Free Theme of Revenge in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare Essay Sample
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare is considered as one of the most outstanding works of world literature due to the wide scope of eternal human issues that it comprises. Based on the legend about Amleth, it tells the story about a young prince that faces true life struggles in terms of faithfulness and revenge. Therefore, the play is largely distinguished by Shakespeares introduction of the theme of revenge as well as his representation of its contradictory nature through the characters and their acts.
In order to examine the way revenge is represented in the play, it is necessary to define the meaning of this concept. According to the Collins Dictionary, the word revenge is defined as an action taken in order to exact punishment or expiation for a wrong on behalf of, especially in a resentful or vindictive spirit (Revenge). In general, it is understood as the form of gaining justice. The only possible scheme of any revenge includes such steps as taking an oath, making an intention, and carrying out actions for its fulfillment. Consequently, personal revenge (murder) is always considered to be an intentional crime, which entails persons realization of certain intent. In other words, it cannot be recognized as unintentional, affective or attempted self-defense. In fact, the way this justice is conducted can be discussed from different points of view depending on the system of beliefs.
General structure of revenge in Shakespeares tragedy is represented through several elements. The first is secretly committed villainous murder: that is Claudius murder of king Hamlet. The second is the spirit of the slain (ghost) waiting for revenge: Let not the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for luxury and damned incest. The third is motif of avengers madness that is represented by Hamlets intention to pretend insanity in order to mask his revenge. Another vivid representation of vengeance is the search for evidence of villains guilt by means of the play-in-play technique with the introduction of the Murder of Gonzago story. Additionally, state (political) background, especially regarding such character as Fortinbras, could be also perceived as the setting for revengeful deeds. Last but not least, both enemys insidiousness towards the avenger himself as well as theatrical mastery of the latter one portray revenge as integral part of rivalry. To be specific, Claudius intent to poison Hamlet depicts human nature in the light of personal and political contradictions. Overall, the above mentioned elements construct the background for highlighting the way Hamlet conducts his revenge.
The plot of Hamlet is built on parallel lines of revenge. Application of such technique gave the playwright an opportunity to match the options without likening them to one common model, in order to show different solutions to the most complex problem. Each of the four internal lines in Shakespeares tragedy contains a potential revenge plot towards murdered father: Hamlets line, Laertes line, Fortinbras line, and Ophelias line. Through these lines and their juxtaposition, the playwright realizes his intention.
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Laertes is represented as a classic avenger. For him, the main thing is the observance of the rite regardless of whether it relates to revenge or burial. The first words of Laertes after the death of Polonius are as follows: "To cut his throat i th church", which indicate the fact that he is characterized by fervor, lack of piety and extreme indiscriminate behavior. Him saying Let come what comes, only Ill be revenged / Most throughly for my father, defines his strong belief in revenge as the main source of justice. In the end, Laertes will be punished for his unfaithful intentions.
On the other hand, Fortinbras possesses opposite attitude towards revenge in comparison to the one of Laertes. Nevertheless, his line is only outlined in the tragedy. This warrior prince, as long as he is in charge of the knightly spirit, has no reason for revenge for his father (although he died in a fair fight with Hamlet the father). Shakespeare allows Fortinbras to remain faithful to the knightly code of honor in the framework of this tragedy. It is him who receives the Danish kingdom at last, and whom Hamlet gives his dying voice. Thus, Fortinbras actions represent the outcomes of the choice of revenge rejection.
The line of Ophelia, Laertes sister, plays crucial role in Shakespeares Hamlet. The story of Hamlets beloved, who did not need a ghost to find out the name of her fathers killer, is an alternative plot of non-revenge throughout the entire tragedy. True prayer for the salvation of all Christ's souls is related to forgiveness and grace. After her funeral, in the final scene, Hamlet himself utters the words of renunciation of willful evil. Thus the plot of revenge is steadily supplanted by the plot of non-revenge, so called renunciation of wickedness, which is associated with the images of Ophelia and Hamlet. It seems that Hamlets insanity entails hunting for another way of existence by both accepting as well as rejecting all the variants of revenge.
Hamlets line is the main line that represents revenge theme by introducing strong controversy regarding the nature of revenge. A simple and direct was pagan understanding of justice in the world. Hamlet not only has the right to punish the killer of his father, it is his sacred duty as a son and an heir to the throne. It was believed that if a man does not take revenge for the murder of a blood relative, he could not count on respect and obedience of others because of his duty of vendetta. Yet Shakespeares performance occurs later than ancient legend of Amleth takes place. For example, the University of Wittenberg, mentioned in the tragedy, was founded only in the XVI century. Thus, the action of the tragedy is happening in a Christian world, the representatives of which, in fact, condemn blood feud.
Owing to the fact that Shakespeares character of Hamlet is Christian, he faces challenges. To be precise, Hamlet finds himself between two fires: he hesitates whether to ask his father murderer for forgiveness or take revenge on him. Undoubtedly, according to the law of the country, the killer must be punished. That is to say, criminal penalties are obligatory regardless the social status of the offender. Yet it should be noted that, according to Christianity, murderers should also bear earthly punishment. The difference between Christian and pagan understanding of justice is this: justice and revenge were practically synonymous for pagans, especially in situations similar to the one described in Hamlet, while for Christians justice is considered to be the law as such, and revenge is identified as an act equivalent to a crime. However, there is only a slight possibility to attract Hamlet fathers killer to open court, because King Claudius is a medium power and guarantor of justice in the country. Thus, such circumstances push Hamlet to taking revenge in a pagan way, which is completely unacceptable to Christians.
Although legal revenge in pagan world is blessed by gods; Hamlets revenge, despite the fact that it is undoubtedly valid, can hardly be considered an act desired by the almighty God. Additionally, Hamlet does not want Ophelia to become mentally ill, but his accidental killing of Polonius triggers her to insanity and death. So Hamlet, trying to avenge his father, brings vengeance over Laertes, who, in his turn, is obliged to avenge the death of his own father, Polonius in compliance with (the pagan code of honor). Laertes selects unworthy way of revenge by defiling the sacred cause of justice. Since he becomes a killer, the same as Claudius, Laertes deserves a punishment. Thus, as it was wittily noticed by Hamlet, ... Use every / man after his desert and who shall scape whipping?.
In conclusion, Shakespeare uses the theme of revenge as the core motif of the play. Besides, he applies certain structure of revenge tragedy in order to make this idea clear for the audience. By means of introduction consisting of several plot lines that deal with revenge, he represents different variants of vendetta and its consequences. However, the main contradiction is determined by the admissibility of revenge as a justice tool from the Christian and pagan point of view. In fact, the author leaves this issue open as it depends on individual outlook and system of values.