The Theme of Revenge in William Shakespeare’s Play, Hamlet

All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be nothing at all. Isaiah 41:11, 12

Thesis – Revenge: an act that has been used since the beginning of time in order to inflict punishment upon one who has wronged another. Although revenge has been practiced for many years, societys acceptance of it has changed significantly. In Shakespearean time, revenge was regarded as an honorable deed. In Shakespeares play, Hamlet, Hamlets murdering of Claudius is looked upon as valiant; it was Hamlets revenge on Claudius for murdering his father, the king, in cold blood.

Hamlet wouldnt have been reprimanded or had to suffer any repercussions. However, in todays world revenge is a crime strictly punishable and enforced by the law. The Menendez brothers, who took revenge on their parents for sexually abusing them, are not regarded as heroes, nor are they considered honorable. They are shunned by the world and are readily awaiting either a life sentence without parole, or death by lethal injection. Both the Menendez brothers and Hamlet were painfully wronged and felt the need to seek revenge. It is possible that like Hamlet, the Menendez brothers will lose their lives as a result.

In Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, revenge is a major theme. Claudius, (Hamlets uncle) maliciously poisoned Hamlet I in order to claim the throne of Denmark. Hamlet is left devastated and deeply depressed as a result of his fathers sudden death, and is embittered by his mothers swift remarriage to Claudius. One night the ghost of Hamlet I appears and reveals to Hamlet the truth about his uncle and the truth about his death. The ghost says to Hamlet, So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear, After explaining the heinous deeds of his brother, the ghost continues on and advises Hamlet… howsoever thou pursuest this act,/ Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive / Against thy mother aught…

The ghost has come to Hamlet, his son, and made him responsible for revenging his death against Claudius. This visitation from the ghost of Hamlet I has planted the seeds of revenge in Hamlet, from here he begins his mission. After the ghost vanishes, Hamlet begins an emotional speech in which he curses his uncle, his mother, and his country. In concluding this speech, Hamlet repeats his vow to seek vengeance for his fathers death. He says, So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word: / It is Adieu, adieu! Remember me. / I have swornt. With this, Hamlet has given his word in revenge against Claudius.

The Menendez brothers, like Hamlet, also felt the need to seek revenge against someone by means of murder. The Menendez brothers claimed to have been sexually abused by their father when they were young. After years of abuse, the brothers decided they could no longer bare the pain and found the only way they could be justified was to kill their father – the source of their pain.

Two years ago Lyle mesmerized viewers with his emotional tales of alleged sexual abuse by his father. That abuse had supposedly made him fear that Jose would kill him to keep the secret and thus had prompted him and Erik to kill their parents first.

Although both the Menendez brothers and Hamlet both sought revenge for past offenses, the Menendez brothers had another reason to justify their actions – they felt that it was in some part, self defense. Although Cladius was plotting against Hamlet, he wasnt aware of that fact until after he had resolved to murder Claudius.

As the play continues, Hamlet becomes very hesitant about killing Claudius. He procrastinates and finds it difficult to find the opportunity to make his move. In a soliloquy he criticizes himself for this procrastination. He finds a time where Claudius is alone, but, he is praying. Hamlet fears that if he murders Claudius at this time, that his sins will be forgiven and he will be exalted to heaven instead of rotting in hell…. now he is praying; and now Ill dot…/ And so am I revenged … a villain kills/My father; and for that, I, his sole son, no/This same villain send to heaven. Hamlet quickly decides to instead, kill Claudius while he is in the midst of sin in order to ensure that his purpose is fulfilled. When he is drunk asleep… or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed; … or about some act that has no relish of salvation int.

Hamlet becomes more motivated to complete his mission at this point and begins to concentrate more on Claudius murder. The Menendez brothers too, desperately wanted revenge. Much thought and calculated planning went into their vengeance plot. Finally they agreed that they couldnt live with their parents alive, that the only way to get true revenge would be if their parents were killed. They wanted absolute revenge and The only way to get it was to kill… their parents.

If Hamlet had lived and surpassed Claudius death he wouldnt have had to face any sort of prosecution. He had already committed a murder (Polonius) and hadnt even been questioned about it, by anyone. In fact, it is likely that the societys reaction to the killing would be of sympathy… to Hamlet! All Hamlet had to do was tell someone his story and it was as if his words were good as gold. Unfortunately, the Menendez brothers dont have that luxury. They had been stripped of their innocence, and by their own father!

After taking intolerable abuse for years they acted in what they thought, was in their best self interest. They felt they had no other escape, no other reprieve. And in contrast to Hamlet, who would have been accepted and even glorified for his actions, the Menendez brothers have been locked up like animals. They have limited rights and spend their days staring at jail bars. The country has completely ostracized them and worst of all, their tragic childhood has been made into a complete joke. Wherever they end up, no one should expect any genuine expressions of remorse.

Another common thread that both Hamlet and the Menendez brothers share is that they have been horribly wronged, by a close family member. Hamlet is absolutely furious that his uncle so quickly after his fathers death, married his mother, but then is mortified when he becomes aware of the fact that Claudius, his uncle, is responsible for his fathers death.

He is raging with anger and in contemplating killing Claudius screams, He hath killed my king, and whored my mother; / Popped in between the election and my hopes;… To let this canker of our nature come / In further evil? Hamlet decides that it is his duty to rid the world of Claudius, for fear he will do more evil. He has reassured himself that murdering Claudius for revenge is the right thing to do and once again, his resolve deepens.

Although Hamlet comes from a heritage of royalty, his familys values and morals are certainly questionable! The Menendez brothers too, come from a seemingly good family, but are haunted with the dark secrets that lay within. Jose Menendez (the boys father) was a wealthy entertainment executive, and he and his wife Kitty, seemed to live an ideal life with their two sons. But no one knew that the Menendezs sexually abused their sons, and no one would have guessed it either.

During their trial, the prosecution argued that Lyle and Erik were not the innocent victims of sexual abuse, but ultimately the logical products of a chillingly amoral family. This statement is comparable with Hamlets situation. Was he really seeking revving for his fathers death, or was it his hatred of Claudius and unstable family situations that led him to murder?

Towards the end of the play, after Laertes has stabbed Hamlet, and his mother has been poisoned, Hamlet begins to put the pieces together and realizes that he was purposely meant to be killed in the fight. He accepts that his time left is limited and therefore must kill Claudius now. He looks at his unbaited sword and says, The point envenomed too?! Then venom, do thy work. (and stabs Claudius)/ Here thou incestuous, murdrous, damned Dane, / Drink off this potion! Is thy union here?/ Follow my mother. With that, Hamlet has finally killed Claudius and completed his mission, he has sought revenge for his fathers death.

Revenge, is a natural but extremely powerful emotion that moves people to act in ways that they normally wouldnt. When people feel they have been wronged they often retaliate by means of revenge. Both Hamlet and the Menendez brother were painfully wronged by a family member and could only find remorse by committing murder. I believe that in both situations, unstable family upbringings contributed to their plans of mortal revenge. Unfortunately, the Menendez brothers live in a time where murder is highly punishable, even if it was for revenge. Hamlet was fortunate to live in a time where revenge was an honorable deed and people who took revenge on others who did wrong. were considered heroes not criminals.

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