Poetic Justice in Hamlet

Johnston_Forbes-Robertson_as_Hamlet,_1897 Noted Shakespearean scholar David Bevington writes, “Hamlet needs a way to kill Claudius with grace and style and moral justification.” In Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” speech he is concerned with what is noble:

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer…”

Premeditated murder is a heinous crime; one of the only crimes which carry the death penalty in the United States, but if a one’s demise is caused from their self-defense, there is no crime. When Hamlet finds out the King was behind the poisoned weapons in the fencing match, it is no longer a crime to kill him. In fact if Hamlet doesn’t kill the King, that would impugn his own honor and render him a coward for not doing something about the King’s attack on his life (not to mention on Gertrude’s). He only has so long to kill the King, since he has already been mortally wounded himself. This is a true test of his resolve. When everything is on the line, Hamlet acts without delay. He procrastinates through five acts, but when he must act, he comes through. As Fortinbras says:

“He was likely, had he been put on,

To have proved most royal.”


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