cold War era.

In addition, the atomic bomb obliterated Japanese morale and culture, reducing the island country back to the bottom of the food chain. It would take many years before Japan could return to its former prominence. Today in US history classes students discuss the ethics behind the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan because of the death, despair, and world chaos that came as a result of payback for a small bombing at Pearl Harbor. In their pursuit for revenge, both America and Hamlet went too far, which resulted in mass killings and the destruction of powerful nations.

Shakespeare’s message has proven to reiterate itself through the years. As shown when the otherwise noble Hamlet is driven to blindly kill Polonius, when Claudius dooms his servants unintentionally, and when Laertes’ actions result in the death of the Court of Denmark. Shakespeare makes it clear that revenge’s consequences are drastic. As in the bombing of Japan, this statement is tried and tested every day in the real world, albeit on a much smaller scale. Everywhere revenge is sought after, the aftermath is worse than the beginning.

Characteristics of Revenge Tragedy

The revenge play or revenge tragedy is a form of tragedy which was extremely popular in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. The best-known of these are Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy and William Shakespeare's Hamlet. The genre was first categorised by the scholar Fredson Bowers.


  1. Origins, conventions, and themes
  2. History.
  3. Influence.
  4. Film.
  5. References.

Origins, conventions, and themes

The only clear precedent and influence for the Renaissance genre is the work of the Roman playwright and Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger, perhaps most of all his Thyestes. It is still unclear if Seneca's plays were performed or recited during Roman times; at any rate, Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights staged them, as it were, with a vengeance, in plays full of gruesome and often darkly comic violence. The Senecan model, though never followed slavishly, makes for a clear definition of the type, which almost invariably includes A secret murder, usually of a benign ruler by a bad person.

A ghostly visitation of the murder victim to a younger kinsman, generally a son A period of disguise, intrigue, or plotting, in which the murderer and the avenger scheme against each other, with a slowly rising body count A descent into either real or feigned madness by the avenger or one of the auxiliary characters An eruption of general violence at the end, which (in the Renaissance) is often accomplished by means of a feigned masque or festivity A catastrophe that utterly decimates the dramatis personae, including the avenger Both the stoicism of Seneca and his political career (he was an advisor to Nero) leave their mark on Renaissance practice.

In the English plays, the avenger is either stoic (albeit not very specifically) or struggling to be so; in this respect, the main thematic concern of the English revenge plays is the problem of pain. Politically, the English playwrights used the revenge plot to explore themes of absolute power, corruption in court, and of factional concerns that applied to late Elizabethan and Jacobean politics as they had to Roman politics.


Some early Elizabethan tragedies betray evidence of a Senecan influence; Gorboduc (1561) is notable in this regard. The "hybrid morality" Horestes (1567) also offers an early example of the genre.[1] Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, however, is the first major example of the revenge plot in English drama. First performed 1587 and subsequently published in 1592, The Spanish Tragedy was a popular smash so successful that, with Tamburlaine, it practically defined tragic dramaturgy for a number of years.

Refitted with additions by Ben Jonson, it found performance intermittently until 1642. Its most famous scenes were copied, transformed, and—finally—mocked; the play itself was given a sequel that may have been partially written by Kyd. Hamlet is one of the few Shakespeare plays to fit into the revenge category; indeed, it may be read as a figural, literary response to Kyd, who is sometimes credited with the so-called ur-Hamlet with which Shakespeare worked.

As regards revenge tragedy, Hamlet is notable for the way in which it complicates the themes and deepens the psychology of its models. What is, in The Spanish Tragedy, a straightforward duty of revenge, is for Prince Hamlet, both factually and morally ambiguous. Hamlet has been read, with some support, as enacting a thematic conflict between the Roman values of martial valor and blood-right on the one hand, and Christian values of humility and acceptance on the other. Some academics would also argue the Othello could fit into the category of revenge.

A more purely Jacobean example than Hamlet is The Revenger's Tragedy, apparently produced in 1606 and printed anonymously the following year. The author was long assumed, on somewhat unconvincing external evidence, to be Cyril Tourneur; in recent decades, numerous critics have argued in favour of attributing the play to Thomas Middleton. On stylistic grounds, this argument is convincing.

The Revenger's Tragedy is marked by the earthy—even obscene—style, irreverent tone, and grotesque subject matter that typifies Middleton's comedies. The play, though it lacks a ghost, is in other respects a sophisticated updating of The Spanish Tragedy, concerning lust, greed, and corruption in an Italian court. Caroline instances of the genre are largely derivative of earlier models and are little read today, even by specialists.


A number of plays, from 1587 on, are influenced by certain aspects of revenge tragedy, although they do not fit perfectly into this category. Besides Hamlet, other plays of Shakespeare's with at least some revenge elements are Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth. Other revenge tragedies include The White Devil, Hoffman,The Changeling, The Duchess of Malfi, The Atheist's Tragedy, The Revenger's Tragedy, The Jew of Malta, The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, The Malcontent, Antonio's Revenge, The Duke of Milan, The Maid's Tragedy, Valentinian, The Bloody Brother, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore", The Maid's Revenge, and The Cardinal.

Thomas Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49 contains an extended parody of the Jacobean revenge-play formula, titled The Courier's Tragedy and written by the fictitious Richard Wharfinger. Most of the action is simply described by the narrator, with occasional snippets of dialogue. In Edward Gorey's masterpiece, The Unstrung Harp, the protagonist, the novelist Mr Earbrass, sees a performance of Prawne's The Nephew's Tragedy, a fictional revenge play performed, "… for the first time since the early seventeenth century, by the West Mortshire Impassioned Amateurs of Melpomene."

Hamlet Essay: Deception

Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Bomb Makers who gets Blown Sky High by their own Weapons Lies and deception are some of the many actions that have disastrous consequences. For the most part, they destroy trust and leave the people closest to us feeling vulnerable. In Hamlet, one of Shakespeare's many plays, the theme of lies and deception is very significant. This play shows that every character that lies and practices the act of deception is ultimately punished for doing so by their treacherous deaths. Hamlet has lied and practiced deception several times which has prolonged his primary goal and also causes his death.

Additionally, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s unskilled acts of dishonesty and disloyalty towards Hamlet have all backfired; as a result, this is the cause of their ironic deaths. Furthermore, Polonius’ selfish act of using others to his own advantage has all polished the table for his treacherous death. In this play, characters who manipulate the act of lie and deception eventually end up facing their own death. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark and the protagonist of the play, performs many deceptive acts that all leads up to his death.

After he has conferred with the ghost who claims to be his father’s spirit, old King Hamlet, he is shocked when he finds out the truth about his tragic death. In response, he pretends to be insane. He feigns his insanity to distract his mother, Gertrude, his uncle and step father, King Claudius and their attendants from his true intentions of gathering information to eventually expose Claudius for the murder of his father. It is evident that he is pretending to be crazy because he mentions it several times to his friends. He explains to them in Act 1, Scene 5 that he will “put an antic disposition on” (191).

The word ‘antic’ means ‘clown’ or an actor who plays a comic role and requires absurdly ridiculous behavior. In other words, he will pretend to be a madman in order to achieve his goal. Additionally, for the purpose of love, Hamlet lies to Ophelia about his love for her during one of their conversations in Act 3, Scene 1. Hamlet: I did love you once. Ophelia: Indeed my lord, you made me believe so. Hamlet: You should not have believ’d me, for virtue cannot so Inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I lov’d you not. Ophelia: I was the more deceiv’d (123-129).

In this heartbreaking scene, we cannot truly say how much of Hamlet’s words are true and how much of an act he has put on. This is because he seems to know that Ophelia will report his behavior to her father, Polonius, who will then disclose the report to King Claudius. However, we can see through his corruptive and deceptive act because he denies that he has ever loved Ophelia right after claiming that he has loved her once. One could then argue that Hamlet is purposely pretending to be an insane lover. Furthermore, in Act 3 Scene 2, Hamlet organizes and directs a delusive play called “The Mousetrap” before the royal audience.

The play itself is an elaborated deception because Hamlet tries to determine Claudius’ guilt through it. The play depicts the murder of Duke Gonzago in Vienna by the antagonist Lucianus, thus mirroring Claudius’ assassination of old King Hamlet. Like Claudius, Lucianus, the player pours poison in Gonzago’s ears and soon after marries his wife, Baptista. Hamlet is convinced of his uncle’s guilt when Claudius gets agitated and rises from his seat. Shortly after, he orders his attendants to “[Bring him] some light” (3. 2. 261). This play has prolonged Hamlet’s goal of avenging his father’s death.

If Hamlet has believed the ghost during their first encounter and has avenged his father’s death earlier, Hamlet could have had a prosperous life ahead of him. However, unfortunately, he chooses to slowly analyze the truth before taking any reckless actions; therefore, this causes him to lose his life at the end of the play. In relation to Carl Jung’s Archetypal Theory, Hamlet is not merely a hero; he is a tragic hero who has died in vain while accomplishing his goal of avenging his father’s death. He is a hero who makes sure his story would be known that he has conquered the ambitious Claudius.

However, in the process, he lost everyone he loves including his own life. Hamlet is in fact a tragic hero. According to Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, a tragic hero is a great person who has the potential for greatness but is defeated. This protagonist must come into conflict with a force who or which directly opposes to what he should want. He must also suffer from a tragic flaw, which inevitably brings about his own downfall. In Hamlet, Hamlet is the protagonist who suffers from the flaw of inaction while he is faced against Claudius.

To conclude, because of Hamlet’s great inability to act earlier, his lies and deceptive acts have all prolonged his primary goal which has resulted in his tragic death. Hamlet’s childhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern both try to deceive Hamlet. However, their unskilled uses of dishonesty and disloyalty have resulted in their ironic death. They are introduced in the beginning of Act 2, Scene 2 as Hamlet’s childhood friends who are sent for by King Claudius for their services. When they first meet Hamlet and are asked the reason for their arrival, they answer: “To visit you, my lord, no other occasion” (2. 2. 8). However, Hamlet has already seen through their attempted act of trying to fool him and then replies: “You were sent/for, and there is a kind of confession in your looks, which/ you modesties have not craft enough colour. I know the/good King and Queen have sent for you” (2. 2. 285-288). Through this reply, it is evident that Hamlet has the ability to see through someone’s deceptive act because he knows that they would not have come to Denmark without a reason. He also alludes that they must have done something wrong to be punished by Fortune since they are here in the Denmark which he considers to be prison.

Additionally, Guildenstern again tries to get information about Hamlet’s disorder after the play, ‘The Mousetrap’. When Rosencrantz approaches Hamlet to talk about his “distemper” and that he should “[tell his] griefs to [his] friend”, Hamlet furiously replies: Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot make it speak.

Why, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me (3. 2. 325, 349-357). Their attempt to get Hamlet to confide in them has failed and as a result, Hamlet makes an analogy between playing a musical instrument and deception to demonstrate why his friends cannot “play” on him. This is because they are simply not skilled enough. Furthermore, when Hamlet finds out about the command letter that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are carrying to the King of

England instructing to have him killed, he steals the letter and rewrites it to command the death of “the bearers of this note,” which is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Then, without remorse, puts the note back in their possession. They brought upon themselves their ironic deaths because of their failure of being honest and loyal towards their friend Hamlet. In relation to Jung’s Archetypal Theory, both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the shape shifters in the play Hamlet. A shape shifter is a type of character whose identity or allegiance changes and is often unclear.

Their personality has changed from loyal childhood friends to deceptive and backstabbing snakes. They have changed sides over the course of their friendship with Hamlet because they are looking to put themselves in a good position with King Claudius and are hoping for "a king's remembrance" or reward from him in exchange for their services as he has promised in Act 2, Scene 2. In conclusion, their ironic deaths are the price they pay for being dishonest and disloyal towards a good friend. Another character that uses deceit often as a means of investigation is Polonius. These acts of personal conduct have resulted in his death.

Upon Laertes’ departure to France, Polonius deceives his own son when he sends Reynaldo after him. In Act 2 Scene 1, Polonius tells Reynaldo: Marry, sir, here’s my drift, And I believe it is a fetch of warrant. You laying these slight sullies on my son, As’twere a thing a little soiled I’th’working, Mark you, Your party is converse, him you would sound, Having ever seen in the prenominate crimes The youth you breathe of guilty, be assured He closes with you in this consequence ‘Good sir,’ or so, or ‘friend,’ or ‘gentleman,’ According to the phrase or the addition Of man and country (43-54).

Here, hoping that deception may be the best way to find out the truth, Polonius orders his servant Reynaldo to spread rumours about his son and to pretend to know Laertes so that he can find out the truth about his son’s whereabouts from his friends. He is also hoping that Laertes will, in due time, open up to Reynaldo about his secrets and Reynaldo can then report back to Polonius. Furthermore, Polonius deceives his daughter, Ophelia by using her love for Hamlet for the King’s benefit. King Claudius, in the presence of Polonius, says: For we have closely sent for Hamlet hilter

That he, as’twere by accident, may here Affront Ophelia. Her father and myself, lawful espials, Will so bestow ourselves that, seeing unseen, We may of their encounter frankly judge, And gather by him, as he is behaved, If’t be th’addliction of his love or not That thus he suffers for (3. 1. 33-41). Here, both King Claudius and Polonius are planning to use Ophelia and her love to determine whether Hamlet’s behavior is the result of the affliction of his love for Ophelia. Also, from this scene, we can see that Polonius does not care for his daughter because he has agreed to use her in order to get closer to Claudius.

To him, she is like a mere pawn in a chess game that is only used to protect the king, Polonius. In connection to the Jungian Literary Theory, Polonius represents a shadowed character in the play. The ‘shadow’ is the psychic space in a person’s mind where they store their darker impulses in addition to unpleasant thoughts and memories. In Polonius’ case, these two examples show his darker side as someone who would spy on his own son and use his daughter’s love for the man she loves to his own advantages. Moreover, Polonius is the representation of a failed mentor.

A mentor is defined as someone, usually older and more experienced, who advices and leads a younger, less experienced person into the right path. As a father, he gives outstanding advices to Laertes. For example, in Act 1, Scene 3, before Laertes’ departure, Polonius explains to him about how he should behave with honor and uprightness. He also admonishes his son to be sociable but not necessarily friendly with everyone. However, along with many other advices from lines 63 through lines 84, Polonius himself does not act in accordance to his own words, hence the phrase, failed entor. Instead, he usually uses others such as Reynaldo and Ophelia to spy and pry on other people’s business. This kind of behavior is not upright and definitely not honorable. In the end, he is ultimately punished and pays for his exploitive actions by the means of his own death. Throughout this play, it is evident that lying and deceiving others usually have disastrous endings. Shakespeare tries to shows his readers that the lies and deception that Hamlet performs towards his parents and his lover as a result of his inability to act sooner has resulted in his tragic death.

He also shows how one’s unskillful use of dishonesty and disloyalty can lead to death. Lastly, he shows that deceiving others for one’s own benefits is not at all beneficial as it can also end one’s life. Overall, the theme of deception is prevalent in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and many characters use this act. However, it is evident that deception is not the path someone should take in order to complete a goal. It goes without saying that our actions could create unintended consequences in our lives. That consequence may be one’s death which can cease someone’s life and everything in it.

The Corruption of Denmark in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

No nation is entirely free from corruption. Nevertheless, if corruption is strong enough, it can hinder the good governance and decay the fabric of society. It is an obstacle to sustainable development, and leaves little room for justice to prevail. Throughout the play, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, a corrupting disease plagues Denmark and the people within it.The incestuous marriage between Gertrude and Claudius, in addition to murdering King Hamlet, is the main example of deceit, corruption and evil. Throughout the play we can sketch a progression of this corruption, through disease, in the characters of Polonius, Claudius, Ophelia and Hamlet.

This directly causes the downfall of the castle and Denmark. At the end of the play, the castle and the land are taken over by Fortinbras, the final even that signifies the fall of the nation. In Hamlet, Shakespeare depicts Claudius as the source of corruption in Denmark, which slowly spreads through Elsinore and leads to the downfall of Denmark.In the beginning of the play, the ghost of King Hamlet arrives to warn Prince Hamlet about the corruption in Elsinore. The ghost tells him that he was murdered by poison inserted into his ear by Claudius. Claudius is the first to fall sick with the disease of corruption. King Hamlet was a powerful ruler, who kept his nation strong, intact and clean.

At the time of his rule Denmark could have been described as an “unweeded garden”(I. ii. 135), similar to the Garden of Eden. Claudius’ sin creates a dirty and contagious weed in this garden. This leads Marcellus to say that “there is something rotten in the state ofDenmark”(I. iv. 90).

This statement refers directly to Claudius’ corruption, as he is the catalyst of the rot and death of the nation. His malevolent actions, which bring him to power, plague the people around him. The ghost tells Hamlet: “If thou didst ever thy dear father love— / … [to] / Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I. v. 23-25). The images of rotting and foulness in odor entering the castle symbolize the contagious property of sin. Furthermore, if a ghost appears, it indicates that something drastically bad or catastrophic has or will occur.

This demonstrates how appalling Claudius’ actions are and the level power it has to corrupt everyone else in the castle. Prince Hamlet is portrayed by Shakespeare as a noble prince who is trying to fight the evil and corruption of the world. After the ghost’s visit, he knows his goal is to restore order in Elsinore. Unfortunately, this corruption affects him himself which causes him to go mentally insane and leads to his death. The first sign of this madness is when he contemplates suicide, which is sinful in Catholisism. To be, or not to be: that is the question:Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? (III. i.

58-62) He hesitates whether it would be easier to die rather than to fight against the corruption and all his troubles. The murder of his father, the incestuous marriage of his mother and uncle, and Ophelia’s supposed rejection of him is just too much for him to endure. Hamlet has just come home from university in Wittenberg, where he was taught to think and use ideals and is now having difficulty living in a world that is so rotten.The power of Claudius’ deceitful deeds has the ability to slowly destroy a character as noble as Hamlet. He comes to the conclusion that no one would willingly bear the pains of his life if they were not afraid of what comes after it. It is this fear that causes Hamlet’s incapacity for action. The indecision to kill Claudius prolongs the growth of the madness in himself.

His original intentions of the antic disposition are good but are soon corrupted by the Danish court. He is torn between the corruption in Denmark and his Noble self. Throughout the rest of the play, Prince Hamlet puts on an antic disposition.He pretends to go mad in order to throw off Claudius. However, Hamlet slowly starts to become truly insane as he acts foolishly without thinking of consequences, and often hurts the people he cares about. Polonius is one of the most corrupt characters of the play. However, we can see that his corruption is in his nature and not caused only by the murder of King Hamlet.

In his speech to his son, Leartes (I. iii), he opposes the virtue of being close-mouthed and discrete. Polonius later instructs his servant Renyaldo to spy on Laetes in Paris. This is very hypocritical of him as he is doing exactly what he condemned earlier.He also meddles into the relationship of Ophelia and Hamlet, without taking into account their feelings, and is only willing to satisfy his own goals. He does not want to offend the king or make it seem like he is pushing his daughter to marry Hamlet. Hamlet views Ophelia as someone pure, cares deeply about her and does not take into consideration their difference in stature.

Unfortunately, Polonius manages to corrupt their innocent relationship. After Polonius spies on Hamlet, to prove his insanity to the king, Hamlet suspects Ophelia of being involved in the spying and plotting that has been occurring.He tells her that “God has given [her] one face, and [she] make [herself] another”(III. i. 144-145). He tells her that she is an inconsistent and fickle person and thinks that she betrayed him. Hamlet’s mind is corrupted by the general evil in Elsinore.

Ophelia represents the values of youth, purity and innocence that are corrupted, like Hamlet, by the Danish Court. Her downward spiral into madness begins after the nunnery scene(III. i). She is manipulated by her father and cruelly abused by Hamlet. Before the scene, Ophelia trusted Hamlet’s nobility and Polonius’ wisdom.However, at the end, after her emotions and mind are damaged, she loses trust and faith in both men. Ophelia tells her brother: “"I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died”(IV.

iii. 180-1). As violets represent faith, she had given all of her faith to her father, and lost it when he died. She refuses to acknowledge the corruption in Elsinore and shields herself from it by childish chatter. Ophelia commits suicide by drowning herself. Suicide is an extremely sinful way to die, and is generally only done or contemplated if someone was truly mad.Ophelia’s spiral downfall that ends in death depicts how Elsinore has degenerated to the point that it can corrupt even the purest form of innocence.

Horatio and Fortinbras are the only characters in the play that are not affected by the disease of corruption. Fortinbras does not get affected since he is not part of the Danish court or Denmark itself. Horatio is one of the most intelligent and brave characters of the play. He is a learned scholar at Wittenberg, who knows how to deal with situations in a reasonable and intelligent manner.When the ghost appears for the first time, he does not fear it like the other characters whom he described becoming “almost to Jelly with the act of fear”(I. ii. 205).

He goes to report exactly what he saw to Hamlet directly. He is extremely loyal to Hamlet and remains honest and sincere during the entire play. He seems to be the only person who knows exactly what is happening and can accurately predict the future. He knows that the ghost will lead to Prince Hamlet’s suicide or madness and he tries to prevent Hamlet from meeting with him. Horatio does not have any strong or dependant relationships within Elsinore.He is a very solitary man, with little or no personal goals, making him immune to the disease of corruption. Although he dies at the end of the play, it is not because of the corruption of Elsinore, but because he offered to die alongside his friend.

With the fall of every character in the Kronborg castle, the fall of Denmark is inevitable. After the fencing match during Leartes and Hamlet, every main character, besides Horatio and Fortinbras is presumed dead. Fortibras sees this as the perfect time to take control of the throne and says: “I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,/Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me”(V. i. 390-391). He, like Prince Hamlet was seeking to take revenge on behalf of his dead father. Conversely, he did not delay his actions and he knew exactly the right time to take what he desired.

Since Fortinbras is originally associated with Norway, it is as if Denmark no longer exists as its own entity and can be considered the fall of the nation. Claudius, as the originator of the corruption in Denmark, is obviously the most evil, deceitful and corrupt character of the play. After murdering his wn brother to take power of the thrown, he marries Price Hamlet’s mother. This can be considered to be incestuous and morally reprehensible. Because of this union, Gertrude is now inevitably corrupt. She, like all other characters who have been affected, must die. In his speech announcing his marriage, he tries to show remorse of the death of King Hamlet by saying: “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death […]To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom/To be contracted in one brow and woe"(ii. 1-4).His true intention is not taking care of his kingdom or its people, but power and control, through the manipulation of others. Claudius is corrupt enough that he is willing to do anything to justify his place on the throne. Most of his actions in the play are to eliminate threats and secure his power. He repeatedly tries to kill Hamlet by, for example, sending him with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed, setting up a fixed fencing match, and poisoning his drink. All of these backfire and end up hurting him in some way.

Claudius can clearly be seen as the originator of corruption of all the characters. Hamlet is corrupted mainly because of the murder of his father and marriage of his mother, which was committed by Claudius. Ophelia is corrupted due to Hamlet rejecting her and killing her father. However, since Hamlet’s mind suffers the corruption of Claudius’ crimes, Claudius can be named responsible for Ophelia’s fall. The murder of King Hamlet can effectively parallel the death of the state of Denmark by Claudius. In the begging of the play, the ghost of King Hamlet describes his death to his son.Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, And in the porches of my ears did pour The leperous distilment .

. . . . . doth posset And curd, like eager droppings into milk, the thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine.

And a most instant tetter barked about, Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust All my smooth body (I. v. 61-73) He describes his body dying and decaying using images such as curdy milk, poison, rotting and leprosy. These images can be, in the same way used to describe the fall of Denmark.King Hamlet has fallen, and his land must fall with him. Claudius is responsible for both the murder of his brother, and the murder of Denmark. It can be clearly seen that Claudius is the originator of the corruption in Denmark.

His sinful deeds cause catastrophes in the Kronborg Castle, which result in the fall of every character and Denmark. His evil affects even the purest and noblest of characters such as Ophelia and Hamlet. Today’s society can learn a lot from Hamlet. Corruption has gone global; Scores of civilizations have perished due to greed and corruption.It seems it is ingrain in human nature to fall for the traps and deceit as depicted in Hamlet. There seems to be no remedy for corruption. In today’s global economy everyone wants to go ahead at the cost of someone else’ perish and would not stop at anything to achieve their goals.

As seen by Horatio, education and reason is the only remedy by which one can be made to understand the consequences of suffering of society due to corruption and malice.

Works Cited

  1. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Cambridge: Cambridge School Shakespeare, 2007.

Related Questions

on Theme of Revenge in Hamlet

What Are The 3 Revenge Plots In Hamlet?
The three revenge plots in Hamlet are Hamlet's plot to avenge his father's murder, Laertes' plot to avenge his father's and sister's deaths, and Fortinbras' plot to avenge his father's defeat and regain lost territory.
What Does Hamlet Teach Us About Revenge?
Hamlet teaches us that revenge can consume a person and lead to their downfall, as seen through the tragic end of the play's main character. It also highlights the idea that revenge is often a cycle that perpetuates further violence and harm.
How Is Revenge A Theme In Hamlet ?
Revenge is a central theme in Hamlet as the protagonist seeks to avenge his father's murder. Hamlet's desire for revenge drives the plot and leads to the downfall of several characters.
What Is The Main Message Of Hamlet ?
The main message of Hamlet is the destructive nature of revenge and the consequences of indecision. It also explores the complexity of human emotions and the corrupting influence of power.

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Theme of Revenge in Hamlet. (2017, Jun 09). Retrieved from

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