Revenge And Justice In Hamlet Essay Example (2021)


The act of revenge never fails to attract an audience. Many questions how the cycle of retaliation affects society and how one seeks revenge and the outcome of it. Revenge may be successful for others, but in most cases, it isn’t. In Shakespeare's tragic play Hamlet, revenge is the constant theme throughout the play that either ultimately leads to the characters' downfall or success due to their different approaches for revenge. Not only Hamlet is vindictive, but also Laertes and Prince Fortinbras. They all desire revenge for the deaths of their father. 

Hamlet is a man that is incapable of action. With the sudden death of his father, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, marries his uncle, Claudius, who then becomes the King. The sudden change has left Hamlet’s emotions paralyzed in depression. In act one, a spirit who claims to be the ghost of his father leaves Hamlet appalled as he describes the murder of Hamlet’s father. The ghost demands Hamlet to avenge Claudius for the act of murder. Hamlet, wanting to immediately act on revenge, hesitates as he is uncertain if the spirit was real. He tries to remove his suspicions so he can do and say anything he wants to without fear and uncertainty. Hamlet’s plan to remove doubt includes actors reenacting the scene of his father’s murder in front of Claudius. He plans to observe Claudius’s behavior throughout the scene to see if he acts suspicious or guilty. Hamlet’s affirmation of his uncle’s guilt allows him to take revenge; however, when he sees that his uncle was praying, he hesitates to kill. However, Hamlet impulsively kills Polonius mistaking him to be Claudius, who he believes to be spying on him behind the curtain. Due to this, he gets sent away to England with his childhood friends, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, who were initially ordered to spy on Hamlet. However, Hamlet discovers a note from Claudius to the King of England ordering the execution of Hamlet. Hamlet erased his name and instead put down Guildenstern and Rosencrantz' names for the execution. Fast forward, the sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes happens. This ultimately leads to the death of Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude, and Hamlet himself. Although it started off as revenge, justice was not served; the opposite happened. He says, “The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite That ever I was born to set it right!” (Shakespeare 928-929) As time was ticking, Hamlet was unable to act on revenge. Not only was he directly responsible for the death of Polonius, Laertes, Claudius, Guildenstern, and Rosencrantz, he was also indirectly responsible for the death of Ophelia, Gertrude, and ultimately himself. 

Upon discovering the death of his father, Laertes reacts impulsively and illogically. Coming back from France, he brings an armed mob to Denmark. He wishes to find out what happened to his father. However when he demanded Claudius to give him the details, “he has not checked the details of the death or whether he has his facts right.” (Mason 2018) Claudius convinces him that Hamlet was behind the death of Polonius and Ophelia. Filled with rage, Laertes wants to avenge the death of his father. Claudius, taking advantage of his state, concocts a plan for revenge in order to allow Laertes to fulfill his revenge and secure the death of Hamlet. At this point, Laertes was willing to do anything for revenge without thinking about the consequences of his actions. The plan consisted of a sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes where Laertes’ sword would be poisoned. As a backup, they’ll give Hamlet a drink filled with poison. The sword fighting begins. The plan goes downhill when Gertrude drinks from the poisoned cup. Ultimately, through his irrational actions, he ended up cutting himself and dying due to the poison. Throughout the play, Hamlet has affected his family in many ways including treating Ophelia cruelly, being the cause of his father’s death, indirectly killing Ophelia as she attempts suicide because of her father’s death, and ultimately killing Laertes. He was blinded by his desire for justice and he literally dies by his own sword.  His flaw throughout his revenge ended up costing his own life. 

Prince Fortinbras reacts quickly with reasoning. Fortinbras’ father, the King of Norway, was killed. Prince Fortinbras wanted to seek revenge by obtaining the land that was originally his father, Denmark. His revenge did not involve killing. He acted with reasoning and quickly, which is what both Hamlet and Laertes did not do. It says, “Throughout the play, Fortinbras serves to provide a foil for Hamlet. His situation parallels Hamlet's: his father has also been murdered, and his claim to the throne also has been passed over in favor of his uncle. But Fortinbras does not seek revenge. He maintains his claim and waits for his time to come. Eventually, when it does come, it comes with greater ease and greater rewards than he could have imagined.” Compared to Hamlet, not only did he gain success from his revenge, he acted quickly instead of hesitating. Prince Fortinbras obtained the land and became the King of Denmark on Hamlet’s death bed.

Due to their difference in morals and mentality, Hamlet; Laertes; and Prince Fortinbras, had the same motivation but ended with different outcomes. Hamlet wanted revenge on Claudius for the death of his father. Laertes wanted revenge on Hamlet for the death of his father. Prince Fortinbras wanted revenge by obtaining Denmark for the death of his father. They all desired revenge for their father. However, both Hamlet and Laertes caused their own death. Hamlet was too indecisive and procrastinated his revenge which led to his death. Laertes was blinded by rage which led him to act irrationally and allowed others to manipulate him. Prince Fortinbras, being the only one to act logically and quickly, succeeded in obtaining Denmark. The way they approached their revenge, led to different outcomes. Even the smallest flaw affects the results. Revenge does not do justice for everyone, especially to those who procrastinate and act irrationally. 

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