Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Categories: Hamlet

Throughout the play, Hamlet is seen as both brilliant and a coward. He is seen by the readers as an intellectual and unsure person, he plans but takes to long to go through with the plan or anything as he overthinks. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet's character is aroused by the ghost (the king/Hamlet's father) who informs him that Claudius is the one who murdered his father. This confession has triggered Hamlet into wanting to avenge his fathers’ death and bring peace upon his soul.

However, he isn’t sure if he should even pay attention to the words that the spirit has spoken as it could easily be the spirit of a villain when he says ‘be thou spirit of health or goblin dammed’ (act 1 scene 4, Shakespeare) . The introduction to the ghost in the scene cycles some thoughts and uncertainty into Hamlet's mind, which he rushes in to conclude if there is a need to kill Claudius or not, this shows the reader that Hamlet is either too coward and doesn’t have the audacity and bravery to execute this action or is reluctant into making a mistake that he might regret later on.

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“To be, or not to be" (Act 3, scene 1, Shakespeare) soliloquy, which continues as one of the literature's most-quoted lines. When Hamlet says those lines as part of a longer soliloquy, he is at his most sorrowful and weary. With these words, Hamlet contemplates how a person deals with what he calls a "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable" (Act 1, scene 2, Shakespeare) world.

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While many audiences take this passage as giving voice to a struggle between suicide and existence, another interpretation suggests this is Hamlet's dilemma with living in a way that is true to oneself or not. The notion of living true to oneself fits nicely into the truth versus deception theme. On the other hand, it might suggest that Hamlet does not want to go through with the plan of killing Claudius so he prefers to die than do anything. He’s contemplating how life is and the reason behind this thought is the soon death of Claudius.

Hamlet might also notice that he is in fact a coward due to the lack of action that he hasn’t done to avenge his father’s death. He might mask this part from himself but deep within he knows it. “Why this is hire and salary, not revenge”, Hamlet soliloquy suggests that by killing Claudius whilst he is praying that would just be sending him straight to heaven which hamlet doesn’t want to happen. He wants Claudius to suffer in the deepest part of hell, burning continuously and hamlet feeling fulfilled to the duty that he has been assigned by the spirit of his father. However, this could only be a matter of cowardice and Hamlet not wanting to kill Claudius as he is in an unstable state of mind, he might have started contemplating with himself to delay his revenge.

In addition, Hamlet has committed murder as he has killed Polonius, ‘How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead! (stabs his sword through the arras and kills Polonius)’, (act3 scene 4, Shakespeare) however this does not state that Hamlet is not a coward as he has moved on with this act that was done unintentionally. In this scene, Hamlet seemed unconcerned that he has taken the life of Polonius which presents to the reader the mental state that hamlet is in right now.

He is unconcerned because of the heightened emotion of aggression and betrayal that he is feeling. It’s not like he’s not conscious of the fact that he’s committed murder as he previously had an opportunity to kill Claudius but decided not to at that moment as he saw him praying. It shows us that hamlet does indeed have that conscience however in this particular situation he completely lost it. Furthermore, the audience can clearly tell that this is because of the heightened emotion of aggression and it is part of a reflex due to human nature. At that moment hamlet was not in control of his emotion but the other way around, his emotions were controlling him, his body movements, everything. In conclusion, the majority of Hamlet's actions and characteristics tell the audience that Hamlet may in fact be a coward.

In conclusion, so far with what Hamlet has done, he became over obsessed to avenge his fathers’ death that he became addicted to the idea. Hamlet at that point did not have a healthy stable mind which could have been the reason for not having the courage to kill Claudius as he wanted to take revenge but then dove too deep that he started overthinking all the consequences and contemplating the murder even if he had a perfect opportunity to go ahead a finish it.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet. (2020, Oct 11). Retrieved from

Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet essay
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