Analysis of Betrayal in Hamlet

January 17, 2022 by Essay Writer

How does betrayal or treachery help in developing the main character? What it reveals about the characters? Use a theme. How betrayal was a theme and how if affected the main character?

William Shakespeare, one of the most influential writers in history, was renowned for masterfully elaborating themes of real life into his pieces of literature. In fact, his plays were able to transcend time, influencing the course of western literature because of their universal thematic. In one of Shakespeare’s most acclaimed plays, Hamlet, the author dissects the common theme of betrayal.

Although the play carries the name of its main protagonist, all characters play crucial roles in the development of the many layers of meaning of the intricate plot and the character of Hamlet himself. Four characters in particular play important roles in developing a predominant theme in Hamlet. From the beginning of the play to the end, Hamlet experiences a development of character through the betrayals of Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Gildernstern.

When the play opens, Hamlet’s relationship with his mother was very close. Nonetheless, after his mother married his uncle only two months after his father’s death, Hamlet suspected that she was involved in the plot to murder his father. Consequently, Hamlet’s feeling and trust in his mother were greatly diminished. These incestuous actions by Hamlet’s mother, the most important woman in his life, added the distrust of women to Hamlet’s feelings. He mocked his mother, the “seeming virtuous queen”, with phrases like “frailty, thy name is woman”, and “such dexterity to incestuous sheets”. His words not only illustrated his disgust, frustration and disappointment towards his mother and women in general, but also established Hamlet’s sense of isolation.

A young man such as Hamlet often puts his mother on a pillar and uses her as a comparison as to how all women are to behave. Gertrude’s behaviour provided Hamlet with a false sense of security and distorted his views on women. Hamlet showed no affection towards his mother throughout the entire play. It is obvious that he loved her dearly, however, his behaviour did not portray his true emotions. Though it is difficult to see, due to Hamlet’s immature behaviour, it is clear that the loving relationship between mother and son did exist.

The extent to which Hamlet felt betrayed by Gertrude is far more apparent with his interactions with Ophelia. Hamlet’s feelings of rage against his mother were directed toward Ophelia, who was, in his estimation, disguised her true nature behind a veil of impeccability. Ophelia complied with Polonius’ orders to stop seeing Hamlet, and later allowed both Polonius and Claudius to spy on her conversation with Hamlet. These continuous betrayals from Ophelia deteriorate Hamlet’s opinion of women. Hamlet advised Ophelia “Get thee to a nunnery”(3.1.121). Hamlet felt embarrassment and frustration in the failure of persuading Ophelia to care about him. In Hamlets eyes, this failure could only be explained by the fact that she is a woman. Hamlet’s love was broken and misused once again in the case with Ophelia. Hamlet’s consistent betrayal by the women in his life has added to the growing hatred of women through his eyes.

Hamlet’s feelings for Ophelia shifted from passionate love, to resentful hatred. He resented her for being the weak character that she is and listening to her father, therefore not returning his love. While at the same time, he was madly in love with her, and could not express his feelings any more than he already has. Not only is he immature in his actions towards her, but also very unpredictable. For example, his behaviour towards her during the play that he created is immoral, and rude. His possessive and persistent behaviour frightened Ophelia, for he continuously threatened her and attempted to persuade her to return his love.

Even Hamlet’s close friends Rosencrantz and Gildernstern betrayed him by spying on Hamlet for Claudius and Gertrude (Act 2 Scene 3). Rosencratz and Guildenstern represent disloyalty and dishonesty in the play. They betray their friend and conspire with the King to eliminate Hamlet. Hamlet uncovered their deceitfulness and ironically arranges for their death. Ironically, these two men’s treachery leads to their own demise in the hands of the man they betrayed, Hamlet. The betrayal of Rosencrantz and Gildernstern affected his life significantly. Hamlet reached his lowest point.

From the evidence stated above, one can see that it was all the traumatic events in Hamlet’s life that lead him to grieve. Hamlet not only lost his father, but was also betrayed by everyone that he holds dear. Hamlet could not handle and bear all the pressures of life at that particular part in time. Hamlet’s character, though extremely complex and intricate, is also surprisingly immature and unpredictable. Hamlet’s personality is directly reflected in most notably in his relationships with his mother, Gertrude, and his lover Ophelia. The character of Gertrude and Ophelia help to reveal Hamlet’s true personality. The weakness and naïve aspects of their characters exemplify Hamlet’s controlling personality.

Through their own characteristics, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Gildernstern helped illustrate Hamlet’s personality throughout the play. “Frailty thy name is woman” may have been Shakepeare’s attitude about the female characters of the play; however, this weak and naive characteristic that he placed on the female roles was a necessity to the play. Hamlet’s immature, unpredictable and insane behaviour could not have been defined if the female roles had not existed in the plot to shape his true personality.

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