Revenge is a recurring theme in Hamlet. Although Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s death, he is afraid of what would result from this. In the play Hamlet, Hamlet’s unwillingness to revenge appears throughout the text; Shakespeare exhibits this through Hamlet’s realization that revenge is not the right option, Hamlet‘s realization that revenge is the same as the crime which was already committed, and his understanding that to revenge is to become a “beast” and to not revenge is as well (Kastan 1).
According to David Scott Kastan in “Hamlet and the Imitation of Revenge” Hamlet is concerned that he will leave a “wounded name” behind (1). What Hamlet fails to realize is that his name is already “wounded” because his father was murdered. However, Hamlet is his father’s son and therefore he is attached to his father and his cause (Kastan 1).
David Scott Kastan points out that “for Hamlet, however, to accept the filial obligation sounded in his name is to disregard and dismiss all other relations he has established” (1). He is trying to convey here that if Hamlet does step up and take revenge on his father’s murderer, he would be destroying his previous relationships with anyone he knew if they found out he fought murder with murder. This worsens Hamlet’s situation, because his relations to his father are so strong he feels he must avenge him, but as Kastan suggests, Hamlet is “only the son, sworn to remember and revenge his father” (1). Hamlet, however, commits himself to his father, to symbolize him; as his son and as his agent (Kastan 1). According to the ghost King Hamlet, “to be Hamlet, to deserve the name” “is to be a revenger” (Kastan 2).
Hamlet later discovers that revenge is not the right thing to do. As Kastan points out, Hamlet feels that revenge is “a desperate mode of imitation” and he would only be avenging his father’s murder by doing the same thing his father’s killer did: commit murder (2). The revenger is not allowed to develop a plan of action and is only allowed to re-enact the original crime (Kastan 2). As Kastan acknowledges, “Hamlet’s delay may be understood as his resistance to accept his imitative relation” (2). This means that although Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s death, he realizes it is not the right thing to do. It is only when Hamlet assures himself that revenge is “a mode of restoration rather than reprisal” that he can try to execute his plan, still acknowledging the inescapable relation he would have as a villain and avenger (Kastan 2). Hamlet ultimately believes that to revenge is to become a “beast” but to not revenge is also to be a “beast” (Kastan 3).
According to Kastan, “Hamlet is prevented from enacting his revenge by the discomforting ratios that his literary imitations generate” (4). He is also stopped from executing his revenge because of his inability to separate himself from his father, to be different from what generated him (Kastan 4). By this point, Hamlet is no longer...