21:350:335:01 Literature and Law       Name: ___________________________
First Day 20 Minute Essay - Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shakespeare's Hamlet contains two parallel revenge plots. Hamlet has sworn to honor the command of his father's ghost to avenge being murdered by his brother, Claudius. But after Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius, the latter's son Laertes seeks his own revenge against Hamlet for that death and for his part in his sister's mental derangement. In what follows Hamlet and Laertes have different attitudes towards revenge.

1) Hamlet, believing that Claudius is praying, postpones his revenge, thinking he can this better guarantee his uncle's damnation (III, iii):

Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent:
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At gaming, swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in't;
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn'd and black
As hell, whereto it goes.

2) However, Laertes, encouraged by Claudius, seems ready to act without reservations (IV, vii).

And so have I a noble father lost;
A sister driven into desperate terms ...
For her perfections: but my revenge will come ....
Hamlet comes back: what would you undertake,
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?
To cut his throat i' the church.
No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize;
Revenge should have no bounds.

Based on these two text samples, what seem to be both the similarities and the differences between the revenge codes of Hamlet and Laertes. Do you agree with Hamlet that the avenger must carefully assure his victim's damnation -- or with Claudius and Laertes that the avenger should act first, knowing "no bounds"? Is revenge a fit punishment for murder in literature? What about in real life? In your discussion, be sure to cite the texts. [335_sp10_day1.htm]