The Methods of Revenge in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Categories: Hamlet

Hamlet by William Shakespeare has been known to be one of the greatest literary works of all time. Shakespeare does a great job showing us the problems of human nature and the analysis of human action. When reading the famous literary drama one of the main questions one asks is “Why does Hamlet hesitate?” “Why does he wait so long to take action and avenge his father’s death and kill Claudius the one who murdered him?” Though one might think it is that simple for Hamlet, we have to consider a couple of things.

Let’s begin with Hamlet’s lack of emotional strength. He first arrived back in Denmark with the horrible news of his father being dead in addition to his mother marrying his father’s brother Claudius. This was a major cause of what provokes Hamlet’s change in behavior. In act one Hamlet states, “O that this too sullied flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew!” (I.

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ii 129-130) uncovering to the audience how emotionally unstable he is as he wishes that his skin would dissolve and resolve so he would not have to deal with what is happening around him. Though I could not imagine what it would feel like to lose a mother or a father, Hamlet would rather be dead and feels that everything in his world is pointless and comparing it to an “unweeded garden” (I. ii 135) rotten and worthless. Hamlet considers, “self-slaughter” (I. ii 132) but does not have the courage to do so due to his fear of the afterlife that has to do with his religious value.

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In addition, Hamlet has a shortcoming of will. A spirit appears to him who portrays the figure of his father to tell him, “the serpent that did the sting thy father’s life / Now wears his crown” (I. v 39-40) which then Hamlet feels overpowered with this horrific news and promises the spirit that he will seek revenge on Claudius. Although heaven and hell are giving him all the right reasons to kill Claudius, Hamlet still hesitates and believes that the spirit might have been sent from the devil to persuade him to commit a crime when he states,” The spirit I have seen / May be the devil: and the devil hath power / T’ assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps / out of my melancholy / As he is very potent with such spirits, / Abuses me to damn me” (II. ii 540 - 545). During Shakespeare’s time, it has been known that apparitions were nonexistent. What men and women would see were nothing but an illusion and often were in disguise that would portray the image of their loved ones, sent from the devil so that they could sin. This then prompts Hamlet to create a play that will depict his father’s death exactly to see the reaction of Claudius therefore confessing his murder and giving Hamlet the confirmation that the spirit was telling the truth. Hamlet creates this play within a play that in result gives Hamlet the validation that Claudius is the murder and must avenge his father’s death. Claudius once seeing the scene of the “Murder of Gonzago” when the player king pours the poison in his brother's ear, suddenly stands up with distraught and yells, “give me some light: away!” (III. ii 239)

Hamlet after the play is then informed that his mother would like to speak with him in her closet. As he is headed out he runs into Claudius who is praying and confesses his bloody murder to God. Hamlet continues to hesitate and states, “A villain kills my father; and for that, / I, his sole son, do this same villain send / To heaven” meaning that he believes as Claudius is confessing his sins if he murders him he will have forgiveness and the path way to heaven. Hamlet so invested into his thoughts of overthinking he misses the part where Claudius confesses, “But, O, what form of prayer / Can serve my turn? “Forgive me my foul murder”? / That cannot be: since I am still possess’d / Of those effects for which I did the murder, / My crown, mine own ambition and my queen” implying that though he did kill his brother he does not lament doing so and everything he has possessed from doing so. This however does not give Claudius the golden ticket to heaven and Hamlet passes up the great opportunity to kill him due to his overwhelmed of emotions that causes him to overthink everything he should and should not do.

Losing a beloved one is a powerful influence that causes one to subconsciously feel depressed, suicidal, and troubled in their thoughts. Shakespeare uses great detail of the thought process of a man attempting to make decisions regarding critical steps in his life. This helps us understand that Hamlet’s hardships cause uncertainty and the reasons behind his continued delay. Though several might believe that Hamlet was simply overthinking and could’ve easily killed Claudius, we learn that Hamlet was a person who constantly needed evidence and reassurance for him to take action.

In Hamlet By William Shakespeare, Fortinbras, the Norwegian prince serves as the most important foil of Hamlet as both men have lost their fathers and are seeking retribution. The distinction is that Hamlet’s father King Hamlet had killed Fortinbras’s father and took some of his Norwegian territories. Unlike Hamlet who constantly sat around contemplating life and death due to his hardships, Fortinbras took action and created an army to reclaim Norway’s lost territories. Shakespeare uses the character of Fortinbras to provide us with actions and emotions within which we are able to compare those of Hamlet and better reveal Hamlet’s own character.

Fortinbras is first introduced when Horatio is warning hamlet that, “young Fortinbras, / of unimproved mettle hot and full / Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there…As it doth well appear unto our states / But to recover of us, by strong hand…So by his father lost: and this, I take it / Is the main motive of our preparations, / The source of this our watch and the chief head / Of this post-haste and romance in the land” (I. I 95-105) Horatio is very concerned about Fortinbras of what he might do. We begin to learn that even though he is on his own raising an army he is very much determined and assure of himself. Claudius then mentions the young prince and states that he is unsure of how strong Fortinbras is. He is hesitant of whether Fortinbras is attempting to underestimate him. He then sends Cornelius and Voltimand to deliver a message to Fortinbras’s uncle to inform him about his bold attempt to attack hoping to stop him from doing so. Voltimand then returns and tells the queen, “He truly found / It was against your highness: whereat griev’d, / That so his sickness, age and impotence / was falsely borne in hand, sends out arrests / On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys;” (II. ii 66-68) as soon as the king of Norway found out what his nephew Fortinbras was up to he had sent out messengers for him to be stopped. The king was upset and disappointed in Fortinbras for taking advantage of his sickness and being old and had him arrested. He then swore to his uncle that he by no means threaten Denmark again. This shows us how much Fortinbras respects his uncle and how close he is with him, which Hamlet has issues being close with anyone in his family as he is trying to figure out how to solve his own family issues.

In act four Fortinbras has sent out one of his captains to ask permission to pass through Denmark so that he can overcome a polish land in order to receive some territory and make his father proud. The captain meets Hamlet and questions him. In this discussion, the Captain explains to Hamlet that though Poland may be a pointless little piece of land they are still going to conquer it. Hamlet is shocked that a war could be fought over something worthless as a little piece of land. He expresses, “This is th’ imposthume of much wealth and peace, / That inward breaks, and shows no cause without” (IV. iv 27-28) meaning that this is what happens when countries are so wealthy and have so much peace. He continues that this is an example of an abscess growing inside of someone that then pops and kills them and nobody knows the reason why. Once the Captain leaves, Hamlet is alone and says to himself that all that he sees is demonstrating how wrong he is and how little courage he has to go on with his revenge. He compares himself to Fortinbras and states, “Witness this army of such mass and charge / Led by a delicate and tender prince, / Whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d” (IV. v 47-49) meaning that Fortinbras a prince who is delicate and tender has all the motivation and determination to raise and lead his army and is filled with the desire to even put his life at risk over something so small just to make his father proud. He has shame in himself for being a son to a father whose life was taken away from him and who has let his emotions and thoughts affect him from taking any action.

Finally in act six scene two as Hamlet is dying he asks Horatio to not commit suicide due to everything that is going on. Rather he needs him to live on and tell his story and how he wishes to have Fortinbras become king. Fortinbras walking asks Horatio what it is going on which Horatio responds that what he sees is a huge tragedy. Horatio tells him and his men to display these corpses on a high platform and let him tell the world as to what it is that happened. Fortinbras proposes to begin this right away and is very sad that this is what occurred He believes that he has the right to claim this kingdom and this is his chance to do so. He wants Hamlet to be carried out like a soldier on stage and believes that he would have been a great king if he had the opportunity. He wants the soldiers outside to fire their guns with military music in honor of Hamlet.

Fortinbras as a foil for Hamlet provides him with one type of example to follow. Shakespeare shows us how much Fortinbras was needed in the storyline and how important he is to the resolution of the corruption created. In spite of the fact that both Hamlet and Fortinbras lost their fathers, Shakespeare utilized him to show us how courageous and determined he was to make his father proud while Hamlet was overwhelmed with grief that turned him weak. Hamlet having the strength to act at last unfortunately turning into a huge bloody tragedy, helps us understand the real importance of Fortinbras. Thanks to Hamlet, the kingdom of Denmark has now been given to a good-hearted noble king like Fortinbras who will bring peace and honor.

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

The Methods of Revenge in Shakespeare's Hamlet essay
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