Loyalty and Betrayal in Hamlet
Right from the beginning, even before the ghost appears, Hamlet’s attitude to women in general is coloured by his mother’s disloyalty and betrayal-‘Frailty, thy name is woman’. When he hears the true extend of his mother’s betrayal Hamlet is devastated. He is shocked at the speed of his mother’s remarriage when he says ‘Thrift, thrift/ the funeral baked meats/ did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables’. His father’s death and his mother’s betrayal led him to a life of pointlessness in a world that can only be referred to as ‘weary, stale and unprofitable’.
To him, all women are deceivers; his disappointment is evident when he next meets Ophelia. Her position is intolerable and pathetic-in order to be loyal to her father she must betray the man she loves. She chooses to be loyal to her father and return Hamlet’s gifts-‘That I have longed long to re-deliver’. Of course, she is not telling the whole truth. She has not ‘longed long to re-deliver’ them at all, she is doing what her father has told her. Hamlet’s reaction is an indication of the contempt, distrust and bitterness he feels at this further evidence of disloyalty of women-‘Get thee to a nunnery.
Loyalty and Betrayal in Hamlet Essay Example
Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners’? Hamlet repeatedly tells her she should become a nun, saying that if she marries she will give birth to sinners. At one stage he launches into a violent, misogynistic rant criticising various aspects of female behaviour, attacking the institution of marriage and declaring that women make ‘monsters’ out of men. Perhaps his most crudest and most aggressive comment comes when he hints that to take the edge off his desire he’d have to leave her ‘groaning’ in pregnancy and childbirth. Polonius seemly hear all these vulgar and misogynistic rants and becomes ever more convinced that Hamlet is mad.
He never rests easily until he ends up behind yet another arras, scheming, yet this time in Gertrude’s room and gets himself killed. The act of betrayal, by both Polonius and Gertrude has far-reaching consequences; Polonius is killed by Hamlet, Ophelia becomes mad and Laertes demands vengeance. Polonius’s betrayal disgusts Hamlet and he can only but refer to him as ‘a foolish prating knave’ and his mistreatment of his body when he says he will ‘lug his guts in the neighbour room’ can equally be taken as his disgust towards him. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also sow the seeds of their own destruction by betraying their lifelong friend.
From their point of view of course, they are being loyal to the king. They are faithful, obedient subjects, merely doing services to their king, trying to find out the reason for Hamlet’s madness. To Hamlet however, their willingness to do the King’s bidding is just more evidence of the corruption of the court. He urges them to treat him as a friend, to be loyal to him, to tell him the truth-;’were you not sent for? ’ They eventually and reluctantly agree that they were sent for. But this is not the last of it. They continue to do the King’s bidding, becoming more discourteous to their friend.
Guildenstern tries to persuade him to put his ‘discourse into some frame’ and make ‘a wholesome answer’ while Rosencrantz rebukes Hamlet for his behaviour to his mother. Loyalty is a quality greatly valued by Hamlet but it must be loyalty based on truth, justice, integrity and right thinking-not the kind of loyalty practised by Polonius. There is only one person, according to Hamlet, who has seen these qualities and he is Horatio. He is the one who remains steadfast, he is trustworthy-if he says a thing is so, everyone believes hi,. He observes Claudius at the play and confirms his guilt.
Out of loyalty to his friend he agrees to stay alive to make the truth known and put things right-‘tell my story’. Hamlet’s own loyalty never wavers. It is there form the start. He is dressed n black and is still grieving-it irritates and upsets him that his mother should question him about his continuing to be in morning. What is worse-she suggests that he is pretending. ‘Why seems it so particular with thee’? He naturally protests that he is not pretending, the black clothes are but the ‘trappings and the suits of woe’. When he meets the Ghost he is eager at first to carry out his orders to avenge his ‘foul and unnatural murder’.
Although his procrastination has dire consequences for nearly everyone in the play, his loyalty and love for his father never falters. It is this which makes him angry with his mother: he cannot understand how she could forget how a good man he was and marry Claudius who was his inferior in every respect. His success in making his mother admit her guilt is a tribute to his love for his father. In fact, as a result, both mother and son are reconciled and Gertrude, from then on, chooses loyalty to her son before loyalty to Claudius. She protects him, lie and covers up for him.
Perhaps Polonius’s loyalty to his king deserves some recognition, but he only inspires contempt in Hamlet and consequently in the reader as well. He has spoken to his son about being ‘true to oneself’ but he doesn’t really know what that means. In fact, he doesn’t know himself at all/ He allows himself to be used as a pawn by Claudius, his curiosity and interfering are given free rein. Claudius knows perfectly well that Polonius is wrong about the reason for hamlet’s madness but it suits him to let Polonius continue to think it is love.
This way he will have the faithful Polonius never far away from Hamlet and reporting back every minute and unimportant detail. To Hamlet he was simply a ‘wretched, rash, intruding fool’ and found that ‘to be too busy is some danger’. In the play, loyalty and betrayal are two sides of the same coin-if a person is truly loyal he will not betray anyone. This can only be said about Horatio and perhaps of Hamlet himself; all the rest betray the people they are supposed to love and pay the ultimate penalty.