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Hamlet's Morals

Updated on April 25, 2011

William Shakespeare's Hamlet

William Shakespeare was a master of words and the stage. He could describe a seemingly evil or immoral character and yet have the audience sympathize with that character. Prince Hamlet, the main character of Hamlet, is one such character. Hamlet's murderous and deceitful ways would make any other character seem evil, but in each circumstance, Hamlet's motives seem to be well founded. The audience can only support Hamlet in his actions. Throughout the play, Hamlet murders and tricks countless victims on his quest for revenge, but the feeling that Hamlet imparts on the audience gains him great sympathy for all of his actions.

Hamlet begins the play in mourning over his father's death and his mother's haste in remarrying to her brother-in-law and Hamlet's uncle, Claudius. After King Hamlet, Hamlet's father, returns as a ghost to warn Hamlet that Claudius murdered him, Hamlet vows to kill Claudius in revenge for his father. If it weren't for the circumstances of King Hamlet's death, Hamlets actions would be outrageous. Hamlet knows that the ghost could be a trick sent to lead him to his demise, so instead of acting immediately he follows his moral judgment and seeks to learn if what the ghost said was true.

To keep what he knows a secret, Hamlet makes everyone believe that he has gone crazy and then uses his insanity to learn as much truth as he can. He devises a plan to find out from Claudius himself. When the players come to the court, Hamlet takes them aside and asks them to add a murder to their play. Hamlet hopes that when Claudius sees the murder he will give himself away. When the play shows. Claudius becomes angered and storms out, giving Hamlet his proof. Although Hamlet's lies and deceit, especially pretending to be insane, was immoral, his actions are justified by his search for truth. His morals made him certain of the facts of the situation before acting. Unfortunately, when Hamlet finds Claudius, he is at prayer, so Hamlet spares his life for the time being. At first, this reaction seems to be based in Hamlet's belief that killing Claudius in the church would be wrong, but Hamlet confesses that he did not want to kill Claudius while he was praying because he feared Claudius would go to heaven. Hamlet seems to have an evil intent in revenging his fathers death; he wants Claudius to suffer, but what he hasn't learned yet is that he cannot chose what happens to Claudius after death, only God can decide that.

Hamlet's next actions sink him to the lowest point of all the play. Claudius realizes the threat that Hamlet poses to him and decides to have him sent to England and murdered. While on the ship, Hamlet rewrites the king's orders to have him killed and changes the names to his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet sacrifices the lives of his friends, who have done little to wrong him, in order to save himself. This uncalled for wickedness and selfishness is Hamlets lowest point in the play.

Although Hamlet did many evil and immoral things, his actions, in the most part, were justified by his need to avenge his father. When Hamlet strayed from a moral path he always had good intentions, he was just trying too hard to do what he thought needed to be done. Near the end of the play, he realizes his own error. It is not his responsibility to decide when Claudius dies, but to avenge his father's death when the opportunity is presented to him. Hamlet's actions do not make him immoral, even though they are immoral in nature, because they are justified by his moral quest for revenge on his father's death.

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