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Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras: The Theme of Vendetta

Hamlet is an outstanding tragedy by William Shakespeare, which is considered an example of skillful language and complicated plot. The play has always drawn the attention of researchers, and even today, litterateurs still analyze its peculiarities. Through his vivid characters, Shakespeare speaks about eternal issues: the problems of doubts, love, revenge, betrayal, and many others, that can be applied in modern life. In this essay, one of the most significant themes, namely avenging the father’s death, will be analyzed through the example of Hamlet’s, Laertes’s, and Fortinbras’s stories.

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Hamlet is the protagonist of the story, whose actions and thoughts in the play are mostly connected with the idea of revenge. His uncle, Claudius, kills his father to become a king and marry Gertrude; the ghost of King Hamlet commands him to avenge his death. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet is in deep grief: “He was a man. Take him for all in all./I shall not look upon his like again” (1.2.187-188). However, he does not impulsively take action; instead, he decides to test his uncle’s guilt. He arranges a performance about the king’s murder; Claudius’s reaction demonstrates his pang of conscience. However, Hamlet does not kill Claudius while he is praying, as he does not want him to die clean of his guilt: “A villain kills my father, and, for that,/I, his sole son, do this same villain send/To heaven” (3.3.76-78). It proves that Hamlet is not led by emotions but thinks over every step; he even pretends to be insane to analyze every detail better.

This revenge story reveals the character of Hamlet: the protagonist is shown as an indecisive person with inner struggles. He does not want to become a reckless murderer himself; this is why he decided to make sure that the ghost’s words were true. It demonstrates that even being devastated by King Hamlet’s death, the character remains mature enough to be able to think straight, but shows weakness in taking immediate action.

The accidental murder of Polonius by Hamlet becomes the beginning of another revenge story. Laertes, the son of Polonius and Ophelia’s brother, becomes overwhelmed with anger after he finds out about his father’s murder: “Let come what comes, only I’ll be revenged / Most throughly for my father” (4.5.131-132). He accuses King Claudius thinking that he was responsible for the murder, which again contrasts with the thoughtfulness of Hamlet, who wants to be convinced in Claudius’s guild first. Laertes is the one to kill Hamlet in a fencing match, accusing him of his father’s and sister’s death. It is possible to notice the contrast between Hamlet’s uncertainty and Laertes’s impetuosity. While Hamlet delays his actions and waits for the right moment to revenge, Laertes is full of decisiveness and is led by emotions. At the same time, the characters are similar in a way; it is emphasized in the last scene when Laertes asks Hamlet for forgiveness.

Fortinbras is another character whose story helps the author render the idea of vengeance. The Norwegian crown prince does not often appear in the play; however, his revenge makes his personality clear enough for the reader. Like Laertes, Fortinbras seems to be contrasted to Hamlet: he is a hot-headed and determined person who does not tend to delay his actions. It is clearly demonstrated by the fact that he “craves the conveyance of a promised march over his kingdom” (4.3.2-4) to conquer Denmark. At the same time, while Hamlet is driven by grief, Fortinbras’s ambitious goal is to receive the crown, which is the major difference between characters. It is clear that Fortinbras used the idea of revenge to become the ruler of Denmark.

So far, the three stories of vendetta have been analyzed, and it is possible to notice how the actions of the characters and their attitudes to revenge shape their personalities. Thoughtful and indecisive Hamlet eventually kills Claudius; however, this murder is rather accidental than carefully planned. Laertes and Fortinbras, on the other hand, seem to be more determined with their plans. Driven by anger and instigated by King Claudius, Laertes kills Hamlet in the final scene, though he does not feel satisfied. Fortinbras is the most merciless of the three: he demonstrates no care about his army and can even sacrifice lives. Shakespeare illustrates that although these three characters are united by the common goal, they choose different ways to achieve them, and the cruel method of Fortinbras seems to have led to more significant results.

In conclusion, the theme of vendetta plays an important role in the tragedy, as it lies at the heart of the whole plot. By describing the revenge stories of Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras, Shakespeare shows that people may choose different ways to retaliate. While Hamlet is exceptionally thoughtful, Laertes is driven by emotions, and Fortinbras, who succeeds most in his plan, is led by his ambitions. The actions of the characters help the reader understand their personalities better. Moreover, by contrasting the personalities of Hamlet and the two minor characters, the author emphasizes certain features of a protagonist. To sum up, the three stories show once again how the author comprehensively discusses one theme and portrays his characters in a more profound way.

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Work Cited

Mays, Kelly J., editor. The Norton Introduction to Literature. Shorter 13th ed., W.W. Norton, 2019.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 16). Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras: The Theme of Vendetta. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2022, January 16). Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras: The Theme of Vendetta.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras: The Theme of Vendetta." January 16, 2022.


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