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No one quite understands whether revenge is a noble pursuit or not. For if one is wronged, it makes reasonable sense to enact revenge. It provides a sense of fulfillment and closure that would be difficult to gain otherwise. However, the lengths those that seek revenge go to may not appear as ethical. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet discusses the question of revenge and its the effects through soliloquies. Shakespeare employs a critical tone and comparisons to portray Hamlet’s reasoning behind seeking revenge and the ill effects of revenge as it can ultimately destroy oneself and their values as it takes hold upon someone such as it does to Hamlet.
Hamlet is charged to seek revenge on King Claudius upon meeting with the ghost and being informed of his father’s murder. Despite this, he halts plan of his retribution due to inner qualms until one of the players delivers a passionate speech with a story that mirrors his revenge. This leads to Hamlet’s soliloquy where he respites himself critically as a “rogue and peasant slave” (2.2.550) and asks “Am I a coward?” (2.2.571) for his inability to seek out revenge on Claudius. This tone reveals that Hamlet has initial misgivings about revenge, but these are soon dissipated as he compares his personal situation to the player’s feelings on the story as he has a “dream of passion” (2.2.552) when “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?” (2.2.559). This illustrates that Hamlet has realized he needs to gain the conviction to seek revenge for his father since he has the motivation and reason to. This leads to his plan to “Play something like the murder of my father” (2.2.596) to “catch the conscience of the king” (2.2.606) and obtain more cause for his revenge so he will not feel guilty about it since it will be for an honorable cause.
One of the pivotal moments of Hamlet’s revenge comes when he has the chance to secretly kill Claudius while he is praying. Hamlet’s reasoning on not to murder Claudius is revealed in his soliloquy in Act 3. Although Hamlet has the chance to complete his revenge, he still withholds and says, “this is hire and salary, not revenge” (3.3.79) since Claudius was within an epitome of innocence as he was praying for forgiveness for his murder of King Hamlet. This comparison to an assassin illustrates Hamlet’s view of revenge as something above a thoughtless act of murder. In this soliloquy Hamlet describes the moment he would like to fulfill his revenge so that Claudius “has no relish of salvation in’t” (3.3.92) so that he does not venture into heaven for his actions and so that Hamlet’s murder of Claudius has merit. This shows how Hamlet retains his morals despite seeking the revenge through a sinful deed.
Hamlet’s motive for revenge is also similar to Prince Fortinbras’ with his own father, and Hamlet reflects upon this during his soliloquy in Act 4. In this, he compares Fortinbras’ resolution to seek revenge to his own lack of resolve. Hamlet once again contemplates how he must “spur my dull revenge” (4.4.33) and take action against Claudius. Hamlet also changes his initial view of revenge as something to be cautious of and now determines it as necessary for humans to perform at any cost and proclaims, “my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” (4.4.66). The malicious tone of this soliloquy displays how Hamlet has moved on from desiring an honorable revenge into being consumed by it and throwing aside previous values in order to complete revenge for his father on Claudius.
Hamlet’s thoughts on revenge are revealed in Hamlet through the use of Shakespeare’s critical tone and comparisons. These combine to reveal to the audience how revenge can alter one’s morals as they seek out justice through unhonorable means. The soliloquies in Hamlet assist’s the audience’s understanding of the topic of revenge and its ill effects despite the sense of satisfaction it may bring.
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