Death, the absence of life when light goes out. In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses mortality as an answer to situations that characters find themselves in, and these situations represent various themes in the play. The characters, mainly Hamlet and Laertes, show that death is one of the better ways to overcome sorrow, show vengeance, and it’s inevitable. Everyone faces unhappiness at least once in their lifetime and so do the characters in the play, “Tragedy of Hamlet”. As a result, death is a tool that characters, such as Hamlet and Laertes, use to escape from sorrow.
Hamlet shows signs of committing suicide while Laertes’s sadness turns into madness. Beginning with Hamlet, Hamlet shows his depression and desire to die as he says, “O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt; Thaw and resolve itself into a dew! ; Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d; His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God! ” (Hamlet; 1. 2. 129-132). As Hamlet expresses these emotions, one can conclude that Hamlet is yet to overcome the fact that his father, King Hamlet, is dead.
Hamlet’s sadness grows as he is not pleased with his mother, the Queen, as she is perfectly fine about Hamlet’s father’s death; in fact she marries her dead husband’s brother. These two situations have lead Hamlet to think that his suffering will only end if he switches off his life. Thus, one can guess that, through Hamlet, Shakespeare suggests that death is a medium with which one may end his misery. While Hamlet thinks about committing suicide to end his sadness, Laertes looks for ways to end the reason for his sadness.
After Claudius tells Laertes that Hamlet is the one who is responsible for his father’s death, Laertes speaks, “To cut his [Hamlet] throat I’ th’ church” (Hamlet; 4. 7. 127), this expresses Laertes’s disdain for Hamlet. Laertes realizes the fact that Hamlet is the reason for his sadness, Hamlet being responsible for his father’s death. Therefore, he builds up a desire to kill Hamlet to avoid his sorrow but that grief soon turns into madness where he acts like a beast that is hungry for Hamlet’s blood.
Hence, one can say that, through Laertes, Shakespeare is trying to claim that death is a solution to unhappiness. Therefore, Hamlet’s and Laertes’s responses uphold the argument, death, in the form of suicide and murder, is a solution to madness and sadness, a theme in Hamlet. Losing a loved one not only leads to grief but also builds up anger, which can be taken to the next level, avenging the culprit. Revenge may be as small as an insult, but in the play, Shakespeare shows vengeance through death. This can be first seen when the Ghost of King Hamlet asks Hamlet to take revenge for his death.
In reply, Hamlet says, “O cursed spit; That ever I was born to set it right” (Hamlet; 1. 5. 189), affirming the Ghost’s plan for seeking revenge. As Hamlet gains knowledge about the death of his father and understands that Claudius is the murderer of his father, he builds up fury against Claudius. Hamlet’s rage, which leads to his revenge, could have an outcome of legal punishment against Claudius, for example imprisonment, but instead it ends up being Hamlet’s personal punishment on Claudius, which is slaying of Claudius.
Hence, through Hamlet, Shakespeare expresses that murder shows revenge which works as a build up towards the climax of the play. Like Hamlet, Laertes also reacts to the death of his own father by seeking revenge. Sometime after Hamlet kills Polonius, Laertes’s yearning for receiving justice can be clearly seen as he says, “Let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged; Most thoroughly for my father” (Hamlet; 4. 5. 135-136). Laertes hears about the death of his beloved father and in anger, he charges for the guilty party.
As Laertes assumes that King Claudius is the offender he plans to kill him and avenge his father’s death. Therefore, one can suggest that Shakespeare is trying to convey that assassination shows vengeance, and increases tensions among different characters among the play to create an interesting ending. Thus, Hamlet and Laertes seek vengeance by murdering the corrupt, which shows revenge can be gained by the death of one; revenge is one of the other themes in the play.
Lastly, no matter “who” one is or how much good or how much bad one does, everyone one has the same final destination, humans are destined to die and so are characters in the play. Therefore Shakespeare is trying to express his thought that death is ones fate. As Ophelia turns mentally ill, she begins to act crazily, which later leads to Gertrude claiming that Ophelia is dead as she says, “One woe cloth tread upon another’s heel; So fast they follow; your sister’s drowne’d Laertes” (Hamlet; 4. 7. 163-164). Like any other person, Ophelia dies as confirmed by the previous line from the play.
After seeing Ophelia’s role throughout the play, one can easily claim that Ophelia was a sweet gentle woman who never did any harm to anyone both intentionally and unintentionally, but in the end she dies. This proves that death is unavoidable no matter what good deeds one has done in their lifetime. Hence, Shakespeare shows the power of mortality through Ophelia’s death.
Another instance that proves that death is every person’s destiny is when Hamlet is talking to Horatio after he realizes that Ophelia is dead; he says, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends. (Hamlet; 5. 2. 10). Hamlet is saying that there is a superior power above all of us who sets one’s life, one’s fate, this affirms Shakespeare idea of death being inevitable. Furthermore, the idea of the “Wheel of Fortune”, a very popular topic during Shakespeare’s time, can be interpreted as death is ones fate. Assuming that the bottom of the wheel represents birth, when the wheel completes a full rotation, the wheel reaches to the bottom again. So to start a new life, one has to die first. Thus death is portrayed as an unavoidable power.
Hence, death is shown as fate in the play, which is another theme of the play. To conclude, the real function of death is not to kill characters in the play, but to convey other important themes in the play, the other themes being madness and sadness, revenge and fate. Death, in Shakespeare’s point of view, is an escape from life to avoid sadness where either the protagonist kills himself or someone else as an act of revenge which also shows human’s limitations for fighting against the inevitable death. Death is the unsung villain of one’s life.
Courtney from Study Moose
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