The Theme of Revenge in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Research Paper

July 18, 2021 by Essay Writer


There is hardly a single play in the world that is as well-known and popular as Hamlet. One might enjoy it or hate it, but either way, one will definitely find something strangely attractive about it. Perhaps, the given effect owes much to the palette of emotions that Shakespeare uses in his play; it has something for everyone, starting with the pain of losing a father to the dilemma between betraying a friend and being killed, which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have to deal with.

The most powerful emotion that makes the play work, however, is the desire of taking revenge. Viewed from several perspectives in Hamlet, it was and still is one of the most complicated feelings to deal with. Exploring the many ways of how revenge shapes the lead characters’ lives, Shakespeare offers a unique journey into the troubled mind of the protagonist, showing how tragic and at the same enthralling vengeance can be.


The idea of revenge has always been controversial, allowing both to feel sorry for the leading character and at the same way to see him/her as an outsider crossing the line between good and evil. As a wise man, Shakespeare knows it and uses the given idea not only as a plot device, but also as a perfect foil for the character development.

Therefore, Shakespeare allows for viewing revenge as both the drastic measure that signifies Hamlet’s gradual descent into madness and as dispensed justice. Therefore, the double-sidedness of the argument adds controversy to the leading character, bringing the torture that Hamlet goes through into the light.

The plot of the play is known worldwide; a power-hungry brother of the monarch of Denmark kills the latter, marries the widow and plots to kill the monarch’s only son, Hamlet. The latter, after seeing his father’s ghost and learning the truth, feels that he is taken over by revenge and sets up a performance that copies Claudius’s, the murderer’s, plan and results in a tragic denouement and the untimely death of Hamlet and the rest of the characters.

Therefore, the story is basic enough; however, one more element at times seems to be on par with the leading characters of the play. To be more exact, the emotion of revenge that seizes Hamlet nearly becomes an independent being. Setting the theme for the entire story, it turns Hamlet into a three-dimensional character and creates a moral dilemma mentioned above, i.e., the explanation – though not a moral justification – for Hamlet’s actions.

The revenge theme gets the plot of the story off the ground, helping the readers view Hamlet as both a victim and a villain, bringing the XXII-century audience to the prehistoric eye-for-an-eye idea of justice: “Hamlet, in fact, is not represented at this point as a virtuous character” (Gottschalk 156). In fact, Kastan points out that Hamlet “is never quite as ‘apt’ as a revenger” (Kastan 112).

Theme of Revenge

Shakespeare seemed to have conducted research on personality and how it influences human behavior at various levels. This play has focused mainly on the theme of death that has been propagated by the desire to seek revenge by different characters.

It is necessary to state that while reading this book an audience may be persuaded to think that the main theme is death but this is not the case. This play has focused on death through its major cause and not in its entirety. Therefore, this book presents death as an effect and not a cause as some readers may believe.

The story begins with the scene of a Ghost that speaks to Hamlet and informs him that the present king killed it. Apparently, this Ghost is the spirit of Hamlet’s father who was the previous king of this land before he was killed. It reveals to Hamlet that Claudius was responsible for its death and thus he should seek revenge to fulfill his father’s wish. Old Hamlet is very angry because his brother killed him to become the King of Elsinore.

Therefore, it can be concluded that Hamlet’s revenge mission is motivated by the need to seek justice and expose the evil deeds of his mother, as well as bring back the honor to his father’s name (Skulsky 78). Naturally, it is expected that when a husband or wife dies the other partner should at least wait for sometime before getting married. However, in this case the opposite happens when Gertrude rushes to marry Claudius even before the burial ceremony is over.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the idea of revenge that seizes Hamlet’s mind is self-destructive. Even though the audience would probably be happy to see the main antagonists of the play, i.e., Claudius and Gertrude, being punished and finally getting what they deserved, the ending does feel devastating, which must signify the fact that vengeance is a pointless end in itself; once it has been achieved, there is nothing left to live for.

It is necessary to state that Hamlet is seeking revenge just to prove that he is not a coward. His emotions betray him and he does not see why he should kill Claudius apart from the fact that he killed and took his late father’s wife (Shakespeare). However, after the First Player expresses his concern about Queen Hecuba’s misfortune Hamlet is convinced that this character is more concerned about his father’s death than he ought to be (Riley, McAllister and Symons). This challenges him to evaluate whether or not he should kill Claudius.

On the other hand, King Claudius uses underhand ways to seek revenge against his enemies. He convinces Laertes that Hamlet is to blame for his sister’s madness and that he should seek immediate revenge (Shakespeare). However, Laertes is not convinced that Hamlet deserves to die even though he is later persuaded to kill him. His anger is not sufficient to warrant his vengeance against Hamlet and he finally tells him about his plans. However, Hamlet manages to persuade him to stop his plans and together they plan to kill the king.

Revenge has other effects on the characters apart from causing death and suffering to victims. First, it changes their perception towards life and other people (Gottschalk). Gertrude learns that all men are ruthless due to what she witnesses in her surrounding and vows never to get married again. Secondly, Hamlet is not persuaded to kill King Claudius but since this will be a show of brevity and loyalty he decides to do it just to make his father happy and prove that he is not a coward.

Works Cited

Gottschalk, Paul. “Hamlet and the Scanning of Revenge.” Shakespeare Quarterly 24.2 (1973): 155–170. Print.

Kastan, David Scott. “’His Semblable in His Mirror’: Hamlet and the Imitation of Revenge.” Shakespeare Studies 19.14 (1987): 111–124. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. n. d. Web. <http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/full.html>.

Skulsky, Harold. “Revenge, Honor and Conscience in ‘Hamlet’.” PMLA 85.1 (1970): 78–87.

Riley, Dick, Pam McAllister and Julian Symons. “Hamlet. Young Prince Takes Revenge on Murderous Uncle.” The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Shakespeare. London, UK: Continuum, 2001. 255–259. Print.

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