Discussion Topic

The development of the theme of revenge in Hamlet's soliloquies

Summary:

In Hamlet, the theme of revenge is developed through Hamlet's soliloquies, which reveal his internal conflict and hesitation. Initially, Hamlet is determined to avenge his father's murder, but as the play progresses, his soliloquies expose his philosophical doubts, moral dilemmas, and growing frustration with his own inaction, ultimately leading to his resolve to take decisive action.

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How is the theme of revenge developed in Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2?

It is interesting to think about the theme of revenge before Hamlet has his meeting with the ghost of his father. At this point, Hamlet has no idea that Claudius might have murdered his father. The ghost has not yet asked Hamlet to avenge his death by killing Claudius.

Nevertheless, Hamlet, as we can see from this soliloquy, has angry thoughts and feelings, especially about the quick marriage of his mother to Claudius.

Hamlet opens the soliloquy wishing he could comment suicide: that is what the words mean when he says:

Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew
He wishes, too, that the "Everlasting" (God) did not forbid "self slaughter" (suicide). Suicide is anger turned inward, so we know that Hamlet is angry.
A sense of depression follows as Hamlet complains about the world as "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable." Then he returns to anger. He is very upset that his mother married Claudius fewer than two months after her husband died. Hamlet can hardly believe his mother would marry Claudius. He says that his father was:
So excellent a king, that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr.
Hamlet means that his father was like a God of light (Hyperion) compared to Claudius, who is like an oversexed beast (a satyr is part man and part horse or goat and was supposed have large sex organs). We can tell that Hamlet is angry and disgusted with his mother. Hamlet goes on to say that his father, also named Hamlet, treated his mother so gently that he hardly wanted a harsh wind to blow on her face:
he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly
And Hamlet remembers that his mother hung all over his father. It really galls him that now—as he determines it— "within a month—" (a change from two months) she remarried. This was much too fast, he thinks. By the end of the soliloquy, Hamlet has worked himself into a frenzy of anger about his mother. He says "frailty thy name is woman," meaning she is weak, then criticizing her again for the remarriage. He says that even a beast would have waited longer—the word "God" is important in the passage below, showing his distress.
Why she, even she—
God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer!—married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules.
As Hamlet repeatedly and forcefully states, he is angry at his mother for two reasons: that she remarried so quickly and married a man he despises and hates as completely unworthy. If you are going to talk about vengeance in light of this soliloquy, it seems important to note again that Hamlet is rage filled even before his encounter with the ghost—and that most of his rage is aimed at his mother. You could argue that it is his mother he subconsciously wants revenge on from the start, rather than Claudius. You could tie this to scene where he accuses her bitterly of making a mistake in marrying Claudius. This is act 3, scene 4, and Gertrude cries out in genuine fear that Hamlet is going to hurt her or kill her. So, one way to go would be to argue that from the start Hamlet wants revenge against his mother, and this is what makes him hesitate to kill Claudius. People have talked for a long time about the Oedipal nature of the play—that Hamlet's rage against Claudius is driven by the fact that Claudius enacted what Hamlet secretly wanted, which was to kill his father and marry his mother (the Oedipal fantasy). Does Hamlet hesitate to kill Claudius because Claudius, on a subconscious level, reminds him too much of himself and his own repressed desires? When he kills Polonius, thinking he is killing Claudius behind the arras in act 3, scene 4—the scene that links strongly to this soliloquy—can Hamlet do so only because he is in a frenzy and wants his mother to suffer by witnessing her new husband's being murdered? These are all ideas that would connect this particular soliloquy to the revenge theme, and tie revenge to Oedipal desires.
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How does Hamlet's soliloquy in act 4, scene 4 relate to the theme of revenge?

Let us remind ourselves what is happening in this scene. Hamlet sees a mass of Norwegian troops, led by Fortinbras, crossing Danish territory, on their way to Poland to fight. What causes Hamlet to think about his own situation is the way in which these soldiers are travelling to fight over "a little patch of ground / That hath in it no profit but the name." The Poles and the Norwegians will fight for it simply to win "honour." Hamlet is disgusted by this.

However, in this soliloquy, which is actually Hamlet's final soliloquy in the play, Hamlet compares the action of Fortinbras to his own. This is a similar scene to act 2, scene 2 when Hamlet compared himself to the actor, because the comparison leaves him feeling ashamed. He sees Fortinbras ready to "find quarrel in a straw / When honour's at the stake." With so little reason, Fortinbras shows himself always ready to prove and fight for his honour. If Fortinbras is so willing and ready to fight openly for his honour over such a little cause, where does that leave Hamlet?:

How stand I then

That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,

Excitements of my reason, and my blood,

And let all sleep, while to my shame I see

The imminent death of twenty thousand men,

That for a fantasy and trick of fame

Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot

Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause...

Hamlet is ashamed by the attitude of the soldiers, who for so little reason go to die, whereas he has done nothing to fight for his own honour, when he has so much more reason to fight. He resolves to have bloody thoughts from now on.

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