Summary: How the Pursuit of Revenge Can Cause the Downfall

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 William Shakespeare in “Hamlet” uses revenge and images associated with it in order to show the reader that the pursuit of revenge can cause downfall. He builds up the idea that revenge makes people act recklessly because they value anger and emotions more than reason. In the play, Fortinbras, Laertes and Hamlet all wish to punish people who caused their fathers’ death. Hamlet and Laertes are successful in that but they did it by binding their actions to emotions rather than reasoning. Because of that preference and choice, they are led to their own downfalls.

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At the beginning of the play, we see that Hamlet is grieving the death of his father. What adds to his sadness is that only a few weeks after his father’s untimely death, Hamlet's mother, the Queen of Denmark, remarries Hamlet's uncle, the deceased King's brother. 'Thrift Thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables,' Hamlet says this with anger to his friend Horatio. The wedding of queen and king Claudius and Hamlet’s funereal were so close that Gertrude did not even change her shoes and food were the same on both events. This caused a lot of pain and sadness to Hamlet’s heart and caused him to be suspicious about its haste. The suspicions that Hamlet began to have would later play a major role in the usage of revenge in the play Hamlet. Hamlets’ suspicions are clarified when he witnesses with his eyes and ears his fathers’ ghost and what it has to say to him. It clarifies to Hamlet about his death and reveals the person that murdered him, Claudius. “But this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list! If thou didst ever thy dear father love. The ghost at this point appeals to Hamlets saying to him if he has any love for his father and sadness for his murder he will avenge his death by murdering his uncle Claudius. This conversation already sets in place the events that happen further on in the book and lead to downfall of Hamlet and Laertes who were seeking revenge for their fathers’ deaths.

After Hamlet’s interaction with his father’s ghost, he knew well that he had to avenge Hamlet’s death. But the problem arises when we see that it does not come easy to him. He is indecisive, confused, hesitant. At the beginning he does not act on his feelings and tries to reason with himself and be sure that Claudius actually committed the crime of murder. “Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live”,. Hamlet begins to exhibit the argued theme that revenge causes people to act recklessly through anger rather than reason. Hamlet later on shows his inclination to his feelings when one of the actors passing through Elsinore recites lines from Hecuba. “What’s Hecuba to him or him to Hecuba that he should weep for her? What would he do Had he the motive and the cue for passion that I have? He would drown the stage with tears and cleave the general ear with horrid speech, Make mad the guilty and appall the free.” Hamlet delineates the great suffering and pain he is feeling and that no act could match the meaning of that pain and that if attempted would make the guilty people crazy. Hamlet then decides to use the play as a way of clarifying once and for all his suspicions on Claudius being his father’s murderer. He orders one of the actors to act out a scene that would expose Claudius of his guilt and only after getting this clarification does Hamlet finally decide on what he is to do to avenge his fathers’ death. “I’ll have these players Play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks. I’ll tent him to the quick. If he does blench, I know my course.” 

Throughout the play, Fortinbras serves to provide a foil for Hamlet. His situation parallels Hamlet's: his father has also been murdered, and his claim to the throne also has been passed over in favor of his uncle. But Fortinbras does not seek revenge. He maintains his claim, and waits for his time to come. Eventually, when it does come, it comes with greater ease and greater rewards than he could have imagined. “Upon our first, he sent out to suppress. His nephew’s levies, which to him appeared To be a preparation 'gainst the Polack, But, better looked into, he truly found It was against your highness. Whereat grieved— That so his sickness, age, and impotence Was falsely borne in hand—sends out arrests On Fortinbras, which he, in brief, obeys, Receives rebuke from Norway, and in fine Makes vow before his uncle never more.” Fortinbras’s decisive action not to give in to his feelings and instead use reasoning and obey his uncle saves him from fatal tragedy. Laertes son of Polonius just like Hamlet does not fall into such luck as that of Fortinbras.

 When Hamlet kills Polonius, Laertes finds himself in the same position as Hamlet and vows to avenge his father’s death. Laertes, like Hamlet, has succumbed to his feelings and lost control of his reason thus complimenting the use of revenge in Hamlet as his downfall. How came he dead? I’ll not be juggled with. To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation. To this point I stand that both the worlds I give to negligence. Let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father.” 

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