So shall you hear of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause,? (Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2, Lines 381-384). So says Horatio, best friend of Prince Hamlet in the final few lines of the play. He speaks these words after the deaths of Hamlet, Claudius, King of Denmark, Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, and Laertes, son of Polonius. Also dead are Hamlet, King of Denmark, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, former friends of Hamlet, Polonius, councilor to the King, and Ophelia, daughter of Polonius. Death is an extremely prevalent theme in William Shakespeare?s Hamlet. However, each death is unique in circumstances, causes, and effects. Three important deaths in Hamlet were the deaths of King Hamlet, Ophelia, and Prince Hamlet.
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The first, and probably most important death in Hamlet, is the death of Prince Hamlet?s father, Hamlet, King of Denmark. Even though this death is not portrayed in the play, it sets off a chain of events that comprise the plot of Hamlet. Hamlet, King of Denmark died recently before the play begins. Claudius, King Hamlet?s brother, succeeded him. This upset Prince Hamlet, who thought he should be the successor. Then, in the very first scene of the play, King Hamlet?s ghost appears to some soldiers and Hamlet?s friend Horatio. The ghost does not speak to them. Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost, and eventually the ghost appears to Hamlet and speaks with him. The ghost surprises Hamlet by saying, ?If thou didst ever thy dear father love?Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder? (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5, Lines 23 and 25). Hamlet had not realised that his father had been murdered. The ghost goes on to say, ?The serpent that did sting thy father?s life now wears his crown,? (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5, Lines 38-39). It is at this point that Hamlet realises that his father?s murderer was his uncle, Claudius. Hamlet swears to have revenge. This sets up the circumstances that cause the remainder of the action in the play.
One of the most interesting deaths in Hamlet is the death of Ophelia. Ophelia was the daughter of Polonius, councilor to the king. However, she was also Prince Hamlet?s girlfriend. She died by drowning in a river. It is most likely that she committed suicide, though there was never any evidence to that effect, and it is impossible to say for sure.
The chain of events leading to her death came from two different directions. One cause of her apparent suicide could have been Hamlet?s madness. They had been lovers, but during the time prior to her death he became very cold toward her and bordered on insanity. In one brief soliloquy she says the following:
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his musicked vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason
Like sweet bells jangled, out of time and harsh,
That unmatched form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. O, woe is me
T? have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1, Lines 158-164
She is lamenting the fact that Prince Hamlet has gone mad and does not love her as he used to.
The more likely cause of Ophelia?s death, however, is the death of her father, Polonius. Polonius was murdered by Prince Hamlet while Hamlet was in his mother?s chamber. Polonius had concealed himself behind the arras. When Hamlet was attacking his mother, Polonius yelled for help. Upon hearing this, Hamlet thrust his sword through the arras and Polonius fell dead. Hamlet did this because he thought it was Claudius who was hiding there. Ophelia did not take the news of her father?s death well. She did nothing but walk about madly singing songs and talking about flowers. A short while later, she was found drowned in the river. This is why most people believe Ophelia committed suicide. She had been driven mad by both Hamlet?s madness and the death of her father.
In the very last scene of the play, Prince Hamlet is killed. He is stabbed by Laertes with a poisoned sword during a duel. Both Claudius and Laertes want Hamlet dead. Laertes wants to kill him to avenge his father, Polonius. Claudius wants him dead because he knows that Hamlet knows who had murdered his own father, King Hamlet. So, Claudius and Laertes planned to poison the sword in order to ensure Hamlet?s death. However, during the duel, Hamlet also mortally wounds Laertes. Hamlet then stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword, and he dies. The queen drinks from a poisoned cup that was intended for Hamlet and dies. Therefore, as Hamlet dies, so do many others. Horatio?s final words to Hamlet were, ?Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,? (Hamlet Act V, Scene 2, Lines 359-361).
Yes, death is, no doubt, and extremely prevalent theme in William Shakespeare?s Hamlet. Among those who died were Claudius, King of Denmark, Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, Polonius, councilor to the king, Laertes, son of Polonius, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Prince Hamlet?s former friends. However, three of the most important and most interesting deaths were the deaths of Hamlet, King of Denmark, Ophelia, daughter of Polonius and Hamlet?s lover, and Prince Hamlet himself. All of this death does make a point. The point is that of universal mortality. The idea is, that no matter how important someone is, he or she will still die. No one can escape this fate. As Prince Hamlet remarked, ?Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service?two dishes, but to one table. That?s the end,? (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 2, Lines 23-25).