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"The rest is silence": An analysis of revenge in Hamlet

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Introduction

"The rest is silence": An analysis of revenge in Hamlet Towards the close of act one, Hamlet has just concluded his conversation with his father's spirit. As he embarks on a quest to exact retribution, surfacing complications of the task trigger his doubts about revenge, which leads him to wonder whether or not the appeasement of familial honor is truly worth the tribulations that he will experience during life and perhaps after it. In Hamlet, emphasis on the symbolic contemplations of the protagonist serves to accentuate the fundamental theme of revenge, as Shakespeare explores a "victim's desire to get back at his victimizer" (Eisenstat 1). In spite of his vow to carry out a swift punishment, Hamlet has revealed little if any initiative to execute the task set before him. On the contrary, he questions the very act of revenge itself. By differentiating himself from the actors and the fervor they express in their performance(s), Hamlet cannot answer for his own inability to instigate revenge. He is, in short, hesitant in performing the task set by his father's ghost. and reprimands himself for being too indecisive and superfluously thoughtful on the subject: Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave That I, the son of a dear father murder'd Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell Must like a whore unpack my heart with words. ...read more.

Middle

He has no time to consider the matter at that moment. However, after the visitation and time to mull over the issue, Hamlet has come to realize the tribulations of revenge by implying that the ghost may have originated from hell and has come "to damn me" (III iii 542). Consequently, two contradictory views of Hamlet begin to emerge: one, he has taken leave of all of his senses as he has genuinely entered into a maddened state of mind resulting from his obsession with revenge; or two, Hamlet has retained some sanity at this point, by questioning the true motive of the ghost and his imposed role as an arbitrator of justice. Despite Hamlet's seeming inertia in exacting revenge, the play provides evidence that suggests otherwise. Hamlet has shown himself to be quite capable of killing, as revealed when he stabbs Polonius blindly behind the tapestry, as well as when he premeditates the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and thus sent them to a death originally intended for him. In retrospect, what is it, then, that causes him to be "pigeon-livered and lack gall" (II ii 516) in fulfilling the task that his father's ghost imposed upon him? As Hamlet has demonstrated, it is within his capability to do anything he wishes except exact retribution on the man who unscrupulously seized his father's place. ...read more.

Conclusion

Thus, Hamlet's dilemma consists of "[disentangling] himself from the temptation to wreak justice for the wrong reasons and in evil passion and to do what he must do... for the pure sake of justice" (eNotes 1). Within Hamlet's second soliloquy, he further questions the ultimate morality of revenge. He contemplates "whether tis nobler" (III i 57) to commit suicide and cast "off this mortal coil" (III i 67) or to burden himself with "the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks" (III i 62) that comes with revenge. However, it may all be a reasoning to further rationalize his hesitation and inaction. He muses over his inaction further attributes it to the fact that he is unable to find any clear basis for purposeful human action. If life is brief and irrelevant, as he has come to see it, then how can any human actions, whether love or revenge, be worth caring about? As the drama draws to a close, Hamlet eventually carries out the revenge, however, he has lost everything as a result: his friends, his parents, his love, and perhaps most importantly, his life, as "the rest is silence" (V ii 341). Shakespeare, through his use of the symbolic contemplations and actions of Hamlet, reveals that revenge is ultimately futile: one killing will result in another and another, repeating in a never ending cycle until all is lost and obliterated with nothing to gain. ...read more.

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