Avenging the murder of a father was a part of one’s honor and had to be done at all costs. Although revenge was considered to be a form of murder, the act could be justified only if the revenger died after the revenge was carried out. In William Shakespeare’s world-renowned tragedy Hamlet, revenge was the driving force behind three of the main characters: Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras. For two of the characters it led to their tragic downfall and for the other, it led him to greatness.
The main character in the play, Hamlet, sought revenge for the untimely murder of his father, Old Hamlet, by his uncle and now King Claudius. In Act one Hamlet is first visited by the ghost of his father. During the encounter, the ghost reveals that he was not killed by a snakebite but that his own brother had poured poison in his ear while he lay asleep. The ghost then instructs Hamlet to “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” (1.5.25). This is the point in the play when Hamlet first starts thinking about carrying out revenge. After much thought and debate Hamlet devised a plan to tell if his uncle actually did murder his father or if”…It is a damned ghost that we have seen…”(3.2.87) just haunting Hamlet and trying to get him to murder his uncle. By putting on a re-enactment of his father’s death with the players, the reaction of Claudius during the poisoning scene ensures Hamlet that Claudius did, indeed, murder his father and that now was the time to seek revenge. “A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven.”(3.3.76) It is during this scene when Claudius is in confession praying, that Hamlet has his first chance to seek out his revenge. Since Claudius is praying Hamlet knows that he would be sent to heaven instead of hell where he belongs; so Hamlet decides to wait and catch him in an act of sin that will send him straight to hell for all of eternity. Unfortunately, Claudius’ act of sin is only after Hamlet, himself, has been stabbed by a poisoned sword making him weak but not too weak for he still had the strength inside of him to end Claudius’ life with the same sword that had slain him. This was a successful way of revenge and therefore sent the ghost to rest, Hamlet to Heaven, and Claudius to Hell.
Laertes revenge for his father Polonius’ murder by Hamlet was not given thought too and acted upon right away. When Laertes first found out about his father’s murder he immediately thought it was Claudius that had slain him and was ready to seek revenge right away at any costs. After finding out that it was actually Hamlet that had killed his father, Laertes and Claudius set up a plan to kill Hamlet for revenge.
“To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the most profound 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 reveng’d Most thoroughly for my father.”(4.5.131-136)
This quote shows Laerte’s desire to seek out revenge at any cost. Laertes and Claudius’s plan was to have a mock duel between Laertes and Hamlet and Laerte’s sword was going to be poisoned. The swords, in turn, were switched and Hamlet ended up with the poisoned sword meant to end his own life. Hamlet stabbed Laertes sending poison throughout his body but not before Laertes was able to stab Hamlet with the same poisoned sword ending his life as well.
Fortinbras, the son of Old Norway, sought out revenge for the land that had been taken from his father by Old Hamlet years before. Fortinbras’ plan for revenge involved him entering Denmark on false pretenses. He told the people of Denmark that he was just passing through after conquering Poland when actually he was stopping to take back what he felt was rightfully his. Fortinbras stormed in the castle during the mock duel and saw everyone lying on the ground either dead or dying from poison. Before Hamlet had succumbed to the poison he gave his vote to Fortinbras in the election now to be held, making him the new King of Denmark and his quest for revenge successful without even taking an active role.
All three men who sought revenge for their father’s deaths achieved it. For Hamlet and Laertes, it led to the tragic ending of their lives but for Fortinbras, it led him to greatness.
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