Is there evil in Hamlet? To what degree? This question is in relation to King Hamlet, Hamlet, and Polonius.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Hamlet is not evil. He is confused and grieving. Suffering from a great loss, Hamlet tries to figure out what to do when he thinks that his father wants him to murder his uncle. If he was evil, he wouldn't hesitate. I do not think an evil person would worry about the dreams he would have in death either.

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amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Claudius is an evil character in that he plots to kill his brother and marry his sister-in-law to secure his spot on the throne.  Later in the play, when he begins to suspect Hamlet, he plots to kill him as well by sending him to England with a letter which requests his immediate execution.  Claudius is also behind fueling Laertes' anger and desire for revenge on Hamlet over his father's untimely death.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A case can be made that Hamlet is a virtuous young man at the beginning of the play, his sense of morality deeply rooted in his religious beliefs, but that he changes dramatically in the play and succumbs to evil himself by its conclusion. Hamlet's actions in avenging his father's death are perfectly justified within the context of Hamlet as a revenge play, but when examined within the greater morality that had framed Hamlet's life and that is referenced often in the play, his actions seem consistent with the evil of those that surround him.

Hamlet is truly a dynamic character. Upon first returning to court, the idea of committing murder under any circumstances shakes him profoundly. He fears for his immortal soul; even the idea of taking his own life fills him with fear of God's judgment. However, after Hamlet kills Polonius while Hamlet is in a state of unbearable emotional suffering, Hamlet immediately spirals downward from his previous standards of moral behavior. He plots and accomplishes the deaths of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern with cold calculation; his actions are deliberate and absent any moral inhibition or sense of guilt. This marks a profound change in Hamlet, suggesting that even he, as morally sound as he had once been, is also capable of evil acts.

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is clearly evil in the entire court of Denmark.  They are the "something rotten."  Polonius is a hypocritical fool, and while both hypocrisy and foolishness should be punishable, hypocrisy as deceit is certainly evil. King Claudius covets both his brother's throne and his wife.  Aren't these actions against the 10 commandments?  (Don't forget that Denmark is Catholic at the time of the play.)  And, while Hamlet is not evil, he does sin some as murders Polonius and he is deceitful to Ophelia and manipulates her, actions which may lead to the innocent girl's suicide.  However, for the most part he is a noble, albeit tragic, man. 

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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If sin is evil, then Hamlet is guilty of being evil when he kills Polonius. Despite the fact that Claudius (which, of course, is who Hamlet thought he was killing) was a murderer, Hamlet...

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haileyingham | Student

Hamlet is rather ambiguous in his actions. To some readers, the executions of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern may have been unnecessary, whereas to other it would seem critical to his heroic plight. Regardless of either interpretation, Hamlet has blood on his hands, the blood of individuals who held him in a high esteem.

Additionally, the argument can be postulated that Hamlet's rejection of Ophelia contribute to her despair,  insanity, and ultimate suicide. Although he was pretending to be mad during this scene (or perhaps he wasn't, an entirely different argument) he spurned her. Also,  he may have indirectly contributed to her emotional collapse by killing her father. The text proves that this was indeed a mistake, but is someone who decides to stab someone, without confirming that they are indeed the intended target, really all that magnanimous?

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