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Comparisons between Pyrrhus, Hamlet, and Claudius in Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet


In Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet, Pyrrhus is compared to Hamlet and Claudius to highlight themes of revenge and justice. Pyrrhus, like Hamlet, seeks to avenge his father's death, but does so with brutal force, contrasting Hamlet's hesitation. Claudius, the target of Hamlet's revenge, mirrors King Priam, the victim of Pyrrhus's vengeance, emphasizing the cyclical nature of violence.

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How is Pyrrhus in Act 2, Scene 2 similar to Hamlet and Claudius?

In order to really answer your question, I must tell you the background story of Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus is the son of Achilles who was killed by Paris during the Trojan war. Pyrrhus wants vengeance for Achilles' death. Since Paris is already dead, he seeks out Paris's family, including Paris's father Priam.

Pyrrhus is a foil to Hamlet: He is a son seeking vengeance for his father's death. A foil is a character whose qualities are opposite of a principal character and who brings into the foreground the qualities of that character.

Let's look toward Hamlet's speech for further understanding of the comparison:

HAMLET. The rugged Pyrrhus, like th' Hyrcanian beast,--
it is not so:-- it begins with Pyrrhus:--
The rugged Pyrrhus,--he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose,did the night resemble
When he lay couched in the ominous horse,--
Hath now this dread and black complexion smear'd
With heraldry more dismal; head to foot
Now is be total gules; horridly trick'd
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
Bak'd and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and a damned light
To their vile murders: roasted in wrath and fire,
And thus o'ersized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks.
So, proceed you. (Hamlet, II.ii)

This initial description of Pyrrhus is less than favorable than Hamlet's characterization. Pyrrhus is like a madman, covered from head to foot with the dried blood of his enemies, and not just of his father's killer, but of everyone--children, women--everyone related to Paris. He is in a crazed blood frenzy over his need for vengeance. Hamlet is the opposite: He seeks proof. He acts in measured ways. He believes he is punished by and when he slays an innocent man in the murder of Old Hamlet. He must be driven to act. He attempts to target only one man.

PLAYER. Anon he finds him,
Striking too short at Greeks: his antique sword,
Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,
Repugnant to command: unequal match'd,
Pyrrhus at Priam drives; in rage strikes wide;
But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword
The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top
Stoops to his base; and with a hideous crash
Takes prisoner Pyrrhus' ear: for lo! his sword,
Which was declining on the milky head
Of reverend Priam, seem'd i' the air to stick:
So, as a painted tyrant, Pyrrhus stood;
And, like a neutral to his will and matter,
Did nothing.

This is interesting: Pyrrhus has his sword poised to kill Priam (whom, coincidentally, his own father, Achilles, had once spared) when, for some reason, he hesitates; he is frozen for a moment. This hesitation could be a symbol of Hamlet's own hesitation in killing Claudius and seeking the Ghost's revenge for the murder of Hamlet's father, Old Hamlet.

PLAYER. But as we often see, against some storm,
A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still,
The bold winds speechless, and the orb below
As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder
Doth rend the region; so, after Pyrrhus' pause,
A roused vengeance sets him new a-work;
And never did the Cyclops' hammers fall
On Mars's armour, forg'd for proof eterne,
With less remorse than Pyrrhus' bleeding sword
Now falls on Priam.--

Eventually Pyrrhus acts on his desire for vengeance. His excess shows that Pyrrhus is a vicious sort. He is far less noble than Achilles who could show mercy, and far less noble than Hamlet; Hamlet is quintessentially noble and merciful, though he is driven outside himself by the Ghost's demands (V.ii). In these scenes, Pyrrhus reminds the reader more of Claudius who shows no mercy: He kills his own brother for the crown and queen; he plots Hamlet's death when Hamlet seems a threat to him.

This mercilessness and the gore-covered Pyrrhus could also be foreshadowing of the ultimate carnage that will result from Hamlet's efforts at attaining vengeance.

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In Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet, what comparisons can be made between Hamlet and Pyrrhus?

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.)

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In Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet, what comparisons can be made between Hamlet and Pyrrhus?

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.

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In Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet, what comparisons can be made between Hamlet and Pyrrhus?

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.

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In Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet, what comparisons can be made between Hamlet and Pyrrhus?

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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