Moral Justice in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragic play wrought with intrigues by two of the primary characters hell-bent on seeking moral justice. Both Hamlet and Laertes seek retribution for specific wrongs that they feel were done to their families. After meeting his dead father’s apparition, Hamlet soon realizes that it was, indeed, his brother Claudius who had murdered him and taken his throne. Moreover, he also made King Hamlet’s wife Gertrude his queen, which was the most significant act of betrayal. On the other hand, Laertes father Polonius had a penchant for prying into other people’s business, a character trait that ultimately leads to his demise. He meets his death while eavesdropping as he sought to gather valuable information from a conversation between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude. Both characters, therefore, have a rallying cause for plotting their revenge against all those who they deem responsible for these deaths (Bates, 2010, p. 47). The fact that they both feel aggrieved and intensely loyal to the memories of their departed family members motivates them to do all that is within their power to ensure that they institute reprisals.  This essay seeks to examine moral justice in the play and instances where it was achieved.

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To begin with, it’s vital to acknowledge that the playwright explicitly positions Hamlet as the protagonist due to his keen sense of morality. A karmic form of moral justice would, therefore, be achieved in the long haul even if it meant the death of the central character. Hamlet carefully plots to have his revenge for his father’s death and seek to do all it takes to ensure that his plan comes to fruition. His perception of those closest to him immediately changes when he realizes that his uncle Claudius is not only a usurper but also a murder. Furthermore, what angers Prince Hamlet the most was the fact that his uncle appeared to show no remorse for his actions:

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“Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy But to confront the visage of offence? And what’s in prayer but this twofold force, To be forestalled ere we come to fall Or pardoned being down? Then I’ll look up. My fault is past. But oh, what form of prayer Can serve my turn, “Forgive me my foul murder”?” (Shakespeare, 2014, 3.2. 46-57).

Hamlet sets all this in motion when he forces Claudius to drink from the same goblet that had earlier on killed his mother:

“Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? Follow my mother (Shakespeare, 2014, 5.2. 320-322).

These events, therefore, ensure that moral justice is served with his death, even though his mother died in the process.

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Laertes on the other hand, seeks to right the wrongs done to his family, especially with the death of his father, Polonius. For this cardinal offense, he holds Hamlet directly responsible even though the circumstances that led to his death were regrettable:

“Vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the most profound pit! I dare damnation. To this point, I stand That both the worlds I give to negligence. Let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father. ” (Shakespeare, 2014, 4. 5. 104- 110).

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Nonetheless, Laertes is an impulsive figure who decides to plot a hasty revenge mission against his foe. Under Machiavellian standards, he seeks moral justice and makes his decision at the spur of the moment. An in-depth examination of the motives driving these two characters reveals that Hamlet’s actions were as a result of the grief he felt for his father’s death. After arriving in Denmark, Laertes learns of his father’s death and takes Claudius’s opinion at face value. It was from this premise that they concoct a treacherous plan to coat Laertes’ fencing sword with poison during the match, an act that would assure him of victory over Hamlet. Laertes acts in a self-preserving demeanor that was irrational since he only believed Claudius’s account of his father’s death.  In the end, he achieves his objective by accomplishing his revenge, ultimately.

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