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What are some examples of revenge imagery in Hamlet?

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Despite his earlier reluctance to take revenge upon Claudius, Hamlet is able to manipulate the situation with carefully-laid plans. The imagery of death and revenge in this play is blunt, harsh, and almost violent.

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In perhaps his most rash act of the entire play, Hamlet attempts to avenge his father's death but accidentally kills Polonius instead. Polonius hides behind a tapestry in Gertrude's chamber and suddenly calls for help, thereby awakening Hamlet's attention to his presence:


[from behind the arras] What, ho? Help, help, help!


How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!

HAMLET stabs his sword through the tapestry and kills POLONIUS.


[from behind the arras] Oh, I am slain. (III.iv.26-28)

Hamlet compares the murder (which he believes is Claudius at this point) to the death of a rat, a vile creature capable of spreading infectious diseases and therefore the metaphorical representation of Claudius. The imagery of this act of revenge is cold and bloody, with death following almost immediately.

When Hamlet discovers that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are actively working as "adders fanged" to eliminate him, he plots revenge against these former friends:

And ’t shall go hard,
But I will delve one yard below their mines,
And blow them at the moon. Oh, ’tis most sweet
When in one line two crafts directly meet. (III.iv.228-231)

The imagery here is again vivid. Hamlet conveys that he has plans of his own that will "blow them at the moon," a violent and aggressive image. Hamlet juxtaposes this image with the "sweet" thought being able to kill them both at the same time. There is no sense of remorse in the death of his former friends, which reveals the depth of Hamlet's anger toward the pair. Instead of yearning for the friendship he has lost, the imagery makes it clear that Hamlet's heart is closed and cold to these backstabbing former friends.

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Imagery is description that appeals to the five senses of taste, touch, sound, sight, and smell.

Several examples of revenge imagery show up in Hamlet's soliloquy about Fortinbras in act 4, scene 4. Hamlet is still trying to force himself to act and kill Claudius in revenge for Claudius's killing of Hamlet's father. Hamlet berates himself for his cowardice and conjures up images of Fortinbras. He knows that Fortinbras is marching an entire army into Denmark to reclaim a piece of land in revenge for Hamlet's father having taken it from Fortinbras's father.

What is interesting about this soliloquy is that, as much as Hamlet is trying to gird himself to revenge, his images show his deep ambivalence about whether vengeance is worth the price. For example, he describes Fortinbras as, like other great men:

find [ing] quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake.

What Hamlet is saying is that Fortinbras is fighting over a "straw," something insubstantial, commonplace, and worthless, but doing it for honor—calling into question if this is a good act.

Nevertheless, Hamlet continues to try to compel himself to kill, using bloody imagery to describe his revenge:

O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

In this play about revenge, Hamlet is not the only one using revenge imagery. Laertes comes back from France hot to kill Hamlet for murdering Polonius. Laertes says to Claudius that he wants to

To cut his [Hamlet's] throat
i' the church.

This conjures up a particularly bloodthirsty set of images and juxtaposes the sacred and profane in a chilling way.

In act 5, scene 2, Hamlet uses images that conjure up in blunt terms ("kill'd" and "whored") what Claudius has done that deserves revenge. He then imagines his own "arm" as an instrument of vengeance:

Does it not, think'st thee, stand me now upon--
He that hath kill'd my king and whored my mother,
Popp'd in between the election and my hopes,
Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
And with such cozenage—is't not perfect conscience,
To quit him with this arm?

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After the actors have arrived and have agreed to stay and perform, Hamlet delivers a soliloquy in which he uses some imagery to describe his revenge. He says, among other things, that he is

A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak
like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing—no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damned defeat was made. (2.2.543–547)

He describes his courage as "dull and muddy" (a visual image) when it ought to be bright and fiery, as the actor's is, because Hamlet has a much better cause for passion: revenge. He also says,

I am pigeon-livered and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With the slave's offal. (2.2.554–557)

He describes himself as cowardly and lacking in the bitterness necessary to spur him on; if he had that bravery and bitterness, he claims that he would have already fed all the birds of prey in the area with his uncle's internal organs: another visual image.

Later, when Hamlet catches Claudius praying, he decides not to kill his uncle then because Claudius would go straight to heaven. Hamlet vows, instead, to wait until his uncle is busy enjoying life and behaving sinfully, and

Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damned and black
As hell, whereto it goes. (3.3.94–96)

Hamlet uses more visual imagery to describe his revenge. He wants his uncle to go straight to hell, and he describes the figurative sight of Claudius's eventual dive down, with his feet pointed toward heaven. Hamlet also describes Claudius's soul as "black / As hell."

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The most obvious revenge imagery in Hamlet is the Ghost of Hamlet's Father.  The Ghost comes in on the first scene to set the stage (as it were) of the whole play.  He comes in and says everything that Hamlet has secretly been thinking or worrying about in lurid detail and eggs Hamlet on to start down the spiral of madness he embarks on throughout the play. 

After saying a lot of terrible things about Hamlet's uncle and mother, the Ghost uses the oldest parent guilt trip in the book, "If thou didst ever thy dear father love—".  In other words, if you ever loved me you would do this thing for me, it's what I need you to do for me.  How could Hamlet refuse his dead father's wish?  So his fate is sealed. 

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