What role does redemption play in Shakespeare's Hamlet?American novelist, John Irving, said about his work The World According to Garp, that it is a life-redeeming work in which everybody dies. I...
American novelist, John Irving, said about his work The World According to Garp, that it is a life-redeeming work in which everybody dies.
I realize that making the connection between this statement and Hamlet is easiest when considering the phrase "everybody dies"... but I don't see how redemption is present in Hamlet.
Hamlet must redeem himself (regain his honour) by avenging his father's murder. Which, if any, other characters could also have been seeking to redeem themselves and why?
From Act 1 we learn that Fortinbras is on a mission to regain the lands lost by his father in a battle against Old King Hamlet. He is trying to redeem the lost honor of Norway by his actions against Poland revealed in Act 4. Even though he seems to have stumbled into the throne in Act 5, he proves to be determined and yet fair in taking it over. He speaks honorably of Hamlet and admits that it is with "sorrow I embrace my fortune." This may not be exactly the way he wanted to take back what was rightfully Norway's, but he does redeem his father's losses.
Laertes also has a measure of redemption in his final moments before his death. While he is certainly guilty of plotting against Hamlet and bringing about Hamlet's death, he does, at the last minute, admit his part in the larger plot and reveals Claudius's role as well. He asks for and receives forgiveness from Hamlet for all that has gone down. While some could say that he is merely grappling for forgiveness to spare him from damnation, he seems to be sincerely sorry for his actions even earlier in the scene.
I would add that Laertes redeems himself. The rash, hot tempered, impulsive Laertes who conspired with Claudius to kill Hamlet in a dishonable way--with an unblunted, poisoned sword-- actually becomes a key figure in destroying Claudius and setting things right. When he is mortally wounded, Laertes asks forgiveness of Hamlet, as noted above, and fingers Claudius--"The king's to blame." Without these words of truth, Claudius' actions may have gone undetected and unpunished. Laertes' words incite the now enraged Hamlet to act decisively against his uncle, killing him with both the poisoned sword and the the poisoned cup. Laertes most certainly redeems himself, and we must look more favorably on him when we consider his actions in the last scene.
Revenge is Hamlet's primary motivation in this play, and any attempts at redemption on his part are secondary to that goal. After he sets his plan to "put on an antic disposition" in motion, there are several times he acts oddly or cruelly and then has to backtrack with the hope of redeeming himself. He acted all crazy in Ophelia's sewing room, but he does get serious with her at times in their conversation in the hall. He tells her he did love her once, he warns her that men are selfish knaves, and he begs her to find sanctuary during these tumultuous times in a nunnery. Hamlet is trying to redeem himself in her eyes for his bad behavior since meeting the Ghost. It doesn't work, but he does try.
Following the pattern of thought from the cogent remarks of post #2, Queen Gertrude, too, redeems herself when she purposely drinks from the poison cup intended for her son Hamlet. It would seem that after her son's diatribe in the earlier part of the play, Gertrude has been ridden with guilt for having so quickly married the brother of her husband and beloved father of her son. For, she deliberately drinks from this cup--"I will, my lord; I pray you pardon me."--ad then she tenderly wipes her son's face. And, as she dies, she calls out, "O my dear Hamlet!"
I think that in order to be redeemed you have to have done something wrong, but one could argue that Hamlet redeemed his mother by killing Claudius, therefore eliminating the threat that he caused but that she allowed to happen.