Theme of Betrayal in Hamlet

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The Theme of Revenge in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous literary works. The play is made up of different intertwined themes that are essential to its development. However, the dominant theme that is in play is the quest for revenge. Revenge can be described as the theme that is cleverly built upon from the beginning of the play and throughout its extent. This is the driving force behind some of the main characters of the play. Throughout the play, there exist different characters that are determined to ensure that they fix or revenge the wrongs they believe have been committed against them. In one way or another, the different characters go about their revenge. It is also evident to surmise that the characters rely on the advice provided by their friends to determine the best way to go about their revenge. For example, through Prince Hamlet, the protagonist, the author relays the nature of his family such as his father, mother, and uncle, the King of Denmark. This paper will highlight how the different character’s search for revenge unavoidably results in tragedy.

At the beginning of the play, Hamlet comes across the ghost of his father. This ghost is relevant to the play as it puts across the motive of revenge. The ghost commands Hamlet to avenge Hamlet’s father’s death by asserting that a refusal would be regarded as disobedience on the protagonist’s part. “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” The ghost further claims that it is unable to rest until the action of revenge takes place. In a sense, it is stating that Hamlet must avenge his father’s death so that he can ultimately rest. “I am thy father's spirit, doomed for a certain term to walk the night. And for the day confined to fast in fires, till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away”. However, what the ghost did not anticipate was the massive tragedy that would take place as a result of Hamlet’s act of vengeance. He also murders the queen, who he had specifically been warned by the ghost not to kill. However, in the end, her death is written off as justifiable because it is perceived as a sign of retribution for the evils she committed after the death of her husband (Ryan). Through different actions such as the sin of incest, the queen can be perceived as an accomplice for the murder. Eventually, her death is regarded as a form of atonement for her unfaithfulness, incest, and betrayal. Finally, the ghost gets his revenge. However, it is now evident that with revenge tragedy follows. In the play, it is, therefore, essential to examine the significance of revenge to the overall plot of the play and how Shakespeare dramatically achieves this. It is evident that revenge as a theme exhibits itself through the different sequence of actions that take place in the play.

As the play progresses, Hamlet, through his soliloquy informs his audience that he has crafted a plan of revenge for this father (Marrapodi). He decides that he will act insane in a convincing manner. His commitment to this role is evident through his portrayal of different acts of insanity. However, his knowledge of the undertakings is highlighted through his assertions to Gertrude where he states, "That essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft." This excerpt reveals that Hamlet was primarily acting insanely as a ploy in his revenge scheme. Nevertheless, later in the play, we bear witness to Hamlet murdering Polonius. He killed Polonius by mistake as part of his revenge, thinking that he was killing the king who took the life of his father. However, when he realizes the mistake he has made, he shows no remorse or regret for his error and simply brushes it off as a casual mistake. After committing the act, he utters, "How now? A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!" This quote is representative of Hamlet’s state of mind during this period and therefore served to develop the basic plot of the play. The thirst and desire for revenge embodied by Hamlet overtake his sense of better judgment and ultimately he begins to act on impulse (Barreto). Ideally, revenge becomes the root of all the protagonist’s evils.

Hamlet also decided to take revenge on his mother for her actions in the play. In contrast to the other characters, Hamlet opts to take a different approach in his mother’s case by making her realize what kind of individual she has married and this ultimately makes her feel terrible. “A bloody deed. Almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king and marry with his brother.” At this point is when Gertrude realizes who had killed her late husband. Hamlet is also taking revenge on her for being oblivious of the events that have taken place around her. Hamlet finally seeks to take revenge on Claudius for opting to marry her mother and eventually killing her. “It is a poison’d cup. It is too late.”


In the play, Hamlet, the theme of revenge takes center stage. In reality, the progression of the Shakespearean play is mainly based on the different characters trying to look for the best ways of carrying out their revenge. From the beginning of the play, it is clear that the protagonist, Hamlet understands the role the king played in his father’s death. Hamlet then embarks on a mission to search for evidence in order to revenge the death of his father. This process leads to the intentional and unintentional deaths of many characters. At the end of the play, despite Hamlet getting his revenge, he also loses his life in the process. This gives credence to the central theme of the play which is revenge and how its pursuit only causes tragedy.

Works Cited

Barreto, Eduardo. "Hamlet" and Marginality. Masters Thesis. Miami: Florida International University, 2015. PDF.

Marrapodi, Michelle. "The Ambivalence of Revenge and of the Avenger's Role in Hamlet: the Function of Letters and Emblematic Allusions." Cahiers Élisab©thains 79.1 (2011): 19-34. Web.

Ryan, Kiernan. Hamlet and revenge. 15 March 2016. Web. 5 May 2019.  

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Theme Of Betrayal In Hamlet. (2020, May 14). Retrieved February 29, 2024 , from

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