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 one’s demise is caused from the other’s self-defense, there is no crime. At the play’s conclusion when Hamlet finds out the King was behind the poisoned weapons in the fencing match, it is no longer a crime to kill him. Actually, if Hamlet doesn’t kill the King, it would impugn his very honor and render him a coward for not doing something about the King’s attack on his life (not to mention on Gertrude’s). Since he has already been mortally wounded himself, he only has so long to kill the King, and here is the 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 the likely successor to Denmark, Fortinbras says of Hamlet:

“He was likely, had he been put on,

To have proved most royal.”

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