Revenge in Hamlet and Frankenstein

1 January 2017

The novel, Frankenstein, and the play, Hamlet, are two works of literature that revolve around the notion of revenge. The main conflicts of the stories are Prince Hamlet attempting to avenge the murder of his father and Frankenstein’s monster hunting down Victor Frankenstein for abandoning him in an empty and lonely existence. The novels use other themes to tie together the underlying theme of revenge, such as death, madness, and learning and “un-learning.

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Death is a source that fuels the yearning for revenge in both stories. Prince Hamlet is obviously pushed to revenge when he figures out that King Claudius murdered his father. In Act 1, Scene 5, the Ghost urges Hamlet to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” to which Hamlet replies: “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift/ As meditation or the thoughts of love,/ May sweep to my revenge. ” (Act I, Scene 5, p. 29) May I add that this occurs before the name of the murderer is revealed; Hamlet swears to extract revenge in a timely fashion simply based upon the knowledge of corrupted death in his family.

And Hamlet certainly follows Hammurabi’s Code (“an eye for an eye”) when revenge comes to mind. For Hamlet, it is death and only death that can avenge his father’s murder. While Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his inability to act on these emotions (one could easily argue that King Claudius’ death comes as a result of his own plot backfiring), it is death that inspires the powerful and conflicting emotions of revenge within Hamlet. The monster in Frankenstein does not turn to revenge immediately, unlike Hamlet.

Instead, he attempts to exist alone at first; when his residence at the cabin falls through, the monster then turns to Victor for a cohort, attempting to offset his miserable existence with both solitude and companionship. Because Victor ultimately refuses to provide the monster with a friend (Victor kills the female monster before he is finished), the monster decides that revenge is the only way to make Victor feel as desolate as he has for his entire life. Rather than just killing Victor, however, the monster decides to kill his loved ones.

The death of a potential companion in the world incites the monster to create even more death. The monster kills William Frankenstein, Justine Moritz, and Henry Clerval before Victor Frankenstein’s darkest emotions are drawn out. With the loss of Henry Clerval, Victor’s closest friend, Victor is finally pushed to the brink of insanity and starts plotting his own revenge. Of course, the monster ends up murdering Elizabeth as well and while that death puts the monster’s quest for revenge at ease, it only intensifies the thirst for revenge that Victor Frankenstein tastes.

“Yet he knew me not at first. A said I was a fishmonger. ‘ A is far gone, far gone. And truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for love, very near this. ” (Act II, Scene 2, p. 46) Polonius says this when describing Prince Hamlet’s madness to himself during their exchange in Act 2, Scene 2. Hamlet pretends to be insane in order to throw off Polonius, because he is fully aware that Polonius is acting as a spy for Claudius. Seeking revenge leads to Hamlet becoming an utterly mad person with antic behavior. By mocking him, Hamlet convinced Polonius that he was crazy so that Polonius would report his craziness to the court.

With Claudius thinking that Hamlet had succumbed to madness, he would be an easy target for Hamlet to extract his revenge on. Of course, Hamlet has to keep up the facade with everybody he comes across. In Act II, Scene 2, Hamlet acts crazed to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by likening Denmark to a prison, talking about his dreams, openly accusing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of spying repeatedly, and even casually claiming that he is going mad. One of my personal favorite lines from this section is when Hamlet states, “I am but mad north-northwest: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. (Act II, Scene 2, p. 53) Here Hamlet is shamelessly admitting his insanity while also proving that his madness does not necessarily make him any less acute.

Also, Hamlet is sure to spread his madness over Ophelia during their encounters, from the bedroom scene (where Hamlet sneaks up on Ophelia in her bedroom but does not say a word to her) to the famous “get thee to a nunnery” scene. Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern all report Hamlet’s madness accordingly, as Hamlet wanted. The premise of revenge in Frankenstein revolves around the theory of madness.

Victor Frankenstein is a mad man; he shuns away all human contact and disregards his own health to create unnatural life, which he then abandons. His own insanity creates the monster, who ultimately ends up murdering Victor’s loved ones to break him down entirely. “I know not by what chain of thought the idea presented itself, but it instantly darted into my mind that the murderer had come to mock at my misery, and taunt me with the death of [Henry] Clerval, as a new incitement for me to comply with his hellish desires.

I put my hand before my eyes and cried out in agony – Oh! take him away! I cannot see him; for God’s sake, do not let him enter. ” (Volume 3, Chapter IV, p. 125) Here, Victor is voicing his madness in fear after the creature murdered Henry Clerval on his path to revenge. It was Henry Clerval’s death that also initially triggered Victor’s craving for revenge, so this quote is germane to the theme of madness in various ways. Ophelia states that Hamlet is a perfect nobleman, young, intelligent, and scholarly.

She is not incorrect in any of these statements. So naturally, when Hamlet wants to inflict revenge for his father’s murder, he must learn how to become a blood-lusting killer while “unlearning” the traits that make him a “perfect nobleman. ” He swears to the Ghost that he will learn to kill to avenge his father. Thus begins his descent to madness. Hamlet practices his savagery on Ophelia and Gertrude, openly insulting both of them and speaking to them in a much harsher nature than usual. He ridicules Claudius, even, in the presence of others.

Hamlet slowly sheds away his gentlemanly behavior before he can finally practice his hand at murdering. Unfortunately for Hamlet, however, his first victim is Polonius and not King Claudius. Even though Hamlet did not kill his target, it was apparent at that point that he had made excellent strides towards learning how to kill and unlearning how to be an upstanding citizen. He actually becomes so good at learning how to kill that he forges documents to have his childhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, executed.

Hamlet displayed all of the traits necessary to be an outstanding revenge-seeker, but his inability to channel his emotions properly held him back from reaching his goal. “This trait of kindness moved me sensibly. I had been accustomed, during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption; but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained, and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots, which I gathered from a neighbouring wood. ” (Volume 2, Chapter IV, p. 74) This quote from Frankenstein embodies who the creature was before his motives changed.

He was a selfless, sensitive and helpful being who was plagued by seclusion from the world and a lack of companionship. His emotional capacities set him apart from other monster characters in literature and cinematic history, but it also ties in the theme of learning and unlearning. The monster clearly starts his existence as a beneficial creature, putting the needs of random cabin dwellers before his own. But after being abandoned by his creator as well as being attacked for trying help strangers, the creature realizes that he needs to unlearn kindness and learn how to become assertive.

After the creature’s request for a mate is ultimately denied, his vengeful motives are unleashed. The monster hastily learns how to kill and continuously proves it to Victor by killing William, Justine Moritz, Henry Clerval, and Elizabeth, but never actually killing Victor himself. Instead, the creature allows Victor to murder himself by wasting his remaining years trying to seek out his own revenge for what his creation did to him for leaving him alone in the world.

The theme of revenge is an interesting concept in Hamlet and Frankenstein. In both stories, revenge is played up to be the only means of coping with those who have wronged you, although both circumstances are much more extreme than everyday life. Interestingly enough, revenge works out very differently in each story. In Hamlet, everybody dies. Prince Hamlet, King Claudius, Laertes, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, and even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are all dead in the wake of Hamlet’s revenge.

The message here is simple – even if your revenge is for the most noble of reasons and even if it is carefully planned out, it is not the best course of action and will likely backfire. Or, simply put, do not seek revenge when there are better alternatives. Frankenstein does not offer that same message, however. The monster, who readers are more likely to sympathize with than Victor, is fruitful in his plot for revenge. He successfully murders the people close to Victor and goes into hiding, eventually wearing down Victor to his own death as well.

What is even more interesting about this novel is that Victor fails in his own revenge plot. This is obviously done on purpose because the creature is the character that the reader wants to get behind. So, when the creature is successful and Victor is not, the message sent is that revenge works when revenge is the correct method. In the end, both stories provided the complex theme of revenge very adequately. The messages sent were vastly different but both had so much substance. Through death, madness, and learning and unlearning, revenge prevails as the prominent theme of Hamlet and Frankenstein.

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