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Revenge is a theme featured in many modern works today, including novels, plays, musicals, and movies. However, the idea of revenge is by no means a new concept. Since the beginning of time men have done wrongs to each other and retaliated in vengeance. What is up for debate even today is whether revenge is beneficial or injurious to all involved. William Shakespeares Hamlet explores this dispute. Shakespeares answer on the subject of the morality of revenge is not black and white, but instead many shades of gray. Hamlet is not a straight answer to the question of whether retribution should or should not be taken; it is an insight into what the positive and negative effects may be when it is taken. Revenge may be good in some cases because it can prevent evil, but it can also do just the opposite if the truth and consequences are not carefully thought out.

Hamlets quest for revenge begins when he finds out who killed his father through his fathers ghost. The ghost himself gives Hamlet his task, saying, Let not the royal bed of Denmark be/ A couch for luxury and damned incest (I,v,8-8). Hamlet is extremely intelligent and thorough, making himself absolutely sure that Claudius is his fathers murderer through the use of his play within the play, called The Murder of Gonzago or The Mousetrap. The play is almost an exact replication of how Hamlets own father was murdered for his crown and is meant to inspire enough reaction in Claudius to show his guilt. When it does, Hamlet knows for certain that vengeance is necessary. He soon gets his chance, but, unfortunately, does not take it. The king is praying, and Hamlet does not want Claudius to have the chance his father never did, to be fit and seasoned for his passage (III,iii,86) before his death. Ironically, the reader finds out later that Hamlet should have taken his revenge at this point after all Though Claudius words fly up, [his] thoughts remain below (III,iii,8), and he hasnt really had absolution. After Hamlet misses his first chance at a just revenge the entire play swirls out of control. What Shakespeare presents here is that revenge, when fair, is best dealt swiftly and not put off a moment longer than necessary.

After Hamlets missed attempt at revenge, everything that could possibly go wrong does. He accidentally kills Polonius in another attempt at assassinating Claudius, which brings Ophelia over the edge to madness, which results in her death, which promptly inspires Laertes, Ophelias brother, to seek revenge against Hamlet. This is Shakespeares example of a revenge that should not be taken, one that is unwarranted because the actions were not intentional. The only person at fault is the king, who has murdered a man, married his wife, and caused the mans son to lose the only person he truly loved. Claudius unscrupulous actions continue as he comes up with a plot to aid Laertes in his undeserved vengeance, telling him revenge should have no bounds (IV,vii,17). Even when Laertes doubts that what he is doing is right, Claudius convinces him to bend to his own will, Hamlets death. The taking of unjust revenge has horrible consequences for everyone involved in the entire play. When the plan to poison Hamlet runs amok, the queen is killed. Hamlet is then given a death wound by Laertes, but not before Laertes is given the same killing injury by Hamlet. When Hamlet is informed by Laertes that the king was involved in everything, he finally completes the revenge that he set out to execute in the first place.

Retribution for horrible acts can be beneficial. It can save lives, countries, and feelings. However, that retribution must be prompt; otherwise it leaves time for more horrendous deeds to be performed. Before action is taken on revenge it must be carefully thought out and determined whether the person is actually deserving of any harm done to them.

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