The Theme of Revenge in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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William Shakespeare is a long time playwright whose major themes revolve around love, revenge, and power. The playwright portrays these themes in a stylish manner to underscore the cultural practices and the major issues of the time of his theatre works. Hamlet

Background of Hamlet

For example, Hamlet is a play he writes after the death of queen Elizabeth 1, which was surrounded by quagmire in the transfer of power. Elizabeth 1 had no children nor son to inherit her royalty as was the custom of the political England. As a result, a situation arose after her death hoping to determine who takes the leadership. Similarly, Shakespeare writes Hamlet to mirror this kind of power confusion and concludes to provide a solution in a dramatic, fictional, superstitious, and tragic way. This paper shall provide a close textual reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and will use act 1 scene 1 lines 56-58 to interpret the whole text. Actually, the selected passage contains the theme and the conflict upon which the playwright composes the play.

Textual Representation

Firstly, the passage introduces to the audience the appearance of the late king’s ghost to Horatio. Previously, Bernado and mercillus had seen the ghost but did not believe. They therefore, enjoin Horatio to watch with them as the ghost reappears. Contrary, Horatio denies the appearance of the ghost and calls it a pure fantasy. In the play, Hamlet, Marcellus says: “Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy, And will not let belief take hold of him Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us: Therefore I have entreated him along With us to watch the minutes of this night; That if again this apparition come, He may approve our eyes and speak to it.” (Shakespeare 1.1)

This quote by one of the characters in the play portrays superstition as a theme upon which the playwright composes the play. Horatio before his eyes had never seen reappearance of the dead. Moreover, he cannot believe that his royalty, the king comes back to torment the kingdom with his ghost without resting. Marcellus and Bernado thus want Horatio to speak to the ghost and find from it what brings him back to the kingdom. In addition, the certainty with which the two characters dialogue with Horatio shows the obviousness that the ghost would come again. The primary text for this analysis therefore only act to condense the drama that unfolds in the whole play and the foreshadowing scenes and acts. It forms the basis of the whole play. Hamlet, is about the mysterious death of King Hamlet. His brother then takes over the kingship without any delay. The ghost then begins to feature to the men, which prompts them to speak to it. Unfortunately, it goes silent and vanishes.

Hamlet's Disbelief

In the primary text, Horatio confesses his disbelief after seeing the ghost who nevertheless refutes to speak to any of them. In the text, Horatio says, “Before my God, I might not this believe Without the sensible and true avouch Of mine own eyes.” (Shakespeare 1.1 56-58). The fact that he could not believe only serves the purpose to heighten the suspense and cosmic effect the playwright intends to achieve in the fascinating introduction he makes of the play. It also relays the peculiarity in the matter that will intensify later on in the play vengeance as a theme. Horatio, Bernado, and Marcellus resorts to look for prince Hamlet to reveal the dreadful facts to him towards the end of the scene. Their decision to make Hamlet aware further develops the plot of the play and gives a hint about the whole scenario.

Expectations of Hamlet

In close review, the words of Horatio in the selected text, also acts as foreshadow of what the audience expects of Hamlet when he finally gets the message that his father’s ghost is still hovering in the Kingdom. Similar, to Horatio’s denial, disbelief, and panic, the audience expects, Hamlet to feel the same way or worse on receiving the information. It is not common with their culture for dead kings to come back to live tormenting the living. Actually, the suspense comes fulfilled to the audience’s expectation in act 1 scene 2 when Horatio goes with his friends to witness the happening to prince Hamlet. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the prince says, “Indeed, indeed, sirs, but this troubles me. Hold you the watch to-night?” (1.2). Hamlet’s last words confirm his inability to believe the tale of his friends.

While he wants to take it seriously, he gives a second thought that pleads with the men to watch a second time and confirm the same happening before they can speak about it again. The playwright uses this kind of construction to render difficulty in believing in a new emergence of superstition that the kingdom has never witnessed before. Although the playwright makes the audience believe the superstition, especially after developing strongly the plot around it, he uses situational irony from the perspective of Hamlet, Bernado, Marcellus, and Horatio to create an in-depth understanding of the belief and reappearance of the ghost. The characters, regardless of being sure of its meaning, believe his reappearance is not for the sake but hold important information to the kingdom.

Horatio's Explanation

Certainly, the explanation Horatio makes here reveals the detail of the potent. Horatio says, “My lord, I did; But answer made it none: yet once methought It lifted up its head and did address Itself to motion, like as it would speak; But even then the morning cock crew loud, And at the sound it shrunk in haste away, And vanished from our sight” (Shakespeare 1.2). The underlined statement in this quote confirms belief they hold that the king has important information to pass, especially to his son.


The passage analyzed in this paper serves to represent the plot of the whole play and the major theme of the play. While it is short, the passage introduces the conflict of the play as the ghost of the dead king comes back to life. In essence, it helps to develop the plot of the play and captures the attention of the audience so that it relays the play as a whole.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet

November 24, 2023




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Hamlet Literature Review

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