Revenge vs. Memory in The Tragedy of Hamlet

Categories: Hamlet

Needless to say, William Shakespeare is the greatest British writer of all times. He is also referred to as The Swan of Avon, being given that he was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. He wrote 37 plays, including comedies, tragedies and histories, 154 sonnets and 2 long narrative poems, as well as other verses.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is Shakespeare’s longest play and the one which was regarded with the greatest favor during his lifetime. It is inspired by a 13th-century-legend, Amleth, and presents the story of a young man who has to decide between taking revenge on his uncle, Claudius, by killing him, for murdering his brother, Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, or to leave him be judged by God.

The topic I have chosen to tackle in my essay is Revenge vs. Memory, because, it catches major aspects of life and humans’ decisions in life.

To begin with, the theme of revenge is present in the play through the means of three main revenge plots.

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One is Hamlet’s desire to kill his uncle, Claudius, who murdered King Hamlet, took the throne and married his brother’s widow, Gertrude. A second one is Laertes’ aim to kill Hamlet in order to avenge his father’s death. And a third one is Prince Fortinbras’ request to have his father’s land in his possession.
To continue with, the three men are representations of different types of human beings reacting to an act of injustice or crime and they are particularly interesting as two of them are completely different, namely, Hamlet and Laertes, and the third one is kind of a combination between them.

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For instance, Hamlet hesitates and contemplates too much on whether to kill Claudius or not and he ends up being killed in a duel with Laertes, whose sword’s tip has previously been imbued in poison as a result of the conspiracy with Claudius. Unlike him, Laertes acts immediately, finds out that Hamlet’s father was responsible for his father’s death, and accepts the king’s plan against his nephew, but he also ends up dead, along with both Hamlet and Claudius. Only Fortinbras is the one to act rationally. He keeps his calm and thinks of a plan to avenge his father’s death and reclaim his land. With respect to this, he tricks Claudius by telling him that his army is just marching through Denmark, having no intention of battle. He eventually shows up at Elsinore right after the massacre has already taken place, being the only one of the three men mentioned above who does not die, thanks to his approach.

Regarding the theme of memory, it is very often encountered in the play. It is not only a way of intertwining the present with the past and of maintaining alive either the images of those who died or certain values, but also a stimulus for particular actions. An example where the theme of memory appears is the Ghost’s ‘Remember me’ in Act 1, Scene 5 addressed to Hamlet. It is this way the Ghost ends the discussion and not by insisting on the taking of revenge or on murder, perhaps because it is meant to ensure the continuation of the King’s traits, values and personality through his son, in his body and mind.

Furthermore, another example is represented by Hamlet’s remembering his mother of the love she once felt for her late husband. Hamlet is completely disgusted by his mother’s marriage to his uncle so quickly after the death of King Hamlet. This fact shows that he was not so important, that she seems to have forgotten him already so that he is not worth remembering. The son is really sad because of this marriage and feels attacked just like his father would have been. Somehow, he gets into his skin. A moment that captures how Queen Gertrude moved on, almost forgetting King Hamlet, is when she and her son quarrel in her chamber. She says ‘Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended’ in Act 3, Scene 1, line 10. The ‘father’ referred to is not King Hamlet, but Claudius. She actually sees the latter as Hamlet’s real father. This scene is meant to transmit the idea that only those who truly remember the king can see him. This way, when the Ghost appears and Hamlet asks Gertrude if she can see anything, her response is ‘Nothing at all; yet all that is I see’ (Act 3, Scene 4, line 133). So, the Queen seems to believe only what she has in front. And because she cannot see the king, it means that she does not truly remember him.

Last but not least, by the end of the play, Hamlet understands how important memory is for one’s future actions, how powerful it is. Thus, when he is about to die, he calls Horatio upon, just like he himself was called upon by his father and makes him promise he will tell his story (Act 5, Scene 2, line 349).

Taking everything into consideration, revenge and memory are two themes of great importance in the play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare, because they illustrate substantial life issues. One is the impulse of human beings to seek revenge and that different approaches to I can lead to completely different endings, and another one is that memories, having such a deep meaning for each of us, are much more compelling than certain facts.


Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Revenge vs. Memory in The Tragedy of Hamlet. (2020, Sep 04). Retrieved from

Revenge vs. Memory in The Tragedy of Hamlet essay
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