What are some of the issues relating to fathers and sons in Hamlet?
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There are two relationships between fathers and sons that are explored in this tragedy, and they are the relationships between Hamlet and Old Hamlet, his dead father, and then Laertes and Polonius. Hamlet and Laertes are used as foils for each other in this play, and Shakespeare deliberately contrasts the action Laertes takes in order to get revenge later on in the play with the inaction of Hamlet and his endless procrastination in getting revenge earlier on. The central issue between fathers and sons in this play is how to revenge the father when he has been killed. Note how Laertes speaks, even before he has seen Ophelia, concerning what he will do to avenge his father:
To hell, allegiance! Vows to the blackest devil!
Conscience and grace to the profoundest pit!
I dare damnation.
The alliteration in "dare damnation" serves to underline the resolve of Laertes in this case. This contrasts Laertes very strongly with the character of Hamlet, who has known about the truth of his uncle's murder of his father for much longer, but who has been worried about "damnation" and what might happen to him, finding endless reasons to procrastinate. This tragedy therefore explores the way in which sons owe loyalty to their fathers that should rise above any other claims on their loyalty, and how they should act to avenge their fathers.
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