Revenge os Scruples


Andrew Brian
11-17-96
Fresh Sem. II


Revenge or Scruples?

“’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