The themes of Hamlet that are established in the first two acts are typical of many revenge tragedies throughout history, all of which are dark and dismal including madness, corruption, deception and of course revenge. Vengeance is a theme that has fuelled an array of plays from ancient Rome to the era of Shakespeare and beyond. By the time Shakespeare had come to write Hamlet, he had written several tragedies, and revenge tragedies themselves had developed a certain ‘frame work’ of components.
The reason that the revenge would be needed would often stem from a ghost, in this case Hamlets farther, revealing to the prospective revenge hero how he had come to a gruesome end through a fratricide treachery and calling upon him to ‘Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ‘ There was certain to be a procrastination- what else would the play consist of, and several counter-plots.
In Hamlet these counter plots emphasise Hamlet’s un-willingness to act with the same livid, lust for revenge that is expected in revenge tragedies, and is shown in Hamlet by the Young Fortenbrias, and his war mongering to avenge his own father. We see Hamlet’s character develop in the first two acts into someone who is most un-suited to deal with the situation that he is in, he states ‘give me that man That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him In my hearts core.
A possible interpretation of this is that that Hamlet himself is ‘not passion’s slave’ and he wishes to find another person that would behave in the same way in order to rationalize his inaction. Hamlet also doubts the ghost and it’s story explicitly saying that he ‘May be a devil,’ and needs assurance before he acts; he even has reservations that he may have conjured the ghost ‘out of’ his ‘weakness and melancholy’; he is also self-deprecating when asking ‘Am I a coward?
‘ Hamlet is based around these conventional ideas of a revenge tragedy concentrating on the protagonist’s pursuit of private vengeance against those who have done him or his family wrong. These plays including, Hamlet often concentrate on the moral confusion caused by the need to answer evil with evil. This confusion deepens, and sparks another theme of Hamlet- madness. Whether it is true or ‘an antic disposition,’ madness features heavily in Hamlet.
True to the pattern of revenge tragedies Hamlet tells his friends that he may pretend to be mad in order to carry out the ghost wishes with out rising too much suspicion, however it is left to debate through out the play the this pretence of insanity may actually be madness, but it sure to say that no two performances will convey the same impression of the state of Hamlets mind in the scenes that follow his meeting with the sprit of his farther in Act I scene 5. Hamlet’s madness appears to show the audience an elaborate act.
In Act II scene 2 Hamlet taunts Polonius who has been so fooled by Hamlet’s act that he has already announced to Gertrude and Claudius that he has found the cause of Hamlet’s ‘lunacy. ‘ When talking Hamlet switches out of the usually iambic pentameter, that has a constant beat, into a disjointed prose, this is a conscious decision that Hamlet is sure Polonius will pick up on. This change in his dialogue not only shows Hamlets clear intellect and knowledge of speech, but may also be seen as disrespect and his desire to break form his only remaining family as it was expected for royals such as Hamlet to speak in a ordered fashion.
However I feel that the strongest implication that Hamlet is feigning insanity is the fact that his is so rational with his actions. He does not wish to rush into his revenge as most revenge heroes instead he contemplates the consequences if he acts, could a man that is truly insane be so judicious. There are also suggestions in the text that Hamlet’s mind is in an uncertain sate, in Act II scene 2 he is impressed by the stimulated ‘passion’ of the first player, and yet he tells the players in his own play that the ‘must acquire and beget a temperance’, and not to over act.
This same speech in Act II scene 2 leaves Hamlet feeling inadequate, and in it he also admits that his own conscience calls his a ‘villain’ and tortures him for not acting. Hamlets own indecision about his state of mind in these first two acts, can echo upon the feelings of the audience, which reinforces their confusion about his character and also makes it hard to ‘define true madness. ‘ Hamlet is not the only one misleading some of the characters in the play.
There seems to be a pattern amongst the main characters of deception, weather it is to others or themselves. Ophelia deceives Hamlet; it may be due to pressure put on her by her farther, but she ‘shall obey’ Polonius rather than be loyal to the man that she supposedly loves. ?It may be argued that Ophelia does this out Of love, in an attempt to ‘restore’ Hamlet however; she knowingly lures him in to a trap and allows him to continue without warning him that the King is watching. Gurtrude goes behind her sons back in order to discover the source of her madness.
She does ‘wish that’ Ophelia’s ‘good beauties be the happy cause of Hamlet’s wildness,’ this may be out of guilt, contemplating that perhaps she is cause, as she previously had admitted that ‘main’ reason was ‘his father death and’ her ‘o’erhasty marriage. ‘ Claudius perhaps is the most deceitful of all the characters as he is lying not only to the other characters but his entire country. Claudius is first introduced to us reciting a long rehearsed speech to court. In it he speaks of his ‘dear brother’s death’ appearing to be grieving for him.
During this speech Claudius uses sentences that have deliberately switched words such as ‘with mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage’ this is presented to the court meaning that he does feel some guilt in marrying Gertrude, however how can he have taken ‘mirth’ in the death of his brother as he is responsible for it, and subsequent to it he has forced him self upon every aspect that was once his life; he has taken his throne, married his wife and is trying in vain to form a paternal relationship with his son. Claudius uses flattery and bribery on several occasions in order to win over people.
This is demonstrated when he speaks to the court, appealing to their ‘better wisdoms,’ and by becoming over friendly when talking to Laertes shown by the constant repetition of his name, and finally, with his attempt to warm Hamlet to him by making him the heir to his throne, and calling him son. It seems to be quite a tactful character that will stop at no lengths to get what he wants. Polonius is presented to be a man whose desire to serve the king is rooted as much in vanity and a sense of self-importance as in duty.
He uses an array of complex and mature vocabulary in an attempt fool, his peers, his children and himself, that he is more than just an employee of the king. However this is done in a way that his pretentiousness becomes humours, Polonius’s character provides a little satire in the depths of such a dark play. He also seems to have an insatiable need to spy on the other characters, setting up several situations in which he misleads Hamlet, and he sends spies to check up on his son.
‘Something is rotten in the state of Demark’ through out the entirety on this play and this theme of corruption adds yet another twist. It is the other themes of the play that provide the corruption, vengeance is a sin which was seen by this deeply religious era to be something that only god should carry out. It is also not right that the man who killed the former king is now the king himself. There is ‘corruption’ in Demark as there is ‘corruption’ at the head. The royal family who are supposed to set a precedent of the entire nation are murdering, lying and seeking vengeance upon one another.
There is no one character in the play that is void of corruption, Hamlet’s fake madness, Claudius’s murder and deceit, Gertrude’s guilt and in hamlets opinion betrayal of her former husband, even smaller characters such as Rosencraz and Guildenstern who are spying on their friend. It is perhaps only Horatio who show a true good character, as he is loyal to Hamlet with out actually acting against the king. Shakespeare intricately intertwines the plays themes in a plot that appears in the first two acts to be spiralling ever downwards.