The Role of Duty In William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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The Role of Duty In William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Killing a person is not something that anyone can take lightly. In the

story of Hamlet, the uncle of the play's focus character, Prince Hamlet of

Denmark, has murdered the prince's father, stolen the crown, and weds his

mother. The ghost of king Hamlet comes to the prince and tells him that he

must avenge his murder. The play follows Hamlet's quest of revenge against

his murdering incestuous uncle. The question that's left to the reader to

answer is whether or not the final killing of Claudius was an act of duty

or desire for young Hamlet. Some may suspect that the reason he went

through with his act of revenge was because he wanted to, but the majority

of readers seem to come to the conclusion that his final act was an act of


Hamlet's first thoughts on the revenge he has to perform went as follows:

I'll wipe away all trivial fond records, all saws of books,

all forms, all pressures past, that youth and observation

copied there; and thy commandment all alone shall live.

(A1, S5,L99-103)

This statement makes it perfectly clear that Hamlet views what he has to do

as a job that he has to do for his father.

In act 2, scene 2 Hamlet meets an actor who easily displays intense emotion

and passion on matters that have just come to his head. Hamlet asks

himself in the soliloquy that followed if he was a coward for not

completing his task yet. This makes it obvious that killing Claudius isn't

something that Haml...

... middle of paper ...

...on has resulted with

Leartes and his mother both dead, and himself mortally wounded. Had his

quest of murder been for desire and not for duty, he wound have killed

Claudius before any of this had happened. But since he had to first test

the ghost, and then wait to kill Claudius when he wasn't praying, Hamlet

ends up dying in this scene, along with a host of others. On the slightly

brighter side, Hamlet finally gets the revenge his father needs.

The answer to the question of duty or desire arises another question. If

we arrived at the same circumstances as Hamlet, could we have acted

quicker? Although it seems like Hamlet went about this the wrong way

because everyone ended up dead, I don't suspect that there are many of us

that could have performed this still-villainous act at the drop of a hat.
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