Revenge. Revenge causes one to act blindly through anger, rather than through reason. It is based on the principle of an eye for an eye, but this principle is not always an intelligent theory to live by. Young Fortinbras, Laertes, and Hamlet were all looking to avenge the deaths of their fathers. They all acted on emotion, and this led to the downfall of two, and the rise to power of one. Since the Heads of the three major families were each murdered, the eldest sons of these families swore vengeance, and two of the three sons died while exacting their acts of vengeance, revenge is a major theme in the Tragedy of Hamlet.
There were three major families in the Tragedy of Hamlet. These were the family of King Fortinbras, the family of Polonius, and the family of King Hamlet. The heads of each of these families are all slaughtered within the play. Fortinbras, King of Norway, was killed by King Hamlet; slain by sword during a man to man battle. “…our valiant Hamlet-for so this side of our known world esteem’d him-did slay this Fortinbras.” This entitled King Hamlet to the land that was possessed by Fortinbras because it was written in a seal’d compact. Polonius was an advisor to the King, and father to Laertes and Ophelia. He was nosy and arrogant, and he did not trust his children. He was killed by Young Hamlet while he was eves dropping on a conversation between Hamlet and his mother. “How now! A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!” King Hamlet was the King of Denmark, and Hamlet’s father. He had killed King Fortinbras, only to be killed by his brother, Claudius. “…My offense is rank, it smells to heaven; A brother’s murder…” Each of these events effected the sons of the deceased in the same way, it enraged them.
Every one of the three eldest sons had one thing in common, they all wanted revenge for a slaughtered father. In the time in which this play is set, avenging the murder of a father was part of one’s honor, and had to be done. All of the three sons swore vengeance, and then acted towards getting revenge for the deaths of their fathers.
Young Fortinbras was deeply enraged by the death of his father, and he wanted revenge against Denmark because of this occurrence. Fortinbras wanted to, by force, regain the lands that had been lost by his father to Denmark. “…Now sir, young Fortinbras…as it doth well appear unto our state-but to recover of us, by strong hand and terms compulsative, those foresaid lands so by his father lost…” Claudius sends messengers to talk to Fortinbras’ uncle, the new King of Norway. He forbid Fortinbras to attack Denmark, and instead convinced him to attack the Poles to vent his anger. “…His nephew’s levies, which to him appear’d to be a preparation ‘gainst the Polack; But better look’d into, he truly found it was against your highness…On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys, receives rebuke from Norway, and, in fine, makes vow before his uncle never more to give the assay of arms against your majesty.”
Laertes found out about his father’s death, and immediately returned home. He confronted the King and accused him of the murder of his father. Claudius told Laertes that Hamlet was responsible for his father’s death. He then decides to kill Hamlet to avenge the death of his father. He and Claudius concoct a plot to kill Hamlet. Hamlet dies of wounds from the poisoned tipped sword Laertes used. “…Hamlet, thou art slain…The treacherous instrument is in thy, unbated and envenom’d…” Hamlet was deeply sorrowed by his father’s death. He spoke to a ghost, and this ghost stated that his father’s death was a murder, by the hand of his uncle, Claudius. “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.” Hamlet was astonished, and then swore vengeance for his father’s death. He then proceeded to try and prove his uncle’s guilt, and then finally kills him while he himself is dying of poisoned wounds inflicted by Laertes during their duel. “The point envenomed too! Then venom, to thy work…Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, drink off this potion,-is thy union here? Follow my mother.” This left the King dead, and his father’s death avenged.
The lack of thought used in exacting the revenge led to the deaths of both Laertes and Hamlet. Laertes planned with Claudius to kill Hamlet with the poisoned tipped sword, but they had not thought that the sword might be used against them. With Laertes believing the King’s accusations that Hamlet had murdered his father, he was in a blind rage, and would not listen to Hamlet’s explanation and apology. “I am satisfied in nature…to my revenge…I stand aloof…and will no reconcilement…But till that time, I do receive your offer’d love like love, and will not wrong it.”. He fights Hamlet, and wounds him once with the poisoned tipped sword; but unfortunately, their swords are switched, and Hamlet wounds Laertes with the sword. That is the wound by which Laertes dies. Hamlet had many chances to kill his uncle, but his rage outweighed his intelligence; and he chose to wait until the lord could see no good in Claudius, and then strike him down into a world of eternal damnation. “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;…A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven.” Hamlet waits until he can kill his uncle while he is performing a sin, unfortunately for Hamlet, the sin is the poisoning of his own son in law. Hamlet dies of his poisoned wound. Young Fortinbras regains his fathers land, without use of violence, or death to himself. Hamlet names him new ruler of Denmark before he dies, and Fortinbras regains all of his father’s lost land, and becomes King of Denmark.
Since the Heads of the three major families were each murdered, the eldest sons of these families swore vengeance, and two of the three sons died while exacting their acts of vengeance, revenge is a major theme in the Tragedy of Hamlet. As a theme, revenge was present in all parts of the play. It seems ironic that Claudius, Laertes, and Hamlet all died of the same sword. It is also ironic that the first the seek revenge against Claudius, Fortinbras, becomes King of Denmark. Revenge was the driving force behind three of the main characters of the play, for two it led to downfall, and for the other it led to greatness.