The Theme of Revenge in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an outstanding work of literature with profound characters and a variety of serious issues discussed. One of the major themes presented by the author is revenge. Hamlet, Fortinbras, and Laertes are the three characters whose fathers were killed. Even though they have similar goals to avenge their fathers’ deaths, these characters are different in their acts and decisions. Laertes and Fortinbras are shown as men of action, in comparison to Hamlet’s inaction in his revenge.

Hamlet’s plan to avenge the murder of his father is the basis of the whole play. The character learns about the real cause of King Hamlet’s death after the ghost of his father tells him that the murderer was his uncle Claudius. In the beginning, Hamlet demonstrates determination in his decision to act: “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, that I ever was born to set it right” (Shakespeare, trans 1988, 1.5.190-191). However, his further actions prove that despite the initial eagerness, he is a person who carefully evaluates his decisions. His whole plan of pretending to be mad is an example of how he analyzed every detail and possible outcome. “The play’s the thing. Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” decides Hamlet (Shakespeare, trans 1988, 2.2.602-603). However, his inaction often resulted in hesitation and the inability to act immediately. “Now I might do it pat, now he is praying, And now I’ll do it: and so he goes to heaven,” contemplates Hamlet, delaying his revenge (Shakespeare, trans 1988, 3.3.73-76). All these examples prove that Hamlet is a character who carefully organizes and plans his actions but can also be hesitant and indecisive.

Hamlet’s thoughtful nature can be contrasted to Laertes’s hot-tempered character. Laertes’s father Polonius was killed by Hamlet by mistake, and his death ignites Laertes’s anger and eagerness for revenge. Unlike Hamlet, he does not analyze details but acts impulsively, which is demonstrated in the following quote: “I will don’t. And for that purpose, I’ll anoint my sword” (Shakespeare, trans 1988, 4.7.140-141). At the same time, his recklessness and obsession with his revenge lead him to death from his sword. On the contrary, Hamlet is mostly led by reason rather than emotions.

Finally, another character who greatly contributes to developing the theme of revenge is Fortinbras, a Norwegian crown prince. Unlike Hamlet, Fortinbras is a hot-headed and impulsive man who does not think about the consequences of his actions. Moreover, his revenge is mainly driven by his desire to become a ruler. “For me, with sorrow, I embrace my fortune; I have some rights of memory in this kingdom, Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me,” says Fortinbras about his right to the throne (Shakespeare. Trans 1988.5.2.381-383). Therefore, even though he can also be considered a man of action, his main difference from Laertes is that he is shown as a selfish and cruel person who is ready to take vengeance at any cost.

In conclusion, it is possible to say that Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras are different in how they act in their revenge. Hamlet is presented as a calm, cold-minded person whose constant self-analysis sometimes leads to hesitation and indecisiveness. In contrast, Laertes and Fortinbras are led by their emotions, although the main drivers of their actions are different. These two men play an important role in the development of Hamlet’s character. Therefore, not only the theme of revenge but the issues of impulsive action, planning, and hesitation are effectively demonstrated in the play.


Shakespeare, W. (1988). The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Random House Publishing Group.