How does Hamlet compare to Pyrrhus?In Act II, Scene II of Hamlet, an actor (the player) and Hamlet tell the story of Priam and Pyrrhus. What comparisons can be made between Hamlet and Priam?

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athenaia86 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pyrrhus is Achilles’ son—this isn’t from the Iliad, but the sort of “apocrypha” surrounding the Iliad, if you will. He avenges his father’s death in battle by killing Priam, King of Troy.

In this play, Hamlet’s father has died, and Hamlet wants to kill the man responsible. This is one connection between Hamlet and Pyrrhus.

Another might be that in the story of Pyrrhus, Pyrrhus is in the Trojan Horse, so he will get access to Priam and deal him “justice” by stealth. Hamlet pretends to be insane as a deliberate means of concealment, so that nobody will take him seriously and he can confirm that his uncle did, in fact, murder his father. After this, Hamlet plans to then murder his uncle in revenge.

There is another further connection: Pyrrhus is “remorseless” about killing Priam because it’s eye-for-an-eye justice, and Hamlet clearly feels that, if he can summon the courage to kill his uncle, it would be totally justified. The difference is that Hamlet wrestles with his conscience for the duration of the play, whereas Pyrrhus does not have any particular backstory, and his remorselessness is borne out in the fact that, as a character, his entire existence is justified by the fact that he kills Priam.

There are some issues with these connections, however. Hamlet’s father was murdered by his own brother. Pyrrhus’s father died in a war—and was in fact killed by Paris, the son of Priam, who is no relation to Achilles whatsoever. (Actually, Achilles and Priam share a very sad and touching scene when Priam comes to him, in disguise, to beg for Hector’s body back, and they both cry together over how much they’ve lost in this stupid war. So Achilles would not want revenge on Priam, as he would not blame Priam for his death.)

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, Pyrrhus is yet one more example in the play of active sons, loyal sons who seek and take immediate revenge for the murders of their fathers.  As the other commenter mentions, the real comparison is between Hamlet and Pyrrhus because Pyrrhus quickly and violently avenges his father's death, but Hamlet overthinks every move and even, once, talks himself out of killing Claudius, his uncle, step-father, and the murderer of his father, because Claudius appears to be at prayer and Hamlet doesn't want to kill him only to send him to heaven. 

In addition to Pyrrhus, Fortinbras is yet another good example of a loyal and quick-acting son, as is Laertes.  When Hamlet kills his father, Polonius, and the royal family buries him quickly and without ceremony (a move that provokes suspicion about the nature of his death), Laertes returns immediately from France to confront the king and seek his revenge on his father's killer.  It is, in fact, this attempt to exact his revenge on Hamlet that leads to the deaths of Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, and himself in the final scene of the play.  Thus, Shakespeare gives his audience three examples of loyal sons, sons with whom Hamlet can compare himself and find his own actions wanting, and Pyrrhus is one of these.

Megan Clauhs eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet and Pyrrhus are connected in their quest for vengeance after the deaths of their fathers. Pyrrhus was the son of Achilles, who was considered the greatest warrior ever to walk the earth. After the death of the elder Hamlet, the audience is informed that Fortinbras's army is closing in on Denmark, implying that the elder Hamlet was also a great warrior.

When Achilles was tricked and killed by the Trojans, the young Pyrrhus was uprooted from his life and thrust into battle. Similarly, when the late Hamlet lost his life to "murder most foul," the younger Hamlet was uprooted from his studies in Wittenberg and thrust into a political battle. Pyrrhus slew Priam, the Trojan king who had arranged Achilles's death; Hamlet sought to kill Claudius in much the same way.

Ironically, it was Pyrrhus's and Hamlet's demand for justice that led to both of their grisly ends.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both stories, revenge for the death of a father plays an important part. Achilles kills Priam's son, Hector. Priam's son, Paris, kills Achilles. Then, in revenge, Achillie's son, Pyrrus, takes revenge for his father's death by killing Priam viciously. Pyrrus is not troubled by killing Priam, even as Priam begs for his life. In "Hamlet", young Hamlet's delays and procrastinates taking revenge for his father's death at the hands of Claudius. In fact, after the scene you mention, Hamlet chides himself in a long soliloquy over his ability "to do nothing". Thus, the comparison should be between Pyrrhus and Hamlet. Pyrrhus, like Fortinbras, is a man of action and murders the killer of his father. Hamlet, on the other hand, simply thinks and thinks and thinks about taking revenge.

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Hamlet

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