The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is one of William Shakespeare’s most renowned works of literature. Published in the very early sixteenth century, the play remains to be the longest of all Shakespearean works and the most popular as well. Perhaps what is so appealing about this masterpiece, the tragic story of the death of King Hamlet, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, who later marries Queen Gertrude in order to take the throne, and Prince Hamlet’s journey to exact revenge on Claudius for all he’s done to the kingdom, is the fact that revenge plays a rather large role throughout the play, being what motivates Hamlet to pretend insanity in order to succeed. Revenge is an important theme portrayed constantly throughout Hamlet, not only by the title character, but also by other minor characters.
The idea of revenge in Hamlet is depicted in various ways throughout the play. Shakespeare makes a fine job of identifying the different types of revenge by giving the characters different motives; whereas Hamlet and Laertes, almost mirrors of each other, both want to avenge the deaths of their fathers by killing the person responsible for the murder, Fortinbras seeks to avenge his father’s death by reclaiming the land that he lost to King Hamlet before dying. Also, the author goes further into the personalities of the characters and explores their motivations, most particularly Hamlet’s; although he has a scheme for killing Claudius, he does not set his plan into motion immediately, but is rather delayed by different events throughout the story, forcing the reader to contemplate whether or not Hamlet is as strong-minded and angry about his father’s death as he claims to be. Conversely, Laertes and Fortinbras waste no time and carry out their vengeance immediately.
In the fifth scene of the first act, the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to his son to tell him exactly how he died; while sleeping in his orchard, Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, came in and poured poison into his ear. Once finished with his story, the Ghost asks Hamlet for one simple favor: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (Lawall et al. 1799). The death of King Hamlet is foul as it was done while he was asleep, and unnatural because someone of his own kin committed it. Hamlet promises to fulfill the ghost’s request, which sets the play’s entire plot into motion. Afterwards, Hamlet advises his friends not to pay attention to his behavior from that point on, as he will put on “an antic disposition”; he will fake insanity to distract everyone from his actual motives.
However, whether or not Hamlet is actually insane or just pretending to be has been a subject of criticism by literary analysts. In his legal and metaphysical study titled “Is Hamlet Mad?” Newman Watts argues for the former. He presents his evidence in a very legal manner, accusing Hamlet of suffering from mental aberration, as evidenced by “his morbid temperament… his defective memory and illogical condition...