Honor in Hamlet

7 July 2016

By definition, honor is the “quality of knowing and doing what is morally right” (Merriam-Webster). In Hamlet, three sons of three murdered fathers – Hamlet, Fortinbras, Laertes and Hamlet – are subject to the obligation of honoring their fathers’ deaths. Despite all three of these characters having to seek revenge for the deaths of their fathers through the murder of another person, the kinds of honor that these three sons are fulfilling are unique. Hamlet is avenging the murder of his father by his uncle, Laertes is avenging the muder of his father by Hamlet, and Fortinbras is avenging the death of his father, by Hamlet’s father.

The pressure obligation that is put onto the three sons derive from different sources. Additionally, the method in which they protect their honor differs. Ultimately, these aspects of the honor the three sons are attempting to protect eventually defines the contrast between the honor that they are pursuing even though all three of them are attempting to avenge the murder of their respective fathers. Hamlet’s honor is put to question when his father – in the form of a ghost – urges him to seek revenge on his uncle, Claudius, for the murder of his father.

Honor in Hamlet Essay Example

The aim of this revenge is primarily to relieve his father from purgatory through the completion of this murder as his father unfinished task on earth. Hamlet does not question the will of his father and accepts his task. Hamlet’s task of honor differs from the other 2 sons’ tasks because his task is brought on by the supernatural. Furthermore, Hamlet does not care if his task leads him to hell. His father’s soul is at risk of being left in purgatory for eternity if he does not complete his assignment tasked by his undead father. Laertes is the son of Polonius, who is murdered on accident by Hamlet, who mistook Polonius for Claudius.

Laertes’s honor differs from those of Hamlet and Fortinbras because it was set to disregard allegiance. Laertes was outraged by his father murder and was convinced on seeking revenge. ” To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation”(Act 4, Scene 5). He allowed Claudius to sway Laertes towards murderous intent and even helps him devise a plan to murder Hamlet. Laertes’s revenge seems to be the least moral of the three because it is set to disregard allegiance and aimed to take revenge by murder for an unprecedented death.

Fortinbras is the least featured character in the play of the three sons. His revenge is unique because it is put upon by the nation he leads, Norway. His father, the former King of Norway, was defeated in a fair duel by Hamlet’s father. The loss resulted in the relinquishment of Norwegian land. Now, in an act of honor as the Norway’s leader Fortinbras is obliged by his countrymen to take back what is theirs. His honor is also different to that of Hamlet and Laertes because it is not as hell-bent on murder as the tasks asked of the other two sons.

Fortinbras task is less of a duty of a son to his father, but more of a king to his people. The methods undertaken in the execution of the tasks by the three sons also highlights the differences in their honor. Hamlet’s pattern of indecision was recurrent in the play; he would ramble in an long-winded soliloquy, defaming himself, then devising a plan to act on his failure, but then resort to inaction. This led to the rushed murder of Polonius and dishonoring the task asked by his father. Laertes on the other hand, was too rushed into a decision.

Claudius did play some part in Laertes’s decision in avenging his father, but ultimately it was Laertes decision to kill his Hamlet. This led to his own death because he was poisoned by the sword that was used initially planned to be used against Hamlet in his rush to carry out his plan. Fortinbras’s task of honor was the only one that was completed successfully. After Claudius, Polonius, Hamlet and Laertes had been killed Fortinbras was free to take reign of Denmark and its land. His method of action was planned thoroughly and was not rushed, and this led to his success.

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