William Shakespeare's Hamlet is one literature's finest examples of a revenge play and is often considered the greatest play written in the English language. The steps of revenge taken are of a terrible political nature--the killing of a king--and the chain of events that unfold include the deaths of many innocent characters. When Hamlet is visited by his father's ghost, the ghost convinces Hamlet to enact revenge upon his father's murderer, now King Claudius, who has also married Hamlet's mother. Although the act of murdering a king is a monstrous one, Hamlet reasons that Claudius is deserving, but he fails in his first attempt, finding Claudius praying: His death at such a moment may send him to heaven, rather than damning him to hell. Hamlet's next attempt fails miserably, when he kills Polonius, thinking he is the king.
Claudius, in an act of deceit, seeks his own revenge by sending his stepson to the supposed safety of England; however, he has given orders that Hamlet be killed instead. Meanwhile, Hamlet's beloved Ophelia has gone mad and drowned herself. Laertes and Gertrude also die accidentally from poison before the dying Hamlet finally enacts his revenge by forcing poison down the throat of Claudius.
Shakespeare uses many examples of revenge tragedy elements found in prior works, including madness, ghosts, personal injustice, and bloody deaths. The corruption of the act--of killing a king--only underscores Marcellus' famous remark that "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Good eventually triumphs over evil, but Shakespeare's unique approach includes a hero who must die in order to receive a final justice.