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Revenge is an action taken in return for an injury. In “The Tragedy of Hamlet”, Shakespeare deeply explores the theme of revenge. In the play, before the ghost reveals itself to those sentinels, Hamlet seems inactive. The knowledge of betrayal fills him with actions. The same goes for Laertes and Fortinbras.
These three characters are developed under their insuppressible urge for vengeance. Hamlet is a philosophical observer who in the beginning is crushed by the fact that after the death of his father, his mother is married to his uncle now but he is yet to be revengeful.
Only when the ghost reveals the betrayal which resulted in the death of Hamlet’s father and asks to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”, Hamlet gains a completely new way to channel his earlier disgust and mourning. In front of the ghost he swears that “the time is out of joint” but he “was born to set it right!”.
Through the character of hamlet, the theme of revenge can be studied philosophically. Betrayal precedes revenge. Hamlet alongside the death of his father also avenges for the betrayal by his two friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when he forges the very letter to the King of England in which Claudius had ordered the execution of Hamlet.
Hamlet shows us the moral thoughts and principles of existence which goes behind the choices he makes. Hamlet fights within. In him, revenge is first exercised in words. Inaction drains him. He cries out, “what an a-ss am I!… prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, must like a wh-ore, unpack my heart with words and fall a-cursing like a very drab.”
Laertes and Hamlet
Laertes is against Hamlet since he knew about his affairs with his sister Ophelia. He is introduced in the play already with certain spite against Hamlet. Before leaving for France, he asks Ophelia to doubt Hamlet’s will. During his stay in France, Polonius mistaken for Claudius is stabbed by Hamlet and dies.
Laertes is enraged by this news. Under Claudius’ provocation, he swears revenge which is doubled after knowing that Ophelia has drowned herself. His way to seek revenge is an active way when Hamlet’s revenge is first worked out in his thoughts.
Fortinbras since the beginning of the play is determined to get the lands back from the kingdom of Denmark. He wants to avenge what Hamlet’s father did when he was the king. In a cunning way, he gets his army closer to the capital.
Different Dimensions of Revenge
Through his smooth victory in the end, Shakespeare might be showing us the smoothest way of revenge. Collectively, the theme of revenge is explored in its many dimensions.
Claudius manages to get Laertes and Hamlet in a fencing match but the fate worked differently and Gertrude is killed by mistake when she sips wine supposedly poisoned for Hamlet. Laertes dies in the fight but he amends with Hamlet right before dying.
Revengefulness can also have a consoling end. But it is Hamlet in whom revenge works out in an entirely different way. He can’t simply kill Claudius without questioning the morals of the time and place i.e. he didn’t kill Claudius when he saw him in a praying position. Revenge and its various implications is one of the prime thematic concerns of the whole play.