Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of the theme of duty in ‘Hamlet’. In the course of your writing, show how your ideas have been influenced by your reading of the ‘The revenger’s Tragedy’.
‘Hamlet’ was written at a time of social divide as the instinctual urge to seek revenge for oneself or others, be it for filial duty or to defend ones honour. Duty in ‘Hamlet’ is strongly linked to revenge. However the renaissance that was taking place in Elizabethan England produced philosophers who disagreed with the desire for revenge, Bacon says that “is a wild justice” and ‘in passing it over, he is superior . This contradiction of society in terms of revenge and duty is seen in ‘Hamlet’ as Shakespeare presents duty as a very varied experience and revenge to be a destructive force. The idea of revenge is also explored in ‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’, however it is a far more simple affair compared to Hamlet’s experience of it throughout the play. Vindice does not appear to face the emotional turmoil of revenge: his desire for revenge is disguised as duty.
Shakespeare presents the theme of duty in ‘Hamlet’ through his use of characters and their friendship with Hamlet. Horatio is a character who is dutiful towards Hamlet in the fact that he supports Hamlet’s ideas and method on how to uncover Claudius’ guilt. Horatio appears to have no motive to be loyal to Hamlet apart from simply wanting to help him, this presents Horatio’s duty to be purely honourable and from his conscience. However this is in contrast with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s friendship with Hamlet which is much more superficial, this means their duty towards Hamlet is temporary and false. Their motivation to be around Hamlet is sinister compared to Horatio’s motivation which is simply because he is a friend of Hamlet’s. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a stronger sense of duty towards the king who has asked them to uncover why Hamlet has become mad; it could also be seen as a duty to themselves as Claudius promises them a reward. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a charade sense of duty towards Hamlet which causes Hamlet to feel resentment towards them and accuse them of playing him “like a pipe”. Hamlet’s anger towards Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is epitomised in his cold blooded decision to order their execution. Hamlet’s lack of conscience he has for R+G can be read as understandable since they sought to manipulate him, yet his lack of remorse is unsettling to the audience.