Betrayal In Hamlet

What is the theme of betrayal and backstabbing in Hamlet? What are some quotes about various instances in which this theme is prominent?

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teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, once Hamlet's childhood friends, betray him by pretending to still be his friends when in fact they are now in the service of Claudius as spies. Claudius enlists them to keep a close on eye on his erratic nephew.

Hamlet tells his mother in Act III, scene 4 that "I will trust [Rosencrantz and Guildenstern] as I will adders fang’d," expressing his understanding that they do not have his interests at heart and his knowledge that they would betray him without a second thought. He has already said to them that they can't "play" him.

Claudius also backstabs and betrays Hamlet. Having realized during the play The Mousetrap that Hamlet knows he murdered the late King Hamlet, and understanding that in killing Polonius, Hamlet thought he was killing Claudius, Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England. He pretends he has Hamlet's interests at heart and that he is sending him to England to protect him, saying:

Hamlet, this deed, for thine especial safety—
Which we do tender as we dearly grieve
For that which thou hast done—must send thee hence
With fiery quickness

Instead, he gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a sealed letter in which he, Claudius, betrays Hamlet: the letter instructs that Hamlet be killed when he arrives in England. As Claudius states in Act IV, scene 3, he has sent a letter to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that demands "the present death of Hamlet." Hamlet opens and reads the letter, then changes the instructions so that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are killed instead, thus turning the tables and betraying them. Hamlet, knowing they have been instruments used to backstab him, even if they didn't know the contents of the letter, refuses to take responsibility for their deaths. He says they are responsible for their own demise because of their intrigues against him: "They are not near my conscience; their defeat / Does by their own insinuation grow." In this play about corruption and betrayal, almost nobody can be trusted.

caitlinjoseph10's profile pic

caitlinjoseph10 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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Betrayl begins the play, Hamlet.  Claudius betrays King Hamlet by killing him and taking his fortune, his wife, and his position as King. Gertrude betrays Hamlet by marrying Cladius so quickly after his father's death.  Hamlet views their relationship as incenstuous - because Cladius is Gertrude's brother (by marriage).  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern betray Hamlet by following Claudius' direction, spying on Hamlet, and reporting back to Claudius. Claudius betrays Gertrude in the end by not telling her about the poisoned cup.  Polonius stays loyal to Cladius, and thus betrays Hamlet.  Polonius also convinces Ophelia not to continue her relationship with Hamlet, and she severs tie with him.  Hamlet betrays Laertes by killing Polonius, and after he does this Laertes also betrays Hamlet by remaining loyal to Cladius. 

The only relationship that is not affeced by betrayal is between Hamlet and Horatio.  Horatio remains loyal and loving to Hamlet until the end.  Horatio even offers to follow Hamlet in death by drinking the remaining poison. 

Betrayal Quotes

GHOST
Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,—
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!—won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:
O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine!
But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage.
(1.5.9)

The Ghost of King Hamlet informs Hamlet how he was killed by Claudius and asks Hamlet to seek revenge for his death.

HAMLET
You were sent for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks
which your modesties have not craft enough to colour:
I know the good king and queen have sent for you.
(2.2.25)

Speaking to his old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he senses the deception and betrayl behind them being sent for. 

LAERTES
I am justly kill'd with mine own treachery.
(5.2.12)

Laertes dies from his betryal to Hamlet and his loyalty to Claudius.

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