Theme Of Poisoning In Hamlet

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Poison in the ear is a common theme among Shakespeare’s works. His play, Hamlet, is no exception. While many of the play’s protagonists literally die by being poisoned, the downfall and death of Laertes can be attributed to “poison words”. After learning that his father, Polonius, is dead, Laertes, demands to know who murdered him, and promises to avenge his father’s death. Hearing the anger and aggression in his voice, Claudius takes advantage of Laertes’s grief as he believes this to be his chance to have Hamlet killed for good reason.

While Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, tries to diffuse the situation and calm Laertes down, Claudius demands that she let Laertes express his anger. Clearly emotional, Laertes states: “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.” He demands to know who killed his father, and states that he will either avenge his father’s death or die trying. Taking advantage of Laertes impulsivity and current emotional sate, Claudius then responds: “Who shall stay you?” In saying this, Claudius tempts Laertes to go on and kill the man responsible for Polonius’s death (Hamlet). He tells him that nobody will, or can stop him from doing so. Furthermore, Claudius says that after proving his own innocence, he will aid in Laertes’s mission to kill the man responsible for Polonius’s murder: “Be you content to lend your patience to us, and we shall jointly labor with your soul to give it due content.”

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Furthermore, after seeing Ophelia for the first time since their father’s death, Laertes is even more inclined to avenge his father’s death as he believes it has driven his sister mad. Ophelia is singing, handing out flowers, and just not acting like herself. In seeing his sister in her most vulnerable state, Laertes is determined to get revenge on the man who caused all this trouble.

After proving his innocence and revealing that it was Prince Hamlet who murdered Polonius, Claudius devises a plan in which Laertes and Hamlet will fence to the death. In proposing the plan, Claudius appeals to Laertes’s ego stating that a powerful man from normandy named Lamond praised Laertes’s ability to fence: “He made confession of you, And gave you such a masterly report For art and exercise in your defense, And for your rapier most especially, That he cried out ’twould be a sight indeed If one could match you.” After manipulating Laertes’s ego with compliments however, Claudius challenges Laertes asking him if he truly loved him, or if the grief he was expressing was simply an act. This sparked a new hunger and drive for Laertes. In order to prove his love for his father, he had to accept the plan that Claudius has laid in front of him. To be exact, Laertes responds to the challenge by saying: “To cut his throat i’ th’ church.”

Although Claudius himself knows that Hamlet killed Polonius by mistake, he takes advantage of an emotional Laertes in order to accomplish his own agenda. He manipulates and deceives Laertes by appealing to Laertes’s ego, but then questioning his true motivation. In doing so, Claudius drives Laertes to his death after he loses to Hamlet in their duel.

As Shakespeare’s Hamlet progresses, the audience’s attitudes towards Prince Hamlet, and King Claudius shift greatly. While Claudius is initially portrayed as sympathetic and loving, by the plays end he seems murderous and deceptive. On the other hand, while Hamlet is initially perceived as a weak and bipolar wimp, we see him evolve into a stronger and more aggressive man.

As act two of the play opens, we are introduced to the newly appointed King Claudius. In his opening speech, he seems to be grieving the death of his brother while also trying to keep Denmark on its feet. He acknowledges that he has married his brother’s wife, Gertrude; however, he also states that its what was best for the people, and what was requested by the people. Furthermore, while speaking with an extremely dejected and disturbed Hamlet, Claudius accepts Hamlet as his own son, claiming to love him “with no less nobility of love than that which dearest father bears his son.” Early in the play, Claudius has ingratiated himself with the audience; however, the fact that he marries his brother’s wife draws back some of the attraction to Claudius.

While speaking with King Claudius in the opening scenes, Hamlet seems to be emotionally conflicted. He is angry with his mother for marrying his uncle, while he is also still grieving his father’s death. In his interactions with Claudius, he is sarcastic and uninterested in building a father-son type relationship with Claudius (which is more than understandable). After being referred to by Claudius as his nephew and son, Hamlet quietly mumbles: “A little more than kin and less than kind.” Comments like these make Hamlet less likable than Claudius in the early moments of the play. Furthermore, after being told by Claudius and Gertrude, that he is not to go back to school, Hamlet contemplates the idea of committing suicide. While Hamlet is understandably distraught, his lack of fight is disappointing to the audience. After all, one would expect some fight, passion and drive from the man who has been named next in line for the throne.

As we progress through the play however, Claudius’s attitude towards Hamlet— the man he once called his son— take a complete turn. Claudius, afraid that Hamlet is dangerous to his power, puts forth multiple efforts to have Hamlet killed. His first effort includes sending Hamlet to England with his two trusted officials Rosencrantz And Guildenstern. While he disguises the trip to England as a way for Hamlet to get out of Denmark and clear his mind, the trip is designed to be Hamlets death sentence. He gives a letter to the officials which state that Hamlet is to be murdered in England. This way, Claudius will be seen as innocent by both the people, and Gertrude. His willingness to deceive Hamlet and have him murdered suggest that he never truly loved Hamlet as a son. Furthermore, after his plan to have Hamlet killed in England failed, he designed and planned a duel between Laertes and Hamlet after Hamlet kills Polonius. As if this wasn’t enough, he encourages Laertes to poison his sword so that any wound, no matter how small, will kill Hamlet. As if that wasn’t enough, in the off chance that Hamlet emerged victorious in the duel, Claudius had poisoned Hamlet’s celebratory wine. His actions during the duel are very cowardly, and cause the audience to view him in a negative light.

Hamlet on the other hand becomes our tragic hero in the play. Once seen as weak, Hamlet finds his purpose in life which transforms his character. He makes it his mission to avenge his father’s death, and in doing so Hamlet shows his strength. When challenged by Laertes and Claudius to to the duel, Hamlet offers to settle their problems peacefully; however, when Laertes makes it clear that revenge is what he wants, Hamlet accepts the challenge with no hesitation saying “Let the foils be brought, the gentleman willing, and the king hold his purpose. I will win for him an I can. If not, I will gain nothing but my shame and the odd hits.” The man who once couldn’t get himself to kill the man responsible for his murder, and the man who once considered ending his own life, finally shows his fight. Unwilling to be shamed, Hamlet understands that he is fighting for his own pride, much like he was when killing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and even when accidentally killing Polonius (as he thought he had killed Claudius). 


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