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Loyalty and Betrayal in
Hamlet

            William Shakespeare has written many
English Literature plays, although, “Hamlet,”
is his most famous. Within, “Hamlet,” the characters and the relationships between
them are extremely complex. Shakespeare unravels his play through the themes of
revenge, lies and deceit, power and family which connects to the loyalty of
very few characters and the betrayal of almost all characters. Loyalty and betrayal
are two important concepts portrayed throughout “Hamlet,” emphasizing all
relationships in the play. The main acts of loyalty in the play consist of
Hamlet, Fortinbras, Laertes and Ophelia portraying loyalty towards their
fathers’, as well as Horatio, Hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Gertrude. Significant
acts of betrayal are present with Claudius, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern, and Ophelia. The action of each character reveals the true nature
of their loyalty and betrayal towards someone, such that one character’s
loyalty may become another’s betrayal.

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            Family
is an ongoing theme present throughout the entire play but is also the most
recognizable display of loyalty. Hamlet and the Ghost, the past King, also
Hamlet’s father is an act of loyalty present at the beginning of the play. The
Ghost instructed to Hamlet, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”
(Shakespeare, 1.5.25). The loyalty Hamlet has for his father is proven through
the entire play, based upon Hamlet seeking revenge for his father’s murder. The
quote Hamlet states, “Haste me to know’t, that
I, with wings as swift/As meditation or the thoughts of love, /May sweep to my
revenge” (Shakespeare, 1.5.29-31) reveals Hamlet wants to know who
murdered his father and that he will seek revenge. Hamlet accomplishes and
proves his loyalty to his father right up to the end of the play when he kills
his Uncle Claudius. As for loyalty towards family, Fortinbras too shares the
same situation of Hamlet of wanting to seek revenge for the execution of his
father; in which he too was replaced by usurpers, who also happens to be his
Uncle. In that case, Fortinbras wants to pursue revenge for his father’s death
by forming an army to attack Denmark. The loyalty of Fortinbras is proven when
Hamlet says, “Now, sir, young Fortinbras, /Of unimproved mettle hot and full”
(1.1.94-95), stating that Fortinbras is willing to do anything for his father
and will seek avenge, taking action quickly. Therefore, both Hamlet and
Fortinbras are loyal to their fathers by willing to seek revenge by murdering
the people who killed their father’s.

            The father of Laertes and Ophelia,
Polonius, was too murdered just as Hamlet and Fortinbras fathers did. Laertes
and Ophelia show loyalty in different ways. After Hamlet accidentally kills
Polonius by mistaking him for Claudius, Laertes intends to end Hamlet’s life to
avenge his father. Laertes proclaims his loyalty to his father as he says to
Hamlet, “No med’cine in the world can do thee good;/In thee, there is not
half an hour of life;/The treacherous instruments in thy hand”
(5.2.281-283). Laertes loyalty to his father and wanting to seek revenge by
killing Hamlet in a fencing battle leads to the tragic ending of, “Hamlet,”
resulting in the execution of many other characters, not just Hamlet. The
characters also murdered are Claudius, Laertes, Gertrude, and Hamlet resulting in loyalty having a negative impact
and ending result to the story. Ophelia portrays her loyalty to her father when
she exclaims, “I shall obey, my lord” (1.3.136). Polonius and Laertes care for
and protect Ophelia from any harm which leads to her listening to and obeying
what her father says. Ophelia is loyal to her father when he wants to help King
Claudius by discovering the reasoning of Hamlet’s behavior. Although, her
loyalty towards her father results in her betrayal to Hamlet making him
mortified by her willingness to have her sexuality used for her father’s
purpose.

            Another significant act of loyalty
is between Horatio and Hamlet. Horatio has been loyal towards Hamlet throughout
the entire play, just as Hamlet is to him. Horatio is Hamlet’s best friend, a
person he can trust. The bond between these two best friends, and their honesty
and trusting relationship portrays their loyalty towards each other. Horatio’s
loyalty to Hamlet consists of him swearing to be loyal to Hamlet by not sharing
the incident of the Ghost. Horatio cares about Hamlet deeply as does Hamlet to
Horatio, and he protects Hamlet’s safety from King Claudius. Horatio says to Hamlet,
“Well, my Lord:/If’ a steal aught the whilst
this play is playing,/And ‘scape detecting, I will pay the theft”
(3.2.74-76). This quote states that Horatio is willing to help Hamlet with his
plan of determining if Claudius murdered his father. Horatio portrays his
loyalty by helping Hamlet and not reporting him to the King. Horatio takes many
risks to help Hamlet, proving his loyalty is real and not fake. Horatio is a
faithful and loyal friend to Hamlet as he was willing to drink the poisoned cup
and die with Hamlet, but was told to stay alive to share of Hamlet’s story. Loyalty
comes from being a true and trusting friend which Horatio is to Hamlet, no
matter what the consequences may be.

            The most recognizable act of betrayal
in “Hamlet” is Claudius towards his brother and Hamlet, his nephew. King
Hamlet, Claudius’s brother, now referred to as the Ghost, was murdered by Claudius.
Claudius betrayed his brother by killing him, taking his fortune, his wife and
his position as King. He took over his brother’s life, which is an extreme act
of betrayal but seems to be an act of jealousy as well. Claudius betrays his
nephew, Hamlet, by marrying his mother, Gertrude, only two months after the
death of Hamlet’s father. Gertrude betrayed the same two people as Claudius,
her husband, and her son, in a similar way. Gertrude betrayed her husband by
not mourning long enough, going straight into a marriage with Claudius which
betrays Hamlet as well. Hamlet disgustingly says, “I doubt some foul play:
would the night were come!” (1.2.255). This quote represents the betrayal Hamlet feels
of his mother marrying Claudius and is disgusted by the thought of it. According
to (Findlay, 2010), Gertrude is trying to please and be loyal towards her husband,
King Claudius, and Hamlet, resulting in conflicting behaviors. Gertrude’s conflicting behavior is proven as
Gertrude says to Hamlet, “O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain”
(3.4.157). Although, Gertrude shows her loyalty to Claudius, and her betrayal
again to Hamlet when she reports to the King what Hamlet tells her in the
closet. Therefore, Gertrude and Claudius are similar characters in the way they
both betrayed their family, two people they should have been loyal to since
they are family.

            Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two
former friends and schoolmates of Hamlet’s who turn out to betray him instead
of being his friends. Their betrayal is proven as Guildenstern exclaims to
Hamlet, “My honored lord!” (2.2.213), and Rosencrantz says, “My most dear
lord!” (2.2.214). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern both fool Hamlet by pretending
to be loyal by the words they said to Hamlet. Although, Hamlet soon realizes
they are not loyal to him, but to King Claudius, as they try to spy on him to
relay information to the King. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are attempting to
prove to Hamlet they are loyal, but they
instead betray him showing him they are not his true friends.

            In conclusion, “Hamlet” is a play
full of loyalty and betrayal resulting from the themes of revenge, lies and
deceit, power and family. With Shakespeare making the relationships and
characters so complex in nature, it results in emphasizing the two significant
concepts, loyalty and betrayal. To this day, “Hamlet” continues to be William
Shakespeare’s most tragic play filled with revenge and madness, from love
affairs to innocent deaths (Foster, 2010). Therefore, there are multiple acts
of loyalty and betrayal that circle around each character according to the
actions they take. The actions a character takes are justified by the death of
another which is how loyalty and betrayal become
distributed as ongoing themes in “Hamlet.”

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Findlay, Alison.
“Gertrude.” Women in Shakespeare, Mar. 2010, pp.
152-154. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.avc.talonline.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=50795420&site=ehost-live.

Foster, Edward E.
“Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” Masterplots, Fourth Edition, November
2010, pp. 1-4. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.avc.talonline.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=103331MP418359560000307&site=ehost-live.

Shakespeare, William.
“Hamlet.” Literature: Reading Fiction,
Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw, 2007, 1545-1648.

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