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Mandell, Zachary

Mrs. Davis
English 10 H Red
May 18, 2016
Sweet Revenge: The Consequences of an Emotionally Charged and Conflicted Quest for
Justice in Shakespeares The Tragedy of Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark
From Hammurabis code to the United States Constitution, successful
civilizations create documents with the noble goal of codifying justice. Though
seemingly universal, justice requires great consideration to distinguish between ethical
prosecution and vengeful persecution. Historically, this distinction becomes blurred when
heinous crimes evoke emotion. A particularly heinous crimethe murder of ones father
leads to an even more heightened emotional reaction, often prioritizing revenge and
sacrificing justice. In The Tragedy of Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark, the playwright
entangles Hamlet in an environment wrought with trickery and deceit. In a confusing and
treacherous familial situation, the overly analytical Hamlet struggles to reconcile mixed
feelings with regard to his mother and varying perspectives on how to ensure justice in
the wake of his fathers death. Hamlets own conflicting opinions disquiet his mind and
allow revenge to become his sole priority. In William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of
Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark, Shakespeare characterizes Prince Hamlet as indecisive
yet impulsive as he seeks justice and to avenge his father's murder; consequently,
Hamlet's inability to make decisions consumes his sanity and proves Shakespeares
assertion that Hamlet's quest for vengeance drives him to madness and death.
Hamlets complex and divergent nature leads to his irresolute behavior and loss of
sanity, demonstrating the fragility of the psyche when one doubts familial loyalty. After
Hamlet speaks with his fathers ghost, he begins to suspect his familys treachery and

devises a plot to kill his uncle. Hamlet schemes, How strange or odd soeer I bear
myself / As I perchance hereafter shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on
(1.5.179-181). Shakespeare portrays Hamlet initially as sane in his quest for justifiable
revenge for the murder of his father, as he simply seeks to release his father from
purgatory. Hamlets ironic intent to feign madness in order to obtain evidence of the
murder foreshadows his eventual loss of sanity. Following the encounter with his fathers
ghost, Hamlet contrives a means of confirming the veracity of the ghosts assertion and
elucidates, The plays the thing / Wherein Ill catch the conscience of the King
(2.2.532-533). With this ploy, Shakespeare characterizes Hamlet as confused, allowing
his emotions to overshadow rational behavior; therefore, he makes elaborate and illogical
choices. Hamlets need to devise the play within a play in order to confirm what he
already has proof supporting demonstrates his indecisiveness. His intricate nature drives
him to demand absolute certainty prior to taking action and punishing the culprit. During
the time that King Claudius plans an investigation to ascertain Hamlets state of mind,
Hamlet himself examines the relative values of life and death by contemplating, To be,
or not to be, that is the question (3.1.57). In analyzing the difficulties of human
existence, Hamlet demonstrates his dysfunctional habit of overthinking every situation.
Shakespeare characterizes Hamlet as overly ponderous and dark; ultimately, his inability
to reconcile his conflicting thoughts muddles his cognitions. The uncertainty he manifests
here and throughout the play contributes to his descent into madness. In light of
Gertrudes swift marriage to Claudius, Hamlet develops complicated feelings towards his
mother and plans a confrontation by stating, Let me be cruel, not unnatural; / I will
speak daggers to her, but use none (3.2.340-341). The metaphor reveals that Hamlet

aims to criticize and hurt the Queen using metaphoricalrather than physicaldaggers.
The playwright juxtaposes Hamlets symbolic intentions for his mother with his concrete
plans to kill the King. Although he no longer trusts women, his complicated nature
prevents him from consistently applying his misogynistic sentiments. True to his
complicated nature, Hamlet possesses a paradoxical relationship with his mother: he
simultaneously hates Gertrude for her almost immediate remarriage to Claudius
following her husbands death, yet he still loves her. Hamlets inability to resolve his
discordant feelings towards his mother contaminates his rationality and furthers his break
from sanity.
Hamlet succumbs to his obsession with retribution and allows it to govern his
actions, leading to the inevitable death of those most dear to him as well as his own. After
the play within a play, Hamlet, convinced of Claudius guilt, encounters him in prayer
and bemoans, A villain kills my father, and for that, / I, his sole son, do this same villain
send / To heaven (3.3.76-78). Shakespeares characterization of Hamlet as one plagued
by both impassioned action and crippling doubt exposes his inability to act in the face of
a seemingly perfect opportunity to avenge his father. He lets his goal of revenge dictate
his actions, in that ultimately he believes it necessary to inflict the supreme punishment
on Claudius. Therefore, Claudius must not only die but also suffer in the afterlife. Once
Hamlet overhears Laertes conversation with the Priest, he discovers that Ophelia
committed suicide and proclaims, "I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers / Could not
with all their quantity of love / Make up my sum (5.1.229-231). The hyperbole conveys
Hamlets profound love for Ophelia and his regret for the way he treated her. Hamlet,
self-absorbed and obsessed with his pursuit of retribution, brushes Ophelia aside and

consequently, becomes the impetus for her suicide. Thus, Shakespeare cautions against
using revenge as a solution for grief, because though vengeance tempts the bereaved,
such actions generate dire consequences. Hamlet, witnessing his mothers death at the
hand of King Claudius, fulfills his quest for revenge and vehemently shouts, "Here, thou
incestuous, murderous, damnd Dane, / Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? / Follow
my mother(5.2.292-294). Shakespeare juxtaposes Hamlets success in avenging his
father with the price he paid. Though he accomplished his goal, his successful pursuit
leaves his life in shambles, highlighting his flawed reasoning and goal. Hamlets incorrect
belief that his quest for revenge brings justice and satisfaction appears ridiculous amidst
the chaos and bloodshed now present in his life. Once Hamlet kills King Claudius, he
begins to succumb to the effects of Laertes poisoned sword and utters, He has my dying
voice. / So tell him, with th occurrents more and less / Which have solicitedthe rest is
silence (5.2.324-326). Shakespeares characterization of Hamlet as once ignorantly
vengeful and now knowingly regretful reveals a transformation in Hamlets mentality. He
now comprehends that all the ensuing death and murder stem from his own actions. The
tragic ending solidifies Shakespeares claim that Hamlets lust for revenge exacts a
weighty price.
Thus, in William Shakespeares The Tragedy of Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark,
Hamlet demonstrates that self-contradiction corrupts the mind; moreover, the title
characters conflicted nature emphasizes that an obsession with revenge, though derived
from a just cause, leads to the loss of all he loves. Shakespeare juxtaposes Hamlets
tentative disposition with his episodic spontaneity, revealing that his multifaceted
personality contributes to his madness. Hamlet, characterized as a conflicted protagonist,

requires the Kings death once he gives in to vengeance. Shakespeare uses irony to
highlight how in succeeding his goal, Hamlet loses all he cherished and even his life.
Shakespeares work, while a classic tragic play, more significantly exhibits the dangers of
taking justice into ones own hands and the profound effects of such a vigilante mentality
on the psyche. Therefore, Shakespeares prevalent theme supports the concept that though
justice mandates that the guilty receive punishment proscribed by unbiased law, an
emotional search for retribution results in unjust, disastrous consequences.