An Analysis of Revenge Theme in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Topics: Hamlet

In Hamlet, there are three characters that want revenge. Fortinbras wants revenge for his uncle’s defeat by King Hamlet and to regain their lost land for Norway. Laertes wants revenge near the end of the play because he blames Hamlet for the death of his father-and rightly so because it was Hamlet who dealt the final blow-and for the madness and eventual death of his sister. Hamlet wants to avenge his father, the former king, because Claudius had murdered him two months prior.

Revenge is always a multifaceted act, and the parallels between Hamlet’s revenge against Claudius and Francis Bacon’s “On Revenge” are illustrated through Hamlet’s desire for Claudius to know the reason for his death, how Hamlet uses this revenge to keep his wounds from healing, and how his private revenge ended only in misfortune.

It is clear that Hamlet wants Claudius to know why he is killed prior to being killed. The first example of this desire is when he requests of the players a play depicting the murder because he wanted to see how Claudius would react to being shown his vicious deed.

He says to Horatio, “Even with the very comment of thy soul observe my uncle.” (III, ii: 84-85). This is said after he describes to his friend the plan to show the king the play. The scene that follows in which the play is shown also reveals to Hamlet that his mother truly had no knowledge of the murder. Its purpose was to see how Claudius would react, but it also served to show the king that someone else knew of his treachery, which led to his paranoia and subsequently sending Hamlet away.

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He became seen as a threat to the throne and the tense peace at court. A somewhat related scene to this was Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius while he was praying. He refrained from enacting his revenge at that time because he believed that to do so would send Claudius’ soul to Heaven while his father’s suffered in Purgatory. It relates to wanting the target of the revenge to know his or her crime because it relates to justice and equality for the one who is the motivation for the revenge. In Hamlet, Hamlet is taking revenge on Claudius for his father’s murder. He wanted Claudius to know this and so requested the play. This was a part of how he was going to get peace and justice for his father. Such justice cannot come without equality, even if the only equality is whether the king’s soul goes to Heaven rather than Purgatory or Hell.

Hamlet uses his revenge to “[keep] his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.” His wounds are kept open by his isolation from his mother and friends and by the presence of his father’s ghost. His isolation is partly by choice because he distances himself from his friends to grieve, and from his mother because he feels betrayed by her quick remarriage to Claudius. This betrayal is another reason why he can’t let the wounds left by his father close, because, in his mind, to forget her betrayal would be to forget, in a way, his father and the relationship the three of them had. The presence of his father’s ghost constantly reminds him of what he has lost and prevents him from putting behind him the events surrounding his death. It is also the reason for his revenge. Prior to meeting and speaking with the ghost, Hamlet was grieving, but beginning to maybe recover from the loss of his father. Once he had spoken with the ghost, his wounds reopened because he learned the truth behind his father’s death, or what he believed to be the truth.

The private revenge Hamlet executes ends in bloody misfortune. His revenge is a private one because the original murder plot was a secret one and so the public and much of the court had no knowledge of the motivation behind Hamlet’s madness and revenge, but also because it served no purpose beyond personal satisfaction. The murder and revenge also would

not have benefited the kingdom. Hamlet shows himself unfit for the throne, but has no plan as to who would succeed Claudius after his death. This is another reason why the revenge is not a public one as it was with Julius Caesar in Rome. He is, in a way, mischievous as Bacon states, because he uses his intelligence to strategize and plot, even going so far as to act mad so that he would be seen as less of a threat. Few others would have thought that looking a fool could be advantageous, but this was simply a part of his cunning. This also is shown in his for-thought to check the contents of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s chambers on the boat to England prior to the pirate attack that led to his discovery of the letter and his quick thinking to switch the letter with one of his own creation that stated its bearers were to be killed rather than himself.

These are the ways in which Hamlet aligns with the ideas laid out by Francis Bacon in his essay “On Revenge”. However, there are other aspects that Bacon wrote to which Hamlet doesn’t apply. This discrepancy shows the complexity both of the character Hamlet and the detail with which Shakespeare wrote him, but also how revenge doesn’t have just one definition and how it can’t be exacted in the same way by two different men. This essay strove to show how Hamlet supported Bacon’s ideas of someone wanting their target to know why they are being killed, of using revenge to keep a wound fresh, and how private revenge ends only in misfortune.


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An Analysis of Revenge Theme in Hamlet by William Shakespeare. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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