An Analysis of the Theme of Revenge in the Play Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Topics: Hamlet

Revenge is a Double Edged Sword

Throughout his pieces and plays, Shakespeare incorporates themes that define human nature. In his play “Hamlet” he uses the characters to portray desire and flaws with society to teach the audience a lesson that is not always visible on the surface of his works. The lessons not only meant to be a lesson but also a warning, as Shakespeare is famously known for his ability to end the lives of many of his actors in his pieces all in the name of teaching the audience.

His most prominent lesson is one that is focused around the main plot of Hamlet, revenge. Shakespeare uses Hamlet and Laertes to show that revenge will always result in excess damage not meant to be dealt.

Hamlet’s story is woven together by Shakespeare to give his audiences can experience all of the situations that can trigger a need for revenge. He uses all situations to teach the audience the one central lesson that connects to all forms of revenge.

Revenge being the payback for a terrible deed someone else commited. For this he uses King Hamlet’s ghost in the exposition to begin his lesson. This is seen at the end of the first act in the conversation between Hamlet and King Hamlet,” Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”(1.5.31). In this excerpt, Shakespeare brings revenge as a cause for others to join and assist in the act. This line shows how King Hamlet calls onto Hamlet to help.

Get quality help now

Proficient in: Hamlet

4.7 (657)

“ Really polite, and a great writer! Task done as described and better, responded to all my questions promptly too! ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Though this was common in the time period due to honor towards family, Shakespeare uses this as an example of a third party tangled in the mix. Afterwards, he advises Hamlet to not harm his mother with “Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive. Against thy mother ought. Leave her to heaven.” (1.5.93-94). Using this Shakespeare sheds light onto a new character who has nothing to do with the story of King Hamlet’s revenge, but will use her to exemplify how revenge can lash out towards others. Gertrude in “Hamlet” will, in the end, act as a lesson learned for King Hamlet and the audience. Shakespeare includes a scene in act three where King Hamlet states “Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive. Against thy mother ought. Leave her to heaven.” (1.5.93-94). Here King Hamlet reminds Hamlet that his mission of revenge should spill no blood besides that of his enemy. However the actions taken by King Hamlet and Hamlet are in vain as Gertrude dies in the final act. Shakespeare’s meaning and lesson on revenge teaches the audience, through King Hamlet, that revenge is never a precise operation.

Throughout the big lesson on revenge, Shakespeare adds many smaller lessons on revenge. Revenge has many faces and can sometimes be innocent. As King Hamlet put revenge into the hands of someone else, Shakespeare uses Laertes to show provoked revenge. The story of Laertes being that of distrust towards Hamlet and care for his sister Ophelia, who Hamlet is romantically involved with. Laertes says to Ophelia “Fear it Ophelia … out of the shot of danger and desire” (1.3.37-40). Shakespeare uses this as a start for Laertes story of revenge. As he explicitly states that Hamlet is not to be trusted. He pleads for Ophelia to stay out of harm’s way by staying away from Hamlet. Then, he departs and is once again seen in act five after Hamlet has caused Ophelia tremendous emotional distress and pushed her to suicide. His sorrow is evident when he states “Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense” (5.1.163). Shakespeare now gives reason for Laertes to exact revenge however his story is not entirely as innocent as it is portrayed. Laertes being the victim of Hamlet’s cruelty soon finds himself at the end of Hamlet’s sword. Laertes final words being ” Till of this wicked mountain you have made, T’ o’ertop old Pelion or the skyish head, of Blue Olympus ” (5.1.264-266). Shakespeare uses this to express Laertes’ understanding of his misfortune and the terrible outcome that revenge takes. The lesson learned from Laertes is that even if the person is involved with the revenge in any way, exacting it will also backfire causing it to hurt themselves as well.

Although the play’s protagonist is Hamlet, the main theme of revenge is told by his father. However, Hamlet is not without his own motive for revenge. The time period within the play takes place is one that includes honor to family and blood ties. Hamlet takes on King Hamlet’s task with little understanding on what his course of action will be. His promise “As meditation or thoughts of love may sweep to my revenge” (1.5.35-36) shows his loyalty to his father. His loyalty is absolute and unmoving. The connection to family played has Hamlet’s reason for seeking revenge even though he himself was not directly affected. This intertwines with King Hamlet’s revenge message and how those who choose to be burdened by other peoples tasks will also be affected. This is seen when Hamlet promises King Hamlet “and thy commandment all alone shall live” (1.5.109). Hamlet is well aware of King Hamlet’s plan for revenge and has taken it upon himself to exact it. Though his blood ties give him reason to follow through with the act, he is not entirely aware of the actual situation at hand. For he only shares his father’s anger, not his vision. Therefore he forgets that his mission includes the safety of Gertrude. This is seen when Hamlet states “[Claudius] abuses me to damn me… wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (2.2.633-635). Hamlet’s fuel for his campaign of revenge is Claudius and his shared disgust for him with his father. But Claudius has never gone out of his way to harm Hamlet thus making Hamlet’s actions of revenge a blind effort to avenge his father. Hamlet’s lesson on revenge is even though helping another person out for a good cause might seem noble, it can leave those exacting the revenge to miss their mark and cause more damage than necessary.

Shakespeare has used Hamlet and Laertes to tell two stories of revenge and used King Hamlet as the igniting flame for the tension that would ensue. The constant reminder or anger, protection, and devotion keep his audience aware of what really cause the need for vengeance. However, through the story of Hamlet it becomes clear that revenge does not go as planned and others will always be affected by it. Revenge is in the end, painted as a cause of even more trouble and a nonviable solution for the troubles that some may face. The takeaway message from Hamlet being, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Cite this page

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

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7