In the play, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the author uses various literary devices to convey many themes and sentiments to the reader, via his characters’ actions. The play’s focal character – Hamlet – is one that transforms throughout the play quite drastically, yet it can be argued that it was all part of a greater plan. As Hamlet returns to the castle to hear news that his father is dead, it brings a grand amount of grief and sadness to him.
Not only does he come to find out about his father’s death, but he also finds out that his own mother has married his uncle in the beat of a heart. All these events lead to to his eventual insanity and revengeful acts towards his own uncle. However the fact that he did not act upon his malevolent desires right away, portrays that he still had sanity within his human state of mind. Shakespeare’s methodical way of writing this play makes the main events all more bold and intricate. As Hamlet arrives to the castle, he is ‘thrown off’, perse, due to all the disorder happening.
Having Hamlet the King dead brings all kinds of imbalances as the central figure of power is now non-existent. Not only does the ‘monarchy’ become abnormal, but so do the relationships among the royal family. Chaos is further emboldened as Queen Gertrude remarries her own brother-in-law, King Claudius with “most wicked speed” (1.2.31). Hamlet’s feelings of overwhelment are very well-displayed as the author implements the Great Chain of Being into his literary work. Given the context of the time this play was written in, the Elizabethan era, it makes sense that the hierarchy can be a religious-based one.
At the time, Elizabethans believed that everything had its place in the Chain of Being, from God down to minerals; thus, it can be defined down to a Christian concept which explains and give details about the strict religious hierarchical structure of all matter and life in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Coming from a Christian background, it becomes quite troubling for Hamlet to fulfill his want of having King Claudius dead – a life for a life – due to it going against his personal beliefs and morale. The author purposely does this so that Hamlet’s development could be further highlighted as he starts on the road of retribution; he starts to question his identity and fundamental beliefs as he comes to understand that the world is not as ordered as he used to think – a great debate of his character. His Christian values almost seem to be a stumbling block: he wants to terminate Claudius’ life to have justice served and avenge the life of his dad, but is still hesitant as it contradicts with his rooted beliefs that he has known since day one. He feels ashamed – cowardly-like – and “baffled by his inability to act promptly; ‘the motive and the cue for passion’ (2.2.561) that Hamlet has [is] real and compelling, yet all he can do, as he says, is mope about it.” He enters into this stage of confusion and loneliness, as he has no real support from the one person he seems to be soughting attention from – his mother the Queen. Not being able to have a clear mind, he is everyday one step close to going insane – an era of stagnancy.
Shakespeare’s deliberate use of the Great Chain of Being allows for the reader to understand Hamlet’s deep sense of depression and almost sympathize with him; his arrival to Elsinore was one that took a great toll on him, leaving him in shock. While King Claudius and the Queen just celebrated their marriage and new ruling, Hamlet seemed to fall out of place, as he still was mourning over the loss of his father – a fallen hero, a loved man. This ambiance of chaos is further highlighted as Hamlet seems to arrive to an “unweeded garden” (1.2.29) type of setting at the Castle. Shakespeare’s use of metaphorical imagery allows the reader to comprehend “how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable all the uses of this world [may seem]” (1.2.29) to Hamlet.
The lack of harmony among the royal family was only the beginning of Hamlet’s road to avenging his father and eventually, their ultimate fall. As of consequence, the cost of Hamlet avenging his father, is the death of those around him – the royal family. His procrastination can be put to blame for him not being able to take full control of the situation and hence, costing the lives of many. However, Shakespeare’s complexity in the development of Hamlet allows for the reader to grasp a much more overarching concept that was bound to happen over the course of this revengeful plot. In the last scene, Hamlet was finally able to reach rest as he fulfilled his so-called purpose in life.
However, besides avenging his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.2), he “discovered the importance of Polonius’ injunction: ‘to not thine own self be true’.” Not only does Shakespeare’s implementation of the Great Chain of Being further develop the theme of revenge but so does his style of characterizing Hamlet. Hamlet’s development is predominantly displayed by his inner thoughts – contemplating revenge – as the plot progresses. His complex thinking process is shown vividly by the constant appearances of his soliloquies. The seven soliloquies that Shakespeare implements into the novel are crucial for the reader to further understand Hamlet’s state of mind. In the soliloquies, the reader is able to better capture a sense of Hamlet’s reasoning and stance as to why he wants to avenge his father’s death so badly; as they become much more deductive, Hamlet is able to build a sense of identity of who he has come to be (post-father’s death).
As a result, it is as if the reader is embarking this journey alongside him, giving the overall theme of the novel a much more interpersonal connection and deeper meaning. The soliloquies offer a much more intimate and dramatic effect to the novel as Hamlet does not show this type of vulnerability in front of others. This private moment between the reader – audience – and Hamlet allows for there to be a better understanding of his personality and how it has become an underlying factor in his search for revenge. Shakespeare’s organization of the novel allows for the character’s transformation to be much more emboldened in various ways as Hamlet undergoes certain experiences that change him forever.
Shakespeare’s intricate way of having the novel progress in a chronological organization allows for the reader to become more captivated of Hamlet’s given circumstances and feelings. It provides a substantial effect presided upon the audience as they are the ones to see Hamlet’s wretched state of mind first-handedly. This functions to explain what is happening to Hamlet and how he feeds this want for revenge charged by his father in a ghost-like appearance. Hamlet’s frustration and isolation move him “to a state of melancholia: ‘But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue’.”. His grief can be seen as a blinding factor, in which it did not let him see the true purpose behind his vengeance.
However, as the novel continued, Shakespeare was able to display his growth in being able to fully comprehend the true meaning of his actions, although it came to be a little too late for Hamlet. When Hamlet was finally able to exact his revenge and kill Claudius, he doesn’t really enjoy it much as Laertes had already struck him with a poisoned foil, leading to his death. In this case, Shakespeare portrayed revenge as a feeling in which Hamlet could not really derive satisfaction from – it was too late – rather more of just fulfilling a duty. Shakespeare further highlights Hamlet’s inability to take action, by including other characters capable of taking resolute revenge as required – Fortinbras traveled many miles to take his revenge and ultimately succeeded in conquering Denmark; Laertes plotted to kill Hamlet to avenge the death of his father, Polonius, in which he succeeded; in comparison to these characters it makes Hamlet’s revenge seem ineffectual.
By Shakespeare implementing this factor of delay on Hamlet’s revenge it helps highlight the concept of how Elizabethan revenge tragedies took place. Through this technique Shakespeare was able “to build Hamlet’s emotional and psychological complexity. The revenge itself ends up being almost an afterthought, and in many ways, is anticlimactic.” .
Overall, Shakespeare’s well-written novel, Hamlet, was able to fully convey the theme of revenge as a focal point in the novel. With the use of many literary techniques, the author was able to fully embrace the theme of revenge and how it played a primary role in the development of Hamlet, including the people surrounding him. Hamlet’s perspective was further understood as the constant soliloquies allowed for his development to be furthered established in terms of his characterization and personal views.