Love is one of the most powerful themes in Hamlet, but a superior force – REVENGE, drives Hamlet’s love. Revenge of his father’s murder. Hamlet is confused and melancholic over the fact that his mother married his own uncle and so quickly after his father’s death. Even though he does not immediately suspect foul play in his father’s untimely death, he is in a state of shock. As Kenneth Muir states, “He (Hamlet) is profoundly shocked by Gertrude’s marriage to his uncle in less than two months after her first husband’s death, although he has no conscious suspicion that his father has been murdered or that his mother had committed adultery.” The ghost scene seems to fuel Hamlet’s revenges of his father’s murder, but also, as we will discuss later this scene confuses Hamlet.
Hamlet’s revenge of his father’s murder is successful, but very costly. Hamlet pays the ultimate price of his mother’s, his sweetheart Ophelia’s, his friend’s and his own life to accomplish this revenge. Hamlet’s revenge for his father’s murder begins just after the ghost scene, were Hamlet meets his fathers ghost and is told of the murder.
Hamlet’s father tell him to revenge his murder “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I, v, 25). Hamlet’s response is to swear “that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.”(I, v, 29-31). Hamlet is now determined, even inspired to a rapid revenge.
Hamlet is confused with his fathers death and is suspicious of foul play, but even after the ghost scene Hamlets seems to be vacillating between actuality (Was his father murder by his uncle?) and manic depression. Hamlet even goes as far as considering suicide. “To be or not to be – that is the question” (III, i, 56). Hamlet does not act swiftly as he pledged he would. Paul Cantor states that “Hamlet continually hesitates to act because he will not allow himself to be swept away by his passions. His intellect is constantly leading him to deny meaning to the very acts he feels impelled to perform.”
To clear any uncertainty as to whether or not Claudius murdered his father, Hamlet decides to set him up. Hamlet plans a “mouse trap” for Claudius in which he sets up a play, for the King and Queen, to be a murder tragedy. Hamlet hopes to see Claudius’s reaction towards the murder scene in hope of establishing his guilt. “The Play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” (II, ii, 589-591) The play works but Hamlet does not “sweep to his revenge”. Why not, is he worried about Ophelia being caught up on his attempted murder? William Hazlitt states, “When Hamlet is most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided, and sceptical, dallies with his purpose, till the occasion is lost, and finds out some pretence to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again.” This is most likely the reason why Hamlet does not take advantage of the opportunity to kill the king when he is at his prayers. Hamlet can not have his revenge perfect as he wishes, so he declines it altogether. “He kneels and prays, And now I’ll do’t and so he goes to heaven, And so am I reveng’d: that would be scann’d. He kill’d my father, and for that, I his sole son, send him to heaven. Why this is reward, not revenge. Up sword and know thou a more horrid time, When he is drunk, asleep, or in a rage.” (III, iii, 73-89) Even Hamlet himself question why he delays his revenge, “I do not know Why yet I live to say, This thing’s to do, Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means To do’t.” (IV, IV, 43-46)
Hamlet’s love for Ophelia is somewhat disseminated. We are torn between two possible translations of Hamlets love for Ophelia. Some writers, following Goethe, “see in Ophelia many traits of resemblance to the Queen, perhaps just as striking are the traits contrasting with those of the Queen.” This suggests that Hamlet’s love for Ophelia is only reflections of his true love for his mother the Queen. Ernest Jones has a more likely opinion that; “Hamlet appears to have with more or less success weaned himself from the Queen and to have fallen in love with Ophelia.” Hamlet declares his true love for Ophelia at the funeral scene, “I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers Could not with all their quantity of love Make up my sum.”(V, i, 58-60) Unfortunately Hamlet feels that he must remove himself from Ophelia in order to take swift action to revenge his fathers murder.
The nunnery scene is the most important aspect of Hamlets declaration of love. Hamlet transfer his love and anger for his mother into a rage of anger towards Ophelia. Perhaps Hamlet is hoping that Ophelia will realize that he is only pretending for the sake of the spies. As John Dover Wilson notes, “Hamlet’s accidental discovery of the intention to spy upon him has a bearing much wider than his attitude towards Ophelia.” But Wilson also notes that, “Moreover, it is clears that in the tirades of the nunnery scene he is thinking almost as much of his mother as of Ophelia.” Hamlet feels that he must separate himself from all personal ties in order to achieve his swift revenge for his father’s murder. This is backed by Eleanor Prosser who states, “Hamlet has said he would cut himself off from all normal ties, and Ophelia reports that he has, in effect, said good-bye to her, an implication that is confirmed by Hamlet’s detached control at the opening of the Nunnery Scene.”
Love supports revenge as the main theme because Hamlet sacrifices his love for Ophelia and his mother in order to pursue his revenge, primarily because of his love for his father. Hamlet is willing to pay the ultimate price of his own life as well as others in order to achieve his final revenge. “Hamlet’s revenge has led him to wanton and meaningless slaughter. He may have ultimately won the battle within himself, but he dies with the blood of eight men on his hands, five of them innocent victims, helpless bystanders who were pointlessly struck down because they came between two mighty opposites. Hamlet’s revenge has led to the destruction of two entire families and to the abandonment of the State to a foreign adventurer.”
Hoy, C. HAMLET William Shakespeare, New York, 1963
Prosser, E. HAMLET & REVENGE, Stanford, 1971
Wilson, J. What happens in HAMLET, New York, 1964
Muir, K. SHAKESPREARE Hamlet, London, 1983
Cantor, P. Landmarks of World Literature SHAKESPEARE Hamlet, New York, 1989
Farnham, W. HAMLET PRINCE OF DENMARK, New York, 1985
Mercer, P. HAMLET and the Acting of Revenge, London, 1987