William Shakespeare is one of the most influential writers of his time. His ability to make a connection to the real world through the themes of his plays, is what makes him a master of literature. Throughout many of William Shakespeare’s plays there is a strong theme of betrayal. Characters often manipulate and take advantage of others. Characters start to break relationships and become more independent after betrayal has taken place in the plays. After a character has been betrayed we can see the true nature and intentions of those involved. When a betrayal is made public all characters in the plays become on edge not knowing who is trustworthy and who is truly deceptive. In William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the theme of betrayal develops plot, reveals a character’s true nature, and affects the atmosphere of the play.
To begin, a deceptive act of betrayal never ends well for any of the characters, an act of betrayal will always leave one of the characters with a loss of trust. In the play many relationships are destroyed by the multiple betrayals because of the need for power and the need for revenge. The initial betrayal that leads to the downfall of the royal family and the members of the castle is built on Claudius’s desire for power and ambition to take it from his own brother King Hamlet. When Claudius admits to committing the murder of his brother King Hamlet to take over his throne it is revealed to the reader how far Claudius is willing to go to gain power from his brother. Claudius admits to committing the murder of his brother King Hamlet to take over his throne. Claudius admits he could not resist the urge to take his brother’s throne and Power because it was natural jealousy, “It hath the primal eldest curse upont a brothers murder. Pray I cannot” (3.3.36-37). This quote from Claudius’ soliloquy shows that he didn’t resist his natural desire for power and has now brought the primal eldest curse to himself by murdering his brother. Through his desire and determination Claudius has now brought the primal eldest curse to himself but cannot beg or pray for forgiveness because he would have to give up his new role as king “forgive me my foul murder? that cannot be, since I am still possessed of those effects for which I did the murder. My crown, mine own ambition and my queen”(3.3.53-55). When Claudius says this statement he knows the curse now cannot be removed until he steps down and gives away his crown. Claudius’ betrayal of King Hamlet leads to the destruction of the relationship between Hamlet and Claudius. Hamlet is visited by his father’s ghost and is informed that someone had been murdered with poison in his ear, Hamlet replies with “ I doubt foul play would the night were come. Till then sit still, foul deeds will rise through all earth o’erwhelm them, to mens eyes” (1.3.256-258). Hamlet’s new suspicion leads him to be untrusting of others, while also leaving him with the need to avenge his father. Anyone could be a suspect in the castle but one person sticks out, his uncle who has now taken over the throne and married his mother, the queen. With the anger Hamlet has against his mother and uncle for their new marriage, Hamlet’s relationship to both characters is destroyed.
In addition to the destruction of relationships, the theme of betrayal reveals the true nature of characters. Within the play the betrayal of King Hamlet reveals the true nature of Gertrude and her love for King Hamlet which was not for the man wearing the crown but for the crown itself “ Would have mourned longer – married with my uncle, my father’s brother – but no more like my father than I to Hercules”(1.2.151-153). Hamlet expresses his feelings about his mother and her new marriage. Hamlet realizes she did not love his father, but loved the throne he sat on. Hamlet compares his relationship with his uncle, now stepfather, to his relationship to the mythical god Hercules. This means that he will never see him as his father and will not have anything to do with him. Queen Gertrude is not the only character whose true nature is revealed through the betrayals Claudius’ prayers for King Hamlet are revealed as only being act, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to Heaven go” (3.3.97-98). This statement reveals to us that Claudius is only concerned with power and has no regret for killing King Hamlet; his own blood, and is now putting on an act of remorse. Claudius and Gertrude have a selfish love for power and royalty. Gertrude is in love with the royalty and the throne itself while Claudius is in love with the power and control that comes with the title of King.
Lastly, as a result of the theme of betrayal, there is a change in the atmosphere where the characters are full of anger and want revenge. The characters also do not know who they can trust anymore or what devious plans may be going on. In the play Hamlet has a plan in the works to avenge his father, “a villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son, do this villian send to heaven”(3.3.76-79). Hamlet is ready to avenge his father and has some suspicion of his uncle but is waiting for the right time and better proof that he is the killer before he takes action and avenges his father. Hamlet feels the need to avenge his father because he is his only son and feels he has to honour his father by taking revenge on the man who murdered him. Hamlet has lost trust in people around him and does not know who may be working with Claudius or what other schemes Claudius may be working on. Hamlet knows how manipulative Claudius is and has lost trust in even his closest childhood friends; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet is no longer friends with either Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because of their willingness to betray him just to stay loyal to the king. “Importing Denmark’s health, and England’s too, with ho! Such bugs and goblins in my life, that on the supervise no leisure bated, no, not to stay grinding axe, my head should be struck off” (5.2.21-25). Hamlet tells Horatio how he has almost no one left to trust and that even his closest friends are willing to betray him for nothing more but to be loyal to the new King. Hamlet compares his old friends to nothing more than bugs and goblins because the theme of betrayal has consumed him. He believes he is above everyone for not dropping to their level where he would betray people to better himself. The only friend he can still trust is Horatio because he has not taken part in any action of betrayal and has always remained loyal to Hamlet.
To conclude, in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the theme of betrayal develops plot, reveals characters’ true natures and intentions, and changes the atmosphere of the entire play.
The theme of betrayal affects relationships leaving them broken and leads characters to become less trusting and more independent. The theme of betrayal brings out characters’ true intentions and reveals the worst side of them. Betrayal leaves characters suspicious and full of revenge, not knowing who to trust in fear of being betrayed and suffering the same fate as King Hamlet.