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Free MonkeyNotes-Hamlet by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes Summary
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The Theme of Vengeance

The main theme in Hamlet is one of vengeance and family honor. Initially Fortinbras is the representation of vengeance. Hamlet's father, the late King, has defeated Fortinbras' father in battle. As a result, young Fortinbras aspires to recover the lands and power lost by his father as a way of honoring and avenging him. Though he eventually finds another means of vengeance, his example is duly felt. Hamlet does not act as quickly as Fortinbras; his own indecision and fear paralyze him. Eventually his revenge occurs, but at great cost to all. The irony is that Hamlet, by fulfilling his revenge, has destroyed the family whose honor he sought to avenge. His mother and he both perish, as well as the woman who would have willingly borne his children. Laertes is the third son to avenge a father, but he, too, causes great destruction. He allows his base emotions to rule him, and he becomes a cohort of the evil Claudius. Rather than approach vengeance as a task to be carried out in the most acceptable fashion, Hamlet and Laertes fix themselves on murder as the only means of revenge. Unfortunately, this decision ultimately destroys them both.

Appearance vs. Reality

Shakespeare also examines his favorite theme of the discrepancy between appearance and reality. The dilemma of what is "real" is established at the very beginning of the play. The dead King appears to have been bitten by a snake. In reality, he has been poisoned. The Ghost appears as an apparition from the depths of hell; in truth, he is the medium of reality, revealing the facts to Hamlet. Since Hamlet doubts the veracity of the Ghost's revelation, he decides to put on the appearance of being mad; in the process he really drives Ophelia mad, causing her death. At times it also seems that Hamlet's appearance of madness has become a reality. The duel scene also presents an appearance vs. reality. The duel appears to be an innocent competition between two rivals; in reality, it is a deadly match that causes the death of the four main characters. The most obvious, and perhaps the most clever, symbol of "Appearance vs. Reality" is the play-within-a-play. The actors, representing mythical figures, appear onstage and act out the events that have happened in reality. Hamlet carefully orchestrates this appearance so that he can gauge the degree of reality by Claudius' reaction. In summary, the theme of appearance vs. reality is so well developed that everything in the play must be questioned, for nothing appears certain.

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Free MonkeyNotes-Hamlet by William Shakespeare-Free Online Plot Synopsis

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