Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet - Family Honor

Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet - Family Honor

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Hamlet: Vengeance and Family Honor


In the play of Hamlet the main theme is the theme of vengeance and the need of the characters to protect their family's honor. This does not only have to do with Hamlet himself but is also illustrated in two other important characters of the play, Laertes and Fortinbras. All three of these characters are faced with the problem of having to avenge their nemesis who had previously hurt their family or their family's name. The idea of vengeance for the sake of family honor causes great destruction throughout the play and causes many more people get caught up in this circle of destruction and vengeance.

From the very beginning of the play the reader notices the first signs of the hate and the need of vengeance from some of the characters. Initially the Norwegian prince Fortinbras is shown getting ready for a voyage to conquer Denmark. His huge ambitions as we find out later are driven solely out of hate toward the old Danish King Hamlet (Hamlet's father) who had previously defeated Fortinbras' father in battle and took some of Norway's territory when Fortinbras was still a child. As a result, young Fortinbras aspires to recover the lands and power lost by his father as a way of honoring and avenging him.

Then as the reader goes on further and deeper into the play, the feelings of hate and vengeance also take over the mind of Hamlet. After talking to his father's Ghost, and then staging the play Hamlet is almost totally sure that his uncle King Claudius had killed his father in order to take the power of the throne of Denmark. But unlike Fortinbras, Hamlet does not act quickly and is paralyzed by his own indecision and fear. This paralyzation or the inability for Hamlet to act and take vengeance could be described as being his main problem. "According to the view which was originated by Goethe and is still the prevailing one today, Hamlet represents the type of man whose power of direct action is paralyzed by an excessive development of his intellect." (Sigmund Freud) The climax occurs when Hamlet finally takes revenge, but unlike it is for Fortinbras, Hamlet's revenge comes with great cost to all. His previous inability to act and take revenge sooner cause, ironically, the death of both his mother (who drank the poison destined for Hamlet) and the woman he loved Ophelia (who most likely committed suicide because of Hamlet's murder of her father Polonius).

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The irony is that Hamlet, by fulfilling his revenge, has destroyed the family whose honor he sought to avenge.

Laertes, who at the end of the play is the third son who tries to avenge his father, causes great destruction trying to achieve his goal. After finding out that his father Polonius is dead, and then later that he was killed by his old friend Hamlet, Laertes allows his emotions to overtake his judgement and is easily manipulated by Hamlet's nemesis King Claudius. Both of them together plan to kill Hamlet at a fencing match, but while Laertes takes part in the battle itself, Claudius just stands to watch with the poisonous drink at hand, almost like a puppet master watching his puppets perform a battle to the death. The similarity between Hamlet and Laertes could be seen here in that both characters fix themselves on murder as the only means for revenge and thus are both destroyed by their inability to control their hatred. While murder as the only means of revenge destroys both Hamlet and Laertes, Fortinbras emerges as the real winner who gets to avenge his father by recovering the lands that were lost, and even more by becoming the new ruler of Denmark.
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