The Death of Ophelia and The Price of Revenge in HamletOne theme of Hamlet is that revenge has a price. Hamlet ultimately kills Claudius, but he dies in the process. Murder as revenge isn't...

The Death of Ophelia and The Price of Revenge in Hamlet

One theme of Hamlet is that revenge has a price. Hamlet ultimately kills Claudius, but he dies in the process. Murder as revenge isn't justified no matter how foul the crime. My question is: why did Ophelia, Polonius, and Laertes have to die as well? I think if Shakespeare meant to illustrate that revenge has a price, he could've stopped with the deaths of Claudius and Hamlet.

The moral universe of the play that emerges for me is one in which Providence punishes weakness (i.e., Ophelia), wickedness (i.e., Claudius), and everything and everyone in between. What view (if any) does Shakespeare seem to be expressing about Fate and Providence? Is it a moral Christian view, or something else?

Asked on by quentin1

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lmetcalf's profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Hamlet himself comments on the role of Fate in Act of 5 of the play. He tells Horatio that he has come to understand that "there is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will." What he means is that we can control some aspects of our lives, especially how we react to what fate throws at us, but that ultimately, there is a fate that shapes the final outcome. Hamlet could actively act towards avenging his father's death, but he can't control Claudius or Laertes, and because of that he can't control what happens to him in the end. He went into the sword fight with an inkling that things might be afoul, but he tells Horatio "the readiness is all." All he can do is react to the events to follow. He does the best he can. It is foolish and prideful to think that we have absolute control over our lives, and I think that is Shakespeare's point.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think the point is that there are far-reaching consequences of treachery and revenge. Hamlet did not just involve himself. His actions affected everyone around him. When you engage in such a campaign, you can't always control the aftermath. This is even more the case with members of the royal family.

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