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The Nature of Evil in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet


Society has been preoccupied by the idea of great and wicked given that the development of civilization and, just as humankind has actually evolved with time, so has the definition of evil. Evil was initially used to describe somebody who positioned themselves above others and it wasn’t till the Old and Middle English period that wicked became associated with wrong-doing. As time passed, the meaning continued to become increasingly more specific up until it reached its modern definition: “extreme moral wickedness.

(www. etymonline. com/index. php? term=evil) However, what one eventually defines as evil depends upon one’s personal experiences, context, and culture. For instance, during The second world war, the Americans believed that dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima was an act of great as it ended conflict with the Japanese. On the other hand, the Japanese viewed it as an act of evil as the battles led to the deaths of thousands of people.

This shows that excellent and evil can not always be viewed as just black or white, however likewise as shades of grey making it hard to label characters in different literary works, especially those of William Shakespeare. The obscurity of evil in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet forces viewers to translate each character’s ideas, actions, and character in order to put them appropriately on the gradient of evil. Despite one’s personal idea of evil, Claudius can be viewed as a villain from lots of viewpoints.

He continuously performs actions with destructive intent and expresses real love just for himself. The very first and most important act that Claudius devotes is the murder of his own sibling, which he does to acquire the crown of Denmark, as explained by King Hamlet’s ghost: Now, Hamlet, hear. ‘T is provided that, oversleeping my orchard, A snake stung me– so the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged procedure of my death Rankly abus ‘d– but know, thou noble youth, The snake that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown. (I. v. 34-40)

The ghost’s speech shows the true nature of Claudius’ evil as he enables himself to eliminate his own bro. Nevertheless, this is not to state that Claudius does not understand the nature of his sins. Following ‘The Murder of Gonzago’, a test of his conscience established by Hamlet, Claudius feels overwhelmed with regret and self disgust; he attempts to repent for his sins and expresses that he understands the magnitude of what he has actually done: O, my offense is rank, it smells to paradise; It hath the primal oldest curse upon’t– A bro’s murder. (III. iii. 37-39)

This is the first and only time that the readers or viewers see Claudius serving as a typical person and revealing or acknowledging his emotions. This is very essential as many people believe that repentance results in mercy. Nevertheless, Claudius finds himself unable to effectively do so as he concerns understand that he does not feel regret for what he has done considering that he continues to reap the benefits of his deed: Hope can I not, Though inclination be as sharp as will, My more powerful regret defeats my strong intent … My fault is previous– but O, what form of prayer

Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder?’ That can not be, considering that I am still possess ‘d Of those effects for which I did the murder– My crown, mine own aspiration, and my queen. … My words fly up, my ideas stay below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go. (III. iii. 36-40, 51-55, 97-98) If Claudius had successfully repented for his sins, he would no longer be identified as an evil character. He is, nevertheless, not able to do so. Regardless of Claudius’ callousness, the reality that he even attempts to repent is honourable.

However, by continuing to control, ruin, and murder he voids any possibility of forgiveness. He uses his “boy” as a scapegoat by focusing all of the unfavorable attention on him and hence avoids unfavorable attention himself, marries his bro’s widow, turns Hamlet’s childhood pals against him, and eventually causes the deaths of all the primary characters in the play. He utilizes his charm and political power to release increasing quantities of chaos showing that, “One might smile, and smile, and be a villain!” (I. v. 07) In the end, it is Claudius who is responsible for trapping otherwise innocent characters in a chain of deceptiveness, deceit, and damage which is escapable just by death. Hamlet is the primary victim of Claudius’ malevolent deeds, triggering a dramatic shift in his nature. He ends up being a slave to misery and feels the need to right the wrongs in his life, specifically the murder of his father. Upon hearing the fact about the nature of his father’s death, Hamlet becomes an essential part in the cyclical pattern of evil as he vows to take revenge on his uncle, Claudius: Rush me to know’t, that I with wings as speedy

As meditation or the thoughts of love May sweep me to my revenge. (I. v. 29-31) Although Hamlet is “a victim” of Claudius’ deeds, the reader is unable to sustain any sensation of increased pathos as soon as he seeks justice by exacting vengeance. However, one must think about the typical idea processes of the time. It wasn’t up until recently that society began to view retributive justice as unacceptable and morally incorrect. For that reason, Hamlet would have been justified in his efforts to get vengeance for his daddy’s murder.

In addition, getting revenge gives Hamlet no individual gain other than the redemption of his daddy’s name, while Claudius kills with power in mind. In addition, Claudius is accountable for the death of an innocent while Hamlet is only interested in eliminating those who are guilty, especially his uncle. Hamlet even takes preventative measures, such as arranging the performance of ‘The Murder of Gonzago’, to show his suspicions and keep a clean conscience: I’ll have groundsMore relative than this– the play’s the thingWherein I’ll capture the conscience of the King. II. ii. 603-605) By attempting to figure out whether Claudius is guilty, Hamlet reveals that he is attempting to cause the least damage possible and does not wish to eliminate those who do not deserve it. A genuinely evil individual would not care whether their victim was innocent, as is the case with Claudius. Unfortunately, Hamlet becomes tangled up in his thoughts and emotions and causes more issues than he intends to; primarly when Hamlet and his mother are talking and Hamlet attacks Polonius who is hiding behind an arras.

The attack eliminates Polonius, who Hamlet at first believed was Claudius. While some might consider this to be evil, Hamlet acknowledges the event as an awful accident: A bloody deed. Practically as bad, excellent mother, As kill a king and wed with his bro … Thou wretched, rash intruding fool, farewell. I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune. (III. iv. 28-29, 31-32) By comparing the murder of Polonius to the murder of his father, Hamlet acknowledges that what he has done is incorrect but regrettably this does not enable him to escape the repercussions which follow.

Eliminating Polonius is the most significant error that Hamlet makes in the play, turning Laertes against him and causing the death of both himself and Ophelia. Although Hamlet can be seen as unnaturally cruel often times throughout the play, he is not evil. Hamlet is just attempting to play the cards he has actually been handled life. Throughout Hamlet, Laertes is referred to as an extremely devoted and noble gentleman. Unfortunately for Laertes, he suffers the same fate as poor Hamlet. He loses his dad and his sibling, simply as Hamlet loses his daddy and mom.

Following his dad’s death, Laertes feels the requirement to eliminate to promote his family’s name. Initially Laertes thinks the killer to be Claudius but when Claudius encourages him otherwise, Laertes moves his attention towards Hamlet. In order to get Laertes to do this, Claudius manipulates him into believing that Hamlet is the root of all evil and should be looked after. Laertes concurs to do so and even contributes his own ideas: I will do’t. And for that function, I’ll anoint my sword. I bought an unction of mountebank So mortal however dip a knife in it, Where it draws blood, no cataplasm so unusual,

Collected from all simples that have virtue Under the moon, can save the thing from death That is but scratch ‘d withal. I’ll touch my point With this contagion, that if I gall him slightly, It might be death. (IV. vii. 139-148) Similarly to Hamlet, it is not wicked that gets the best of Laertes, but his emotions. His anger and unhappiness trigger him to respond considerably and he makes decisions at a time where he is unable to think straight. Laertes later pertains to understand this as he reflects upon his strategy to kill Hamlet: And yet it is practically against my conscience. V. ii. 288) At this point in the play, it ends up being evident that Laertes’ “evil” is not of his own production however of Claudius’. It is not just Laertes who recognizes this however Hamlet too, allowing the males to see the similarities in their scenarios and say sorry to one another: He is simply serv ‘d. It is a poison temper ‘d by himself. Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet. Mine and my dad’s death come not upon thee, Nor thine on me. (V. ii. 321-325) Unlike Claudius, the males are forgiven for their sins and are able to die as heroes instead of villains.

This final act of nobility is what really defines the characters of Hamlet and Laertes, not their mishaps. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet exhibits how it is not what a character does however who a character is that figures out whether they are truly wicked or not. Nevertheless, that is not to state that the character’s do not come down with temptation or evil. It is the way that they manage themselves once they have done so that permits spectators an insight into their true nature. As Hamlet states, “There is absolutely nothing either good or bad, but thinking it makes it so.” (II. ii. 245-246)

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