Summary: Revenge in the Case of Hamlet

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he play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, shows the mental and physical damage caused to Hamlet, Laertes, and Ophelia when grief over their murdered fathers crosses into a dangerous obsession of madness and revenge. Hamlet and Laertes are both overwhelmed with tremendous emotion to seek revenge but handle the situation very differently. Ophelia becomes a casualty of the men in her life, losing her mind and her life. The steps taken for revenge make the case end on a worse foot than it started, leaving everyone involved mentally scarred and eventually dead.

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Hamlet, who was murdered by an evil man Claudius, who is Hamlet's uncle and stepfather. After receiving the news of his father's death, Hamlet begins planning and plotting his next step in taking Claudius out. Intelligent and thoughtful, he plans his revenge, meeting the ghost who claims to be his dead father returning to tell all the details of the events surrounding his death. The spirit told Hamlet to follow him and once they were alone, he told him that it was his brother Claudius who killed him. Everyone believed that he was bit by a serpent while sleeping, but it was actually his own brother who poured lethal poison in his ear. With this claim, 'the seeds of bloodshed, adultery, corruption, and death were planted' (Haque). The problem, though, is that Hamlet doubted if this ghost was his father: '. . . The spirit that I have seen/ May be the devil; and the devil hath power/ T’ assume a pleasing shape' (2.2.599-601). Hamlet then goes on a mission to prove the veracity of the ghost's claim. After contemplating the situation, and realizing within himself the knowledge that he has, Hamlet does not doubt that it is not a figment of his mind. Through all of Hamlet's plotting and planning for revenge, more tragedy occurs. Hamlet, in fact, even killed the wrong man, Polonius. This death now leads to another innocent man gone and more revenge to be summoned. 'Hamlet teaches through his actions that vengeance will not improve a situation but can create destructive repercussions that unintentionally harm the innocent people who surround us' (Fears).

  Ophelia, Laertes' sister, and Hamlet's former love, is yet another casualty in this obsession for revenge. This news of finding out her beloved father is dead was more than devastating to hear. To make matters worse, her father was killed by someone she loved and admired for so long, Hamlet. Ophelia goes mad, dealing with the fact that her former boyfriend murdered her father and then began acting as if he does not love her anymore. She is heartbroken at the change in Hamlet's demeanor, saying, 'O, woe is me, /T’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see! (3.1.163-4). Trying to understand and wrap her head around something so unbelievable for her, she fails.

Indeed, Hamlet's plan to feign madness causes Ophelia to go truly insane. 'In his pursuit to avenge his father, he has crushed her, and in spurning her love, he does drive her crazy; Ophelia loses her mind . . . [and] goes around the palace mad, insane, singing strange songs she creates for herself, a consequence of his actions' (Fears). One such song shows that her mind is troubled with the death of her father: 'He is dead and gone, lady, /He is dead and gone; / At his head a grass-green turf, /At his heels a stone' (4.5.29-32).

Ophelia is last seen down by the river, singing; when she fell into the water, she let it take her away from the horror that her life had become. 'Ophelia did not attempt to save herself, and she was dragged into the depths by her clothes which were weighted down by the water' (Bartelson). She was tired, upset, and had a dead feeling in her body before she was even gone. She was miserable and did not want to live anymore. Ophelia was a genuine innocent caught in the middle of schemes, accidents, and treachery. 'Whether she fell into the stream by accident and was not mentally competent enough to save herself, or killed herself, she is now dead,' leaving both Laertes' father and his sister, innocent people, dead by either the direct or indirect action of Hamlet (Fears).

   Never expecting Hamlet, someone Laertes grew up with and considered to be his friend, to be the one behind his father's murder, he still wanted him dead as quickly as possible. Laertes enacts his plan with Claudius to kill Hamlet, even though, after he and Hamlet exchange forgiveness, he says it is almost against his conscience. In the end, though, Laertes was unstoppable since 'both his father and his sister, innocent people, died by the action of Hamlet' (Fears). Unfortunately, while acting out his plan of death on Hamlet, the poison went both ways, and Laertes ended up dying while getting his revenge for his father and sister.

  Many lives were unnecessarily taken with the traumatic events of revenge in Hamlet. The need for revenge was like a bitter poison spilling throughout all the main characters in the play. In the end, though, the resolution of each revenge plot highlights the inadequacy of revenge. No one could have prepared any of them for the heartbreak of losing their fathers, a sister, a true love, and finally themselves. It is a sad ending for many innocent lives and a valuable lesson for readers of the danger to oneself and others when plotting revenge. Hamlet's obsessive need for vengeance from the death of his father brought misery to his world and the world of all those around him. 









Works Cited

  1. Bartelson, Scott. 'A Synopsis of Hamlet.' Hartford Stage, Accessed 1 Nov. 2019.
  2. Fears, Rufus J. 'What Hamlet Teaches Us About Revenge: Insight into Shakespeare's Hamlet.' The Great Courses Daily, 19 Sept. 2019, Accessed 14 Nov. 2019.
  3. Haque, Farhana. 'Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet: A Study of Hamlet's 
  4. Pursuit and Procrastination Regarding Revenge.' IOSR Journal, Sept. 2016,
  5. Accessed 14 Nov. 2019.
  6. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Norton. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puchner. Vol. C. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2012. 6 vols. 656-749. Print.
  7. The Bible. King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.

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