Revenge as The Source of Evil in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”

Published 27 Apr 2017

The play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare is filled with unfortunate occurrences caused by evil deeds. The evil deeds included in the play are deception, maltreatment of women and murder. However, what could be the cause of evil in the play? The source of evil in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is revenge. Revenge is the origin of all evil in the play because all the evil acts were triggered by the Ghost’s request of revenge to Prince Hamlet.
Revenge is the clearly the source of evil in the play, as there were no evil acts committed prior to the Ghost’s encounter with Hamlet. While it is true that Hamlet was deeply dissatisfied with the events which occurred after his father’s death, he never acted against anyone. For instance, Hamlet greatly disapproved his mother’s marriage to his uncle.

He felt that Queen Gertrude rushed into marrying Claudius shortly after his beloved husband’s passing. According to Hamlet, “A beast that wants discourse of reason/ Would have mourned longer!” (I.ii.154-155). In addition, he despised his uncle; he did not think Claudius could measure up to his late father’s capacity as king. Hamlet considered his father as “so excellent a king,” a “hyperion” compared to Claudius’ “satyr” (I.ii.143-144). Despite his unhappiness over the current situation, it must be noted that Hamlet did not inflict harm on his mother, uncle, or anyone else.

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Revenge is the source of evil in the play because Hamlet began to carry out wicked deeds shortly after being confronted with his father’s spirit. On their encounter, The Ghost asked Hamlet to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I.v.31). It was not until after agreeing to the spirit’s request that Hamlet started his wicked ways. Deception can be considered as his first evil act, for Hamlet planned to act like a madman to deceive certain people. He revealed to Horatio that he would sometimes act mad to conceal his plan of revenge against King Claudius, his father’s murderer. One of the people he successfully deceived was Ophelia. He had acted in a bizarre manner around her that she became convinced of his apparent madness. She remarked, “O, what noble mind is here o’erthrown!” (III.i.163).

Evil in the play can also seen in the way Hamlet treated women. After heeding his father’s request for revenge, he maltreated Queen Gertrude and Ophelia. Hamlet’s misogyny was reflected in his verbal attack against both women. He called his mother as “stewed in corruption…making love over the nasty sty” (III.iv.105-106). Meanwhile, Hamlet advised Ophelia to enter the convent instead of considering marriage. He believed that women are the source of sinners in the world. He told her, “Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” (III.i.131-132).

Lastly, evil was manifested in the play through the murders committed in the play. These murders would not have been committed if the characters were not eager for revenge. First, Hamlet was unremorseful in accidentally killing Polonius. He stabbed Polonius behind the curtain, thinking it was King Claudius. Upon Polonius’ death, it was Laertes who sought revenge and planned to kill Hamlet. Unfortunately, Laertes also died due to his intention to avenge his father’s murder. Instead of killing Hamlet with a poisoned cup, King Claudius became responsible for the death of Queen Gertrude. While Hamlet successfully avenged his father’s death by killing King Claudius, he was also murdered by the poisoned sword.

Revenge is the origin of all evil in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. The spirit’s call of revenge triggered a sequence of evil acts committed by Hamlet, which in turn influenced the actions of other characters in the play. It was the desire for revenge which primarily caused the people to turn against each other in the Shakespearean tragedy. Indeed, the prevalence of evil in “Hamlet” was rooted in revenge.

Work Cited

  • Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.
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