For Shakespeare's Hamlet, provide a viable thesis for life is a search for justice and three distinct detailed analysis' of Hamlet's understanding of justice and the degree to which his search...

For Shakespeare's Hamlet, provide a viable thesis for life is a search for justice and three distinct detailed analysis' of Hamlet's understanding of justice and the degree to which his search for justice is successful, and the significance of this search to the work as a whole.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that a thesis which can emerge from Hamlet can be that justice as revenge is an animating force in human actions.  There is much to be said as to how individuals define life as a search for justice.  This search is what animates Hamlet from the drama's exposition.  It is clear that when the Ghost visits Hamlet, the search for justice is going to be a significant force that crafts his son's purpose: 

I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night
And for the day confined to fast in fires
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away

From the earliest moments of the drama, Hamlet understands justice as revenge.  The fact that the Ghost suggests that "the foul crimes" have to be "burnt and purged away" enhances the idea that justice is a form of retributive vengeance.  The construction of justice and vengeance is significant to Hamlet's search throughout the drama. It sets Hamlet in motion:  "Haste me to know 't, that I, with wings as swift/ As meditation or the thoughts of love,/ May sweep to my revenge."  When Hamlet tells Ophelia in Act III, that he is "proud, revengeful, and ambitious," it is clear that Hamlet's understanding of justice as vengeance is significant to his characterization throughout the drama.

Hamlet's wavering in commitment in terms of what he needs to do and what he does not want to do shows the extent to which the search for justice impacts his characterization.  Hamlet's vacillation arises from his interpretation that justice is revenge:

And so he goes to heaven,
And so am I revenged. That would be scanned:
A villain kills my father, and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.

Hamlet recognizes that in his need to take vengeance lies the root of all his struggles.  His challenges in love, friendship, and personal identity are rooted in how the search for justice encompasses his being. Hamlet validates this when he suggests that he cannot turn away from what he knows is his purpose in being: "To let this canker of our nature come/ In further evil?" The search and eventual embrace of justice is definitive in Hamlet's consciousness.  A similar intensity in embracing justice as revenge is seen in Laertes:  

To this point I stand,
That both the worlds I give to negligence,
Let come what comes, only I'll be revenged
Most thoroughly for my father.

Both Laertes and Hamlet are shown as characters that define their purpose in being through the pursuit of justice as revenge. Hamlet recognizes that he must "send" he who is clearly "a villain" to "heaven."  This shows that his struggle for justice encompasses his being and is significant to his characterization.  The will to act is rooted in Hamlet's understanding of justice.  Laertes is much the same, acknowledging that justice as vengeance is the only way that his will can be satiated. Both conceive of vengeance as the only way to restore that which has been lost.

In these examples, Shakespeare conceives of characters whose entire purpose is a search for justice.  Hamlet is only able to take action when he recognizes his view of justice as one of revenge.  In terms of moving Hamlet from one who is brooding and uncertain of what to do, his construction of justice as vengeance gives him purpose and meaning. Through this, one can see his pursuit of justice as successful.  Its success lies in the will to act.  It is also successful in terms of how Prince Fortinbras provides some restorative notion of the good at the tragedy's end.  Restoration is seen in how Fortinbras suggests that he has "some rights of memory in this kingdom" that "now to claim my vantage doth invite me."  The pursuit of justice can be seen as meaningful in how Fortinbras suggests that Hamlet was akin to a "soldier." Hamlet is not remembered as a misguided youth, as much as one who fulfilled a sense of purpose and duty.  

I think that it is Shakespeare's genius to ensure that the characters who embrace this construction of justice end up dying, and help to fulfill the conditions of tragic development.  It is only Shakespeare's genius to suggest that a life predicated upon the pursuit of justice as revenge might not be sustainable.  While it is seductive in terms of providing a sense of focused action, it is unable to sustain over a prolonged and constructive period of time.  It is in this regard where Shakespeare illuminates an aspect of the human predicament in terms of how human beings define and interpret what justice is.