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Chen 1 The Search for Justice in Hamlet

Sunny Chen Ms. Wilson AP English Literature and Composition 14 November 2013

I have read and understand the sections in the Student Handbook regarding Mason High School's Honesty/Cheating Policy. By affixing this statement to the title page of my paper, I am certifying that I have not cheated or plagiarized in the process of completing this assignment. If it is found that cheating and/or plagiarism did take place in the writing of this paper, I understand the possible consequences of the act, which could include a "0" on the paper, as well as an "F" as a final grade in the course.

In a novel by William Styron, a father tells his son that life "is a search for justice." Choose a character from a novel or play who responds in some significant way to justice or injustice. Then write a well-developed essay in which you analyze the character's understanding of justice, the degree to which the character's search or justice is successful, and the significance of this search for the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

Chen 2 Sunny Chen Ms. Wilson AP English Literature and Composition 14 November 2013 The Search for Justice in Hamlet In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the titular character, Hamlets understanding of justice is based on what he believes is right by God and his country; however, his actions to undertake righteous revenge leads his ultimate downfall through the other characters seeking the exact same justicethis full-circle search becomes the driving force of the entire play. Hamlets understanding of justice and justification of revenge comes from the two central dogmas of his timethe divine right of kings and the Great Chain of Being. While his plot to kill Claudius may come from a personal vendetta from Claudius killing his father, his more prevalent reason behind his actions is to remove the rot in the state of Denmark (4.1.95). Through the idea of the Great Chain of Being, the only way to remove the rot is to remove the cause, which Hamlet has identified to be Claudius. By killing Hamlet Sr. Claudius has shaken up the Great Chain of Being and insulted the divine right of kingsan act that could be paralleled to killing God himselfand therefore has caused the decay in the country. This reasoning leads Hamlet to believe that he is righteous in condemning Claudius soul to be as damned and black/As hell, where to it goes after Claudius dies as a consequence of his actions (3.3.95). Through this, Hamlet believes that his act of revenge is justified on a larger scale than his own. Not only does Hamlet believe that he is acting for his country, but that he is acting for God as well. When he happens upon the secret letter sentencing him to death in England, he replaces it with his own directions to kill his friends, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern. While this

Chen 3 may seem to be a premeditated murdera mortal sinHamlet justifies his actions through his finding of his fathers signet (5.1.54). He takes this, a symbol of the monarchy and therefore a symbol of God, as a command from God to send Rosencrantz and Gildenstern to their deaths. Hamlets belief that he is an instrument of God is also shown through his reasoning behind Rosencrantz, Gildenstern, and Polonius deaths. He blames Polonius death on his own nosiness, that thou findst to be too busy is some danger (3.4.34). Even though Hamlet does not know if Rosencrantz and Gildenstern knew of the contents of the letter, he claims their deaths were by their own insinuationthat is, betraying him by working with King Claudius (5.2.63). Therefore he sees himself as one acting out Gods judgment on those who have done him, the throne, and the country wrong. However, even with this seemingly infallible reasoning, Hamlets agonizing indecisiveness is what causes his own downfall. He does not want to condemn himself to hell for unjustly killing the current king, nor does he not want to enact justice on the person who is destroying the country from the inside. This causes him to engage in the same activities, like spying, as Polonius and Claudius, the latter of which he already calls remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain (2.2.43-44). He puts on his antic disposition to uncover the truth behind his fathers death (1.5.174). He presents the play in a play to see if Claudius was the murderer. He forges a letter sentencing his former friends to their deaths. In his prolonged search for true justice he begins to lose his own sense of morality, which eventually leads to the other characters discovering his motives. They, believing that they are acting out for the greater good, begin to hatch plots to kill Hamlet, coming full circle in reasoning for Denmarks health and Englands too to justify their actions (5.2.22). All of the characters ideas of justice are quite simply, the same, and it is the same justice that brings them all to their deaths.

Chen 4 Revenge and justicethese are two things both prevalent and interchanged in Hamlet. Throughout the story, Hamlet continues to seek out justification behind his motives. He bases his idea of justice around the Great Chain of Being and the divine right of kings, and he grounds the murders of Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Gildenstern behind orders from God. However, while Hamlets revenge is the focus of the play, it is all the characters searches for justice that creates the driving force of the story, showing that even the desire for righteous action can ultimately result in depravity.

Chen 5 Works Cited Jago, Carol, et al. Literature & Composition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011. Print. 14 November 2013. Wheeler, Dr. L. Kip. The Chain of Being: Tillyard in a Nutshell. 20 August 2013. Web. 14 November 2013. <>.