Katie Markey LACR 210 05 October 30th, 2012 Hamlet; The Mender of a Broken Family In Shakespeare’s famous Hamlet, Hamlet is driven by a singular goal; to exact revenge on his uncle for his father’s murder, and by achieving this goal, to set his broken world right again. His revenge is slow, meticulous, and well thought through. If his revenge is not done at the right moment, Hamlet will not be able to achieve his goal: Not only wants to make Claudius pay for his father’s murder, but he wants to punish him in the worst way he knows: eternal damnation.
He wants Claudius to suffer in the worst way he knows, and in the same way his father was forced to suffer. Hamlet’s extravagant plan on vengeance is an attempt to right the wrong that Claudius has set on him. The single act of Claudius murdering the King sets a world of wrongs on Hamlet, his family, and his God. It is Hamlet’s self-claimed duty to dispel the wrongs that have been set upon him. Each of these aspects that has been broken is what motivates Hamlet to act in the manner that he does. He acts to fix a broken family, a broken self, a broken promise, and a broken God. It’s not about how he lives in this broken world of his.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite; Hamlet is about his effort to correct his world so he won’t have to live in a broken world. Exacting revenge on Claudius in the meticulous way that he does is his attempt at avenging everything that is important to him, and everything that is broken. The need to fix a broken family is one of the most powerful forms of motivation that moves Hamlet to seek vengeance. The problems of his family come in the relationships between Hamlet and his mother, his uncle, and the ghost of his father. The motivation behind Hamlet’s need for Claudius’ suffering is extremely personal.
It is well deserved; Claudius has completely ravaged Hamlet’s family. In an attempt to grab at power, Claudius has murdered Hamlet’s father and stolen his mother. His family is essentially sacrificed for material wealth and power. Only “a little month” (Act 1 scene 2) after King Hamlet’s death, Gertrude remarried and stopped mourning. Hamlet has a very negative view on his mother’s supposed infidelity, calling “frailty” in the name of “woman” (Act 1 scene 2). Gertrude has broken a sacred promise that bound her to her late husband, Hamlet’s father, and has made a conscious effort to let the King’s memory die.
During his confrontation in Act 3, the spite comes to a head. Gertrude tries to put Hamlet in his place when she says “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended”, but Hamlet turns the tables by bringing the wrong Gertrude has committed to the surface: “Mother, you have my father much offended” (Act 3 scene 4). Gertrude has tried to pass of Claudius as Hamlets new father, but Hamlets still holds onto his old, broken family, the family that Claudius murders when he murders King Hamlet. Claudius’ crime, then, was not just a murder of the King, but also a murder of his family.
Gertrude’s betrayal in Hamlet’s eyes is part of the murder of his father. These both are crimes that Hamlet seeks to avenge. The damaging view on his family is reflected into his view on himself, as well as the rest of humanity. He sees the world as “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable” (Act 1 scene 2), and considers himself part of a vile part of nature, “this quintessence of dust” (Act 2 scene 2). He even goes far enough to woe that he cannot kill himself since “the Everlasting had… fixed his canon against self-slaughter” (act 1 scene 2).
However, through the ghost, Hamlet finds a way to use himself for a higher purpose. Claudius has committed a crime against him, his father, and against God. Hamlet sees the human race as a “stale promontory” (Act 2 scene 2), but he can still use himself to right the wrong Claudius has committed. The ghost and his promise has become Hamlet’s reason to live, to seek vengeance on Claudius for creating so much wrong in his life. By putting on an “antic disposition” (Act 1 scene 5), he uses his broken self, or seemingly broken self, as a stratagem, or a weapon, against Claudius.
Both the ghost and Hamlet have been wronged by this act against God. The Ghost, who had been murdered without a chance to repent for his sins, was cast into eternal damnation “with all [his] imperfections on [his] head” (Act 1 scene 5). Hamlet wants to avenge the murder with a murder. By killing King Hamlet, Claudius has damned himself, his brother, and Hamlet. This is the broken heaven, a sacrilegious act of murder that only results in more murder. Hamlet wants to fix the broken heaven by condemning Claudius to the same punishment that his father has suffered.
This is why Hamlet does not kill Claudius immediately upon finding his guilt. He comes upon Claudius praying for forgiveness, and though he has the perfect opportunity to kill him there, he does not out of fear that he may “do this… villain send to heaven” (Act 3 scene 3). The only way for Hamlet to exact his revenge is by making sure that once he commits the murder, that Claudius will suffer the same fate as his father. This is why he chooses to wait until “he is drunk asleep, or in his race, or in th’ incestuous pleasure of his bed… So that his soul may be as damned and black as hell, whereto it goes” (Act 3 scene 3).
He waits until Claudius has accidentally poisoned his Queen in Act 5 scene 2 to murder him, and as he forces him to drink the poison, he dies without a word. He dies silently, and thus has no chance to repent for his sins. Hamlet is a story about motivation. Everything is done with meticulous purpose. It’s never the fear or murdering a man that stops Hamlet. He does not seem to fear his own death, since he has served a cause that’s much greater and more important than him. What stops him is the fear that murdering him at the wrong time will not fulfill the revenge he needs.
If had simply murdered Claudius while he was playing, he would, as Hamlet states, “take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and seasoned for his passage” (Act 3 scene 3). He would not have had the opportunity to confront his mother, bringing her infidelity to the surface and unearthing the promise of marriage she had betrayed. By failing to fix his broken family and broken God, he would not have been able to fix himself. These are the motivation that kept Hamlet waiting until the perfect moment to exact his revenge.
Gertrude’s poisoning is the second unholy murder that Claudius commits, once again condemning his soul. This is the perfect opportunity for Hamlet to take his uncle’s life. At that exact moment, Hamlet avenges his mother and father, and all the things that Claudius has taken away from him by taking them. He has acted on behalf of himself, his family, and his God. He has fixed his broken world in the only way he can, and has sacrificed himself in an attempt to right all that was wronged.