Hamlet: Moral Order

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Hamlet: Moral Order

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, a very clear moral order is established as

the protagonist, Hamlet, completes his journey through the phases which

define a Shakespearean tragedy. The play begins with Hamlet encountering

his father's ghost, at which point he learns his father had in fact been

murdered by his own brother, Claudius. It is Hamlet's wish to avenge his

father that causes all other moral dilemmas in the play, and this is what

defines the play's particular moral order: As the play progresses, the

gravity and seriousness of Claudius sins lessen, and Hamlet's grow,

although never reaching the moral plateau on which Claudius rests. In the

beginning of the play, Hamlet is morally "in the right", always taking

precautions to ensure this remains so. Claudius, on the other hand, not

only murders Hamlet's father, but then plots to do away with Hamlet as soon

as he feels threatened. As the play progresses, Hamlet continues

attempting to right the original wrong, but only succeeds at the finish,

with Claudius' death. Hamlet's words in Act III, Scene IV -- "thus bad

begins, and worse remains behind" illustrate the moral order well; the

actions against him were wrong, but, to a lesser extent, so was his revenge.

Near the start of the play, The Ghost tells Hamlet of the crime

committed by Claudius. When Hamlet finds out his father was murdered by

his own brother, who then stole his wife and crown, he immediately commits

himself to avenging the murder; "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as

swift/As meditation or the thoughts of love/May sweep to my revenge." At

this point, Hamlet is completely justified in his feelings, and most would

agree that his revenge is morally right. Although the act of murder itself

is wrong, an "eye for an eye" almost wholly justifies it. The gravity of

Claudius' crime grows when one considers that all the deaths throughout the

play would not have come if it were not the murder. The crime itself is,

in a sense, worse because of the circumstances; not a simple murder, but

the murder of one's brother wholly for personal gain, his crown and queen.

It is this which balances out any morally wrong actions Hamlet may take.

Hamlet, on the other hand, begins the play as a very rational and

intelligent man. Although it is shown he can be impulsive and rash, his

rationality wins out - at least in the beginning of the play. When seeing

his father's ghost, he unquestionably accepts all he hears as truth, but

doesn't act on it until he can verify it in some way.
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