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How important is revenge as a motivating theme in Hamlet? (Part 2)

How important is revenge as a motivating theme in Hamlet? (Part 2)

The fact that Hamlet feels it necessary to prove to himself that Claudius is actually guilty suggests that his original dedication as a revenger is waning, having had doubts over the Ghost. Having said this, the idea of the play seized upon by Hamlet’s opportunistic character achieves its purpose as the King’s guilt is dramatically confirmed to Hamlet and thus he receives a new lust to enact revenge upon his father and kill the “incestuous, adulterous beast” - Claudius. Hamlet is a well educated scholar and is not at all a typical revenger, indeed he envies Laertes and especially young Fortinbras, however his ability to act upon instinct is a good quality that ultimately leads him to kill Claudius in the final scene (he does not enter the duel with Laertes with the intention of killing anyone) thus inferring that revenge is not necessarily the focus of Hamlet’s thoughts but rather an idea in his subconscious that surfaces when presented with the opportunity.

Throughout the play Hamlet often seems to place more emphasis on Gertrude’s hasty incestuous marriage to his Uncle Claudius than the murder of his father, “that incestuous, that adulterous, murderous beast”, note the order of Hamlet’s use of adjectives in portraying Claudius. Some critics have suggested that Hamlet suffers from a repressed Oedipus complex, a theory from Freudian Psychology which rather crudely suggests that a man feels not only an innate desire for maternal care and love but also suppresses a great sexual passion for his own mother. There is much evidence to support this; Hamlet’s first course of action following the play within a play rather than chasing the guilty Claudius and killing him is instead to visit his mother’s chamber and reprimand her for her adulterous sins. As Hamlet enlightens Gertrude upon Claudius’ sins and the true nature of her late husband’s death he becomes very passionate in his argument and leaves his mother begging him to stop, “O Hamlet speak no more…O, speak to me no more; these words like daggers, enter in mine ears; no more, sweet Hamlet!” As a result the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to remind him that his mother is not to be harmed. The ghost reminds Hamlet that he has forgotten his purpose as a revenger “do not forget, this visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose” and encourages him to be gentle with his mother “o step between her and her fighting soul-conceit in weakest bodies strongest works-speak to her Hamlet”. This scene is evidence that revenge upon Claudius is not Hamlet’s sole intent but rather revenge upon his mother - a deep desire for her love and care. In the 1945 adaptation of Hamlet at The Olivier Theatre in London, Hamlet becomes very physically close to Gertrude in the interpretation of Act 3 Scene 4 and the audience might be forgiven for worrying how Hamlet may have continued had the apparition not intervened. Ernest Jones, following the work of Sigmund Freud, held that Hamlet suffered from the ‘Oedipus Complex’ and said “His moral fate is bound up with his uncle's for good or ill. The call of duty to slay his uncle cannot be obeyed because it links itself with the call of his nature to slay his mother's husband, whether this is the first or the second; the latter call is strongly ‘repressed,’ and therefore necessarily the former also.” Finally, further evidence for the Oedipus complex and Hamlet’s obsession with his mother’s sexual activity can be inferred from his instructions to Gertrude shortly before leaving on the boat for England, “Not this by no means that I bid you do: Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed, pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse, and let him for a pair of reechy kisses.” Therefore Hamlet’s preoccupation with his mother, in particular her sexual behavior, may suggest that revenge is not the greatest motivational factor for Hamlet.

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