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Revenge


Hamlet says to the Ghost, "Speak; I am bound to hear." He means that it is his duty to listen to the spirit of his father. The Ghost replies that it is also his duty to take revenge: "So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear"(1.5.7). [Scene Summary]

A moment later, the Ghost repeats the message, but more strongly. He says that if Hamlet ever loved his father, he will "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (1.5.25). Hamlet promises to prove his love and do his duty. He tells the Ghost to tell the story of the murder, and the revenge will follow: "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge" (1.5.29-31). [Scene Summary]


When the players come to Elsinore, Hamlet asks for a speech, and First Player delivers a description of the killing of old, white-haired King Priam. The killer, Pyrrhus, swings his sword at feeble Priam, and misses, but Priam falls to the ground anyway. Just at that moment a tower crashes to the ground. For an instant, with his sword held above Priam's head, Pyrrhus listens to the rumble of the falling tower, but "after Pyrrhus' pause, / Aroused vengeance sets him new a-work" (2.2.487-488). Then Pyrrhus proceeds to butcher the helpless Priam.

"Vengeance" is revenge, but Pyrrhus doesn't have the same kind of personal motivation that Hamlet has. He is a Greek and King Priam is a Trojan. The Greeks made war upon the Trojans because the Trojan Paris stole beautiful Helen from the Greek Menelaus. The Greeks as a group are taking vengeance for Helen's abduction, so Pyrrhus' revenge is not a personal matter at all. [Scene Summary]


By the time the players come to Elsinore, it's been a while since Hamlet promised the Ghost that he would take revenge. Then the First Player weeps as he tells the story of Queen Hecuba's grief for her murdered husband. This makes Hamlet ask himself (in his second soliloquy) why he hasn't carried out his revenge. To Hamlet it seems that First Player feels more strongly about Hecuba than Hamlet does about his father. Hamlet then calls himself a coward, and tries to work himself up into the white heat of hatred. But as he is calling King Claudius a "bloody, bawdy villain," Hamlet realizes that he's still talking, rather than doing:
O, vengeance!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A stallion! Fie upon't! foh!   (2.2.581-587)
Despite all of this, Hamlet decides that instead of taking revenge right away, he will find out if the Ghost is really telling the truth. This is the first time he has expressed any doubt about the Ghost, so it looks like he feels that he ought to take revenge, but doesn't have his heart in it. [Scene Summary]
I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious" (3.1.123-124), says Hamlet to Ophelia, when he is trying to persuade her that she can't trust any man and should never marry. His point is that he himself is an example of the faults of men. One of those faults is being "revengeful." [Scene Summary]
Cliché or reality? -- Impatient with the bad acting of the villain in The Murder of Gonzago, Hamlet calls out, "Come, 'the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge'" (3.2.253-254). He is mockingly misquoting a melodramatic line from an old play, and he seems to be implying that revenge is a kind of horror-story cliché. However, the Ghost of Hamlet's father has demanded revenge for exactly the kind of murder that the villain of the play is about to commit. [Scene Summary]
Standing behind the kneeling King Claudius, sword in hand, Hamlet says to himself: Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; / And now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven; / And so am I revenged" (3.3.73-75). But, given this opportunity, Hamlet thinks rather than acts. What he thinks is that he'll wait until he can catch Claudius in the middle of a sinful act, and take revenge then. And then Claudius will go to hell, not heaven, so the revenge will be perfect. [Scene Summary]
Do you not come your tardy son to chide, / That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by / The important acting of your dread command? O, say!" (3.4.106-108). Thus Hamlet cries out to the Ghost, who has suddenly appeared as Hamlet was doing his best to make his mother ashamed of her sexual relationship with King Claudius. The "dread command" must be the command to take revenge described at the top of this page. [Scene Summary]
How all occasions do inform against me, / And spur my dull revenge!" (4.4.33) This is the opening of Hamlet's last soliloquy. On his way to board the ship for England, he speaks with a Norwegian Captain in the service of Fortinbras, who is on his way to fight for a little patch of land held by the Poles. Hamlet compares himself unfavorably with Fortinbras, who is fighting for next to nothing because his honor is at the stake. Fortinbras pushes on in the face of great danger because his sense of honor is keen, but Hamlet's desire to take revenge is "dull." And to be "dull' is to be unfeeling, less than human, as the Ghost warned Hamlet early in the play, when he told Hamlet that if he didn't take revenge, "duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed / That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf / Wouldst thou not stir in this" (1.5.32-34). [Scene Summary]
Upon Laertes' return from France he proclaims that "both the worlds I give to negligence, / Let come what comes; only I'll be revenged / Most thoroughly for my father" (4.5.135-137). By "both the worlds," Laertes means this world and the next. He is determined to have revenge even if he dies in this world and is damned in the next.

At the moment, Laertes thinks that King Claudius is the object of his revenge, but the King asks, "is't writ in your revenge, / That, swoopstake, you will draw both friend and foe / Winner and loser?" (4.5.142-144) He then starts to tell Laertes that he is innocent of wrong, but just at this moment mad Ophelia enters. Seeing Ophelia, Laertes exclaims, "Hadst thou thy wits, and didst persuade revenge, / It could not move thus" (4.5.170). He means that if she were sane, and tried to persuade Laertes to take revenge, it would be less effective than this. The sight of his sister's madness makes him more revengeful than ever. [Scene Summary]


After King Claudius has persuaded Laertes that Hamlet is responsible for Polonius' death and Ophelia's madness, Laertes promises that "my revenge will come" (4.7.29). However, the King apparently thinks he needs to make sure that Laertes will go along with his plan to kill Hamlet by underhanded means. Before he reveals the full plan, the King asks "Laertes, was your father dear to you? / Or are you like the painting of a sorrow, / A face without a heart? (4.7.107-109). The Ghost said something very similar to Hamlet: "If thou didst ever thy dear father love -- / . . .  Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (1.5.23-25). Thus the King, like the Ghost, says that taking revenge proves that a man loves his father. The King then asks Laertes what he would do to prove his love for his father. Laertes replies that he would cut Hamlet's throat in a church, and the King approves, saying "No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize; / Revenge should have no bounds" (4.7.127-128). Of course the King approves because now he can get Laertes to accept a sneaky and cowardly way of taking revenge. [Scene Summary]


After he returns from the sea voyage that was supposed to end with his death in England, Hamlet tells Horatio about his adventures. He concludes the story by asking Horatio a rhetorical question:
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?    (5.2.63-68)
"Quit" means "to pay back"; in this context, it means "to take revenge." Of course, now is the time to do it, but Hamlet doesn't do it, or make any sort of plan to do it. Instead, he agrees to a recreational fencing match with Laertes. [Scene Summary]
Just before the fencing match, Hamlet apologizes to Laertes, saying that it was his madness that made him kill Polonius. Laertes replies, "I am satisfied in nature, / Whose motive, in this case, should stir me most / To my revenge: but in my terms of honour / I stand aloof" (5.2.244-247). By saying that he is "satisfied in nature," Laertes means that Hamlet's apology has soothed his natural anger at Hamlet for killing his father. However, Laertes adds, the damage to his honor still gives him good reason for taking revenge. Laertes is lying about his feelings and he takes a dishonorable revenge. [Scene Summary]
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