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Violence in Hamlet

At the end, as HamletĂs friend Horatio takes stock of all that has gone before, he delivers the playwrightĂs caution to future audiences: ˘So shall you hear/Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,/Of accidental judgment, casual slaughters,/Of deaths put on by cunning and forcĂd cause,/And, in this upshot, purposes mistook÷ (V II 1018). The play is a tragedy that illustrates brilliantly the destructive waste of violence, especially of impetuous violence and the heat of passion.

The best single example of this is in Act III, Scene IV, in which Hamlet confronts Gertrude. Although the scene includes the accidental stabbing of the kindly, bumbling Polonius, his death is almost an afterthought. What is more powerful and startling is the confrontation between mother and son. Gertrude exclaims, ˘O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!÷ and Hamlet replies, ˘A bloody deed! almost as bad, good mother,/As kill a king, and marry with his brother÷ (1002). In HamletĂs reckoning, his mother is implicated in his fatherĂs death, whether she knew about it or not, and her act of marrying her brother-in-law is much worse than his of killing an innocent man.

The psychological brutality of the scene is more devastating than the physical violence. As she becomes aware of the truth of her sonĂs accusations, Gertrude begins to dissolve. She cries, ˘O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain÷ (1003). He, perhaps realizing the impac


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