Death becomes a frequent and almost normal event throughout Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. The story follows Hamlet, a young man mourning his father’s demise, who comes to know the culprit behind his father’s death and must seek vengeance for his father. So, Hamlet seeks revenge and he completes the task, the burden placed upon his shoulders, but at what price? By highlighting the shortcomings in character’s such as Hamlet, Claudius, and Polonius, that eventually cause their downfalls, Shakespeare’s Hamlet challenges the validity and efficacy of revenge.
Hamlet’s acceptance of fatalism, the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable, coupled with his indecisiveness leads him to his demise. For example, in foreshadowing his death due to his faults, Hamlet says that a man’s flaw can be “nature’s livery, or fortune’s star” (1.4.32). A fault that is with a man from birth or something that fate bestows upon one down the line. It is in Hamlet’s mind unavoidable, much like his fault, hesitancy, created by revenge. Hamlet’s duty bestowed upon him by his father’s ghost is to avenge his death by killing Claudius. But Hamlet is, “a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of [his] cause” (2.2.519-520). Hamlet lacks conviction, he lacks the spine to seek revenge. He is an artist, a performer; killing is not within his nature. So, he delays it, and delays it, and still delays it, allowing Claudius to realize that Hamlet’s knows about the crimes he had committed. First the play that Hamlet put on, then killing Polonius, then all the contemplations about death itself; the more that Hamlet delayed killing Claudius only allowed for death to grasp his neck sooner. Fate is unavoidable, something that Hamlet truly believed in, fate delivered his father’s vengeance upon Hamlet, revenge established indecisiveness in Hamlet’s heart, which ultimately called death to Hamlet’s side.
Claudius, the last King of Denmark, but Hamlet was not the only one who killed Claudius. His own greed consumed his morals and ultimately his life. After committing fratricide, purely to gain power, wealth, and the queen, he lounges around drinking and having a great time. He seems to have completely forgotten about his sins, until he asks if he “can serve my turn? Forgive me my foul murder?” (3.3.52). He asks for his sins to be forgotten, to be waived as if it was a late fee. This develops a small moment of hope for Claudius, maybe he will confess to the people of Denmark and repent for his sins. Until the greed washes over him as he exclaims, “That cannot be, since I am still possess’d of those effects for which I did the murder my crown, mine own ambition and my queen” (3.3.53-55). The “gifts” from fratricide, his position, his status, his beloved queen are all more important to him than repenting for his sins, more important than his morals leading him down the estranged path ending with his death. However, greed takes a completely new definition for Claudius as he does not even try to stop Gertrude from drinking poison as all he said to her was “Gertrude, don’t drink that” (5.2.270), and although she continues to drink it he does not stop her, he does not attempt to save her because he values his position and his wealth over Gertrude’s love and life. Greed takes on new forms for Claudius throughout the story revealing at last all he cared about and wanted was to be King, something that sparked Hamlet’s revenge and ultimately his death.
Polonius’s flaw wasn’t exactly a bad thing as it was loyalty coupled with greed. When it comes to loyalty one must see this as a revered trait not a flaw, but undoubtingly is a flaw depending on who one is loyal to, in this case Polonius is loyal to the corrupt and evil Claudius. Being an advisor to Claudius enables him many benefits but also makes him maintain a strict household as he gives advice to his son Laertes, “for the apparel oft proclaims the man, and they in France of the best rank and station”. He simply proclaims to Laertes that he needs to dress nice to respected and revered in France, but there is a double meaning to this line. He wants Laertes to dress nice to be respected in France not for his son’s sake but to uphold his pride and not to slander his name which in turn could affect his position in Denmark. He wants to always be by Claudius’s side helping him and promoting his position at the same time. For example, out of greed Polonius wants to prove to the King and Queen that Hamlet’s madness was caused by Ophelia, as “he, repulsed … fell into a sadness … into the madness wherein now he raves” (2.2.144-148), again not out of duty to the royal family but out of greed. By forbidding the love between Ophelia and Hamlet, Claudius planned this all in order to progress himself on Claudius’s good side and gain a higher status and position within the royal court. However, Claudius and Gertrude aren’t fully convinced they want more evidence, Polonius of course searches for the evidence as his loyalty and greed compels him to do so, ultimately leading him to his death as a “wretched, rash, intruding fool” (3.4.31). Polonius’s manipulation and involvedness in matters he was only involved in due to greed and loyalty, his faults, only led him to his death by Hamlet, an accident of all things.
Hamlet, by Shakespeare does a fantastic job of challenging the efficacy and validity of revenge through emphasizing the flaw’s of the fallen characters as they are all born from fate and from revenge which ultimately cause their downfalls. Based on Hamlet it can be deduced that revenge does not pan out for anyone, its value and legitimacy are questioned as they it all ends in death. This creates limitations and it is in the best interest of humans to abide by them, seeking revenge may succeed but also will result in one’s demise.