Three Young Men in Search of Revenge
“Three young men in search of revenge.” This sentence is the clearest way the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare can be summarised. As the entire chain of events take place, it becomes clear that the play can have either three or no revenge plots because they are closely related. “Hamlet” cannot exist without the revenge plots of the characters. Thus “Three young men in search of revenge.” provides an adequate view of the play.
Apart from very few exceptions, the plot and the main theme of a literary work is directly linked to the main character. Hamlet does not stand as an exception to this. Prince Hamlet is the protagonist and his search of revenge is naturally the main plot of the play. However, the successive events that occur throughout the play cause the existence of two more avengers: Fortinbras and Laertes.
As the story unfolds, it is seen that King Hamlet is secretly murdered by his brother Claudius by poisoning. Hamlet suspects Claudius of murder, and this suspicion of his is verified by the appearance of the ghost of his father to him. The Ghost tells the whole story to Hamlet who then decides that his suspicions have been true, and is ordered for revenge.
The murder of King Hamlet is not the only reason for Hamlet to seek for revenge. Immediately after the funeral of King Hamlet, Claudius marries Gertrude who is the mother of Hamlet and then resumes stately occupations as if nothing considerable has happened. Hamlet thinks that his mother is whored by Claudius and this creates another reason for Hamlet’s revenge. A third reason is that although traditionally the throne should have belonged to Hamlet; Claudius, owing to a coup d’etat in smaller dimensions, holds the possession of the crown and violates the royal rights of Hamlet. The tragic and dishonourable loss of a father, a humiliating whoring of his mother and being left in a desperate state in the talks on the political affairs of Denmark causes an instinctive backfire in Hamlet, eventually leading to his plots about revenge.
However, thinking of revenge does not mean taking the guilty one out immediately. There is quite a long time period observed between Hamlet’s decision and Hamlet’s action. During that period, Hamlet recites his famous soliloquies and wonders about his fate after killing Claudius. The Ghost openly orders Hamlet to take his revenge from Claudius in the beginning of the play. Yet, this does not stop Hamlet from thinking of his fate when he kills Claudius.
Conceptually Hamlet’s revenge begins from the point where he learns about the murderer of his father; and ends when Claudius is killed in the finale. Between these two spots, Hamlet’s sentences and soliloquies bear the fragrances of revenge if not directly linked to. When Hamlet encounters or talks to the characters of smaller frequency of appearance like Ophelia and Gertrude, he uses them to send the messages to the audience that he is about to carry out the plot he had designed for Claudius. Therefore, they can be considered as roles of smaller involvement in the revenge plots of Hamlet. Gertrude and Ophelia serve just as audiences of Hamlet’s soliloquies if the soliloquies are not directed to the audience in the first place. Finally, having made the entire plot ready, Hamlet initiates his plan.
His plans are of no importance in what happened in terms of taking revenge, because a huge mistake Hamlet did has been to kill Polonius, causing an incomprehensibly complex structure and web of events. Accidentally he kills Polonius when he suspects of espionage when he is in his mother’s bedroom telling her what to do. With the assumption that the spy behind the curtain is Claudius, Hamlet starts stabbing without looking at the suspect. Leaving a dead body behind but having no improvement in his plot, Hamlet gains one enemy unknowingly.
As can be seen, from the point of King Hamlet’s murder to Polonius’ murder, it has always been Hamlet’s plots for revenge that carried the play. Starting from then, Polonius’ son, Laertes comes back to Denmark to find the murderer of his father. Claudius, seeming as innocent as a virgin is, supports and encourages Laertes to kill Hamlet, as Claudius has already learned that the murderer was Hamlet. This is the beginning point of Laertes’ revenge plots. Contrary to Hamlet’s, Laertes’ revenge plot has specific and detailed plans of what should be done and how Hamlet should be killed. Laertes, as being one of the minor characters compared to Hamlet, does not interact much with the other people as Hamlet does. This provides an ultimate agreement within himself and he directly initiates his plans without leaving any time for thinking like Hamlet did.
Fortinbras, having problems not with specific people but with the governor of Denmark, proves himself as a witty commander. He manoeuvres to annex a trivial piece of land in western Poland and asks Denmark’s permission for territorial trespassing. After the conquest of western Poland and given the permission, Norwegian Commander Fortinbras draws an arc in southern Denmark facing to the north and thus cripples the defences of the peninsula. Just like Laertes, Fortinbras carries out his plan immediately after he creates it. Fortinbras’ problem with Denmark dates back to King Hamlet’s reign, which ended with his death which started Hamlet’s revenge story.
Certainly, if the revenge plots of Fortinbras, Laertes and Hamlet were taken out from the play, and the three characters were inserted as minor ones, the entire play would be lost, because Hamlet, of its nature is a play erected on the theme revenge. However, it would again paralyse the entire play if only one of the three revenge tragedies were taken out. For Laertes not to seek revenge, Hamlet should not slay Polonius. If Hamlet should not slay Polonius, Claudius should not have whored Gertrude and should not have poisoned King Hamlet. If King Hamlet is not poisoned and considers Norway as an enemy, he would not have granted the permission of territorial trespassing. Reaching the last ring of the chain, this would not let Fortinbras into continental Europe.
One could argue that the three revenge plots in Hamlet are not sufficient to describe the entire play. The answers to this lies in the play itself. The speeches of Hamlet to his mother and Claudius in Act 1 Scene 2 lines 65, 73, 76-86 show that he is offended because Gertrude and Claudius got married immediately after King Hamlet’s death. It is this sorrow that drives Hamlet to revenge towards the end of the play. Again, his soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 2 lines 129-159 compares his father to Hyperion who is the famous Greek god of sun, and his uncle to a satyr, a creature which is known by lechery. An open insult and direction of hatred against Claudius is observed in this soliloquy, as well as the weaknesses of women in general.
The fact that Hamlet did not have complex plans to kill his enemy like Laertes did. This limits the number of pieces one can find in Hamlet about Hamlet’s plans against Claudius. On the other hand, Laertes’ intention is observed clearly:
“Laertes: How came he dead? I’ll not be juggled with.
To hell allegiance, vows to the blackest devil,
Conscience and grace to the profoundest pit!
I dare damnation. To this point I stand,
That both the worlds I give to negligence,
Let come what comes, only I’ll be revenged
Most thoroughly for my father.”1
Easily seen, this shows Laertes’ lust for revenge after his father’s death and supports the idea that Laertes’ actions which will unquestionably affect Hamlet’s actions, and start the chain2 mentioned all over.