Violence Born from Revenge and Greed in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Richard III

People commit crimes for various reasons. For example, many people steal things they could not obtain otherwise. Others, such as drug addicts, steal to get money to buy narcotics or other things they need. Some shoplifters steal for excitement, but others do so because they are poor. Many automobile thieves take cars for joy-riding, but others strip down the stolen autos and sell them. Many embezzlers take money from their employers to meet a personal emergency.

The motives also vary in crimes of violence. A robber may kill the victim to avoid detection. Some gangsters torture people to obtain money. A man may beat his wife in a fit of rage in a quarrel. These examples of violence are not only known to happen in real life, but in past literature as well. In Richard III and Hamlet, William Shakespeare conveyed two forms of violence that which is out of revenge and that which is greed stricken.

Elizabethans were keenly aware of death and the shortness of life. They lived in constant fear of plague. When an epidemic struck, they saw victims carted off to common graves. Yet death and violence also fascinated many Elizabethans. They flocked to public beheading of traitors. They also watched as criminals were hanged, and they saw the corpses dangle from the gallows for days. Elizabethan literature mirrored the violence and death characteristics of their life. Shakespeare’s tragedies, like other Elizabethan tragedies, involve the murder or suicide of many of the leading characters.

Richard III contains characters which focus on the concept of greed stricken violence. Greed stricken violence is when one commits a violent act, whether it be to kill or injure a person, because of greed. Richard of Gloucester, the main character of Richard III, is a cold- hearted and uncaring man. He wants to be the King of England, but to his dismay many people are to precede the throne before he will. So, in a greed stricken manner, Richard of Gloucester kills those in his path.

“I had an Edward – till a Richard kill’d him;

I had a [Harry] – till a Richard kill’d him:

Thou hadst an Edward – till a Richard

kill’d him;

Thou hadst a Richard – till a Richard

kill’d him.”

(Richard III. IV. iii. 40-44)

Queen Margaret is wise to Richard’s treachery and states that all these people are dead because of Richard Edward, Harry, Edward and Richard. He killed those who were in his path to precede the throne, using the concept of greed stricken violence. Violence in Hamlet is portrayed in a much different manner.

Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, represents a form of violence associated with revenge. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is quite disturbed when he discovers that his father was murdered by his uncle, Claudius. To make matters worse for Hamlet, Claudius has married his mother and has taken over the role of King. Hamlet may not have had such a problem with his mother, Gertrude, marrying Claudius, had she gone through a period of mourning for his father’s

death. Instead she chose to marry right away, which has made Hamlet upset and concerned about her adulterous deeds.

“A murtherer and a villain!

A slave that is not twentieth part the


Of your precedent lord, a Vice of kings,

A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,

That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,

And put it in his pocket”

(Hamlet. III. iv .97-101)

One can assume from this passage that Hamlet is quite upset with Gertrude and most likely yelling at her. He calls Claudius a “murtherer” and a “villain.” This reveals to Gertrude, again, the wrongful deed her new husband has committed. Hamlet then goes on to say that Claudius isn’t half the man his father was and had Claudius not “stole” the crown, his father might still be alive.

Although this may not seems like a violent act, Hamlet is using words to convey to Gertrude that her husband is a villain and she is an adulteress. The only reason he does this, though, is because he wants revenge for his father’s death and takes it out on his mother. Other passages in Hamlet also convey this violence out of revenge as there are more passages in Richard III that convey greed stricken violence. Each play in itself, proclaims a different type of violence.

Revenge and greed are two main causes of violence in literature and in the real world. It seems that someone always has what the other wants and will do whatever it takes to achieve this object. On the other hand, it also seems that people are less likely to sit back and watch as a member of their family gets killed without wanting to, in turn, kill the one who did the deed. Shakespeare’s Richard III and Hamlet portray these two forms of violence very well. When all else fails in their Shakespearian world, one can always murder to get what one wants.

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