Hamlet: Revenge or Scruples?

Andrew Brian


“\'Vengeance is mine,\' sayith the Lord”. What does this mean? I believe
what the Christians meant it to mean is that we, as humans, have no right to
seek revenge, that only “the Lord” has the right to decide when to take revenge.
We say this, but do we follow it? No, I think not. We all try to take revenge
into our own hands, in one form or another.
Revenge is one strong theme that holds throughout “Hamlet”. We see
Prince Hamlet try to execute a kind of private vengeance, an eye for an eye,
which is completely opposite of the Christian teachings. Hamlet is a man who
believes in heaven and hell and who feels that a man who challenges divine
ordinance will ultimately face judgment. We might look at the ghost of the late
king Hamlet as the part of us that wants to take vengeance into our own minds.
Like the little voice in our heads that tells us to do something, when in our
hearts we know it is wrong.
When Horatio, Barnardo, and Marcellus tell Hamlet of their sighting of
the ghost, Hamlet agrees to join them that night and see if he can observe the
ghost firsthand and possibly speak with it. That night when Horatio, Marcellus,
and Hamlet sight the ghost, it beckons Hamlet to leave the other two and speak
to it in privacy. Hamlet follows, despite the protests of the others, who fear
it may be an evil spirit, disguising as King Hamlet in order to gain their trust.
Horatio suggests that it may lead him astray and then "assume some other
horrible form / Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason / And draw you
into madness..." (I, iv, 80-82). Hamlet insists on listening to the message of
the ghost. Although he does not state it, perhaps Hamlet subconsciously
considers that Horatio is right, that the ghost is indeed a false messenger sent
to trouble him.
Hamlet does not kill Claudius immediately following his encounter with
the ghost because he is unsure of the ghost\'s accusations of Claudius and does
not want to murder him without proper motive. Hamlet would suffer in the eyes of
the people if he were to murder Claudius, the reigning king, and claim his
motive was the words of a ghost. Hamlet already disapproves of Claudius due to
his marriage to Hamlet\'s mother, Gertrude, so soon after the death of her first
husband, King Hamlet. Prince Hamlet feels that the widow did not sufficiently
mourn and that the marriage is incestuous due to the relation between the late
husband and the new groom. The timing of the marriage causes Hamlet to suspect
that Claudius and Gertrude had an affair during her marriage with King Hamlet.
Despite this, most Danes see nothing wrong with the marriage and express no
suspicions about King Hamlet\'s death. Because he must expose Claudius\'s murder
of King Hamlet in order to legitimize his own murder of Claudius, Hamlet can not
immediately kill Claudius and explain his motive later, once he is guilty of
murder. He must first find proof that Claudius did in fact do wrong that brought
about his father\'s death.
Some of Hamlet\'s opportunities for killing King Claudius are poorly
timed, most notably following Claudius\'s expression of alarm after watching an
enactment of the murder of Gonzago. This is a time when Claudius\'s image has
been tarnished and the people may be suspicious of him in connection to the
death of King Hamlet. However, when Hamlet goes to the royal chambers to
confront him, but finds Claudius kneeling in prayer.

Now might I do it, now he is a-praying,
And now I\'ll do ‘t. And so he goes to heaven,
And so am I revenged. That would be scanned:
A villain kills my father, and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread,
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven.
But in our circumstance and course of thought
‘Tis heavy with him. And am I then revenged
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?
No.
Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hent.
(III, iii, 77-93)

Hamlet decides that if he were to kill Claudius during prayer, Claudius
would be sent to heaven, which would not be the proper