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Statements Opposing Vengeance in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Hamlet is a Virtuous Revenger

Within the tightly plotted play, “Hamlet”, William Shakespeare devises a series of dark twists and turns for his protagonist to follow, satisfying the genre of Revenge- Tragedy, and in turn generating a harrowing story which still today captivates an audience of all classes. The concept of revenge is mainly pursued by the character Young Hamlet, who seeks a way of punishing his uncle in response to the sinful murder of his father, who is described throughout very positively, seen particularly through Hamlet’s soliloquies, one of which includes the extract “so excellent a king”.

I however disagree with the idea that Hamlet’s revenge was “virtuous” as well as stretch to the conclusion that the vaulting ambition of the protagonist was completely unnecessary; instead of naturally inheriting the crown, Hamlet much rather preferred to play the role of a public hero rather than a methodical character who would plan ways to discreetly incriminate Claudius before assisting with the deliverance of justice upon his guilty uncle, who would as a result be punished in accordance to the highest degree of treason.

To many, the romanticised figure that Hamlet hoped to convey during the course of the play is the overall impression that the audience was left with even after his death in the concluding scene of the play, forming an impression that Hamlet was incredibly brave, when beneath this, Hamlet was merely an attention seeker and lacked stability, causing him ultimately to mutate into the monster himself.

These negative qualities are immediately identified by the audience in Act One, Scene Two, which sees Shakespeare make Hamlet isolate himself from the celebrations surrounding the table, by blessing well wishers with his moody presence. This is actively demonstrated through Shakespeare highlighting through Gertrude, that Hamlet is a living contrast to the promising atmosphere within the gathering, which sees Claudius make speeches regarding the future of Denmark. It is as a result of this contrast that Gertrude commands Hamlet through a simple imperative syntax to “cast thy nighted colour off”.

The adjective “nighted” holds connotations to blackness, alike the dark colours of the night, all of which link to death through the common belief that “sleep is the death of every days life”, all enforcing Gertrudes wishes for Hamlet to move on from the death of his father and allow some of the light from the surrounding positive aura ignite some sort of spark within Hamlet. Although Gertrude tries to be as respectful as she possibly can towards her son through the gentle opening of “Good Hamlet”, her attempt of ridding her son of his melancholy mindset is ultimately in vain, as Hamlet continues to pass rude asides to conflict with the words of his uncle, who now wears his father’s crown.

The premodifier used in this example also relates to the description given to Hamlet’s father, who was also known for being as a “goodly king” by many, in this instance, being the words of Horatio. This relation acts as a complimentary gesture to Hamlet, as this suggests that Hamlet is similar to his father through the idea that he is “good” and noble in terms of how he mourns so much for his father. Not only this, but we see that Hamlet is rather passive aggressive through the aside “A little more than kin and less than kind!” in response to Claudius greeting him as his own son, which is a considerate action executed in a bid to merely make Hamlet feel included within the family; rather than isolated in grief and sorrow.

Such a gesture is obviously unappreciated by the protagonist, which almost can be interpreted as a threat by Hamlet, which allows the audience to create the inference that Hamlet is led by his temper, the fact that “less than kind” is concluded by an exclamation mark indicates rage and the volatility of the character at such a vulnerable ebb. I feel that Shakespeare portrays Hamlet in this particular light in the opening stages in the play to foreshadow Hamlet’s aggression to other characters in the play, whether they are trying to be kind to him, or the contrary. The fact that Hamlet felt able to make threats despite his sorry state also foreshadows his confidence within his own abilities to be able to cause harm to others; a confidence that is greatly required whilst seeking revenge upon his uncle in retaliation for the murder of the dead king.

I concede that in the times of the 17th Century,the lives of people were dominated mainly by the Omniscient God, who would have seen through the alleged ‘snake bite’, of which stung Hamlet’s father’s life. This therefore means that Hamlet’s actions would be somewhat justified through the Bible teaching of an “eye for an eye” which presents the idea that the sins incurred as a result of murder may be forgivable by God as he was merely carrying out the teachings of the Bible and bringing justice upon a force that was being left unchallenged by anybody else but Hamlet.

However, due to the presence of the supernatural within the play, it is evident that Elsinore is mainly a godless place, as Protestants did not believe that Purgatory existed, or that ghosts were anything other than an evil threat, making me question the validity of Hamlet’s defence, after all, should Hamlet be working in correspondence to the Bible, surely there would be more of a Godly presence within Elsinore, rather than it being as wild and sinful as it is.

Even so, there are teachings of the Bible which also convey messages of forgiveness, Jesus telling his followers to forgive people “not seven times, but seventy seven”, rather than jumping to avenge others for their actions. In conclusion to this, surely somebody who followed the teachings of the Bible would much rather be more inclined to please God rather than end the life of those he created in his own image, making his actions increasingly contradictory to the heroic persona that the audience fail to see anything but.

Another example of Hamlet’s egotistical tendencies is demonstrated through the selfish refusal to kill Claudius within Act Three, Scene Three, which sees the perfect moment for Hamlet to carry out his plot to avenge his father’s life. During this, Shakespeare includes the train of thought of Hamlet, which is becoming more and more obscured from the audience, suggesting that Hamlet has become so engrossed within himself and his plan to consider the audience, who are watching the gradual downfall of the protagonist as a result of such hateful schemes.

Despite the fact that Claudius is an open and easy target for Hamlet to kill, he explains that he feels unable to do so, wishing to catch his uncle when he is not free from sin rather than in the middle of praying, which would make him ascend to heaven rather than hell where Hamlet feels he truly belongs. This withdrawal is demonstrated through the questioning structure of Hamlet’s utterances, which end in the minor syntax of “No” to conclude the directions of his actions.

This decision is reached after the conflict which airs the concern that “am I then revenged / To take him in the purging of his soul / When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?” This extract suggests that Hamlet wants nothing other than Claudius to be exposed to extreme harm, not only through the the violent end that he will no doubt meet, but also through eternal damnation in hell. As a consequence of this, Hamlet only has his next opportunity to kill Claudius in the final scene of the play, which sees him kill Claudius publicly after taking part in a duel. Hamlet ironically leaves the play as he does enter, showing bitterness and aggression despite the change of circumstances within the plot, which can only signify that Hamlet ceases to be anything other than dark and angry, or perhaps an actor himself, never failing to make a spectacle of some sort throughout his involvement in the play.

In conclusion to this, it is evident that Hamlet is not a virtuous revenger, but in some respects, a force of evil himself, who acts as a spectacle throughout the play and desires nothing more than to be noticed by the rest of the characters. This is demonstrated through his lack of any other emotion other than anger or self-pity, or even through the fact that Hamlet communicates to the audience through soliloquies, which tells the audience his deepest plans and thoughts, forcing the audience to be collectively whirled into the drama rather than allowing them to remain comfortable as spectators at an arm’s length.

Hamlet is not a hero, as heroes often do not become the villain themselves, seen through his refusal to kill Claudius whilst he had the opportunity originally, therefore waiting to bestow as much harm as possible unto Claudius through his underhand plans and schemes to ensure his uncle suffers in as many ways possible. It is with such a mentality that a character, can cease to be anything other than a villain, and villains aren’t virtuous.

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Statements Opposing Vengeance in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from
“Statements Opposing Vengeance in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” GradesFixer, 26 Apr. 2019,
Statements Opposing Vengeance in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Jun. 2021].
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