Ultraviolence and BeethovenFebruary 25, 1994
"In great literature, no scene of violence exists for its own sake." This claim is validated in Shakespeare's Hamlet by the brutal display in which nearly all the main characters are sent to "the undiscovered country."
As a prelude to the duel which leads to the cataclysm, Hamlet apologizes to Laertes for doing him any wrong because Hamlet really is sorry at the situation: a king to kill and a mother he must hate. Hamlet says, "madness is poor Hamlet's enemy," which reflects the feeling that he is not acting anymore; the death of Polonius was brought on by a rage of madness.
Laertes says he is "satisfied in nature," but he feels bound "by some elder masters of known honor." These "elders" include his recently killed father whose death he must avenge, and the rest of his ancestors whose honor he feels bound by to keep his name "ungored." Hamlet and Laertes are not so different; both are bound by fate to their name and honor to avenge a father's death.
The King has bet on Hamlet to look innocent when Hamlet is killed. Claudius has even said, "Let all the battlements their ordinance fire," if Hamlet gets the first, second, or third hit. He drinks to Hamlet's skill and then slips in the poison, disguised as a royal pearl.
Hamlet and Laertes fight with their rapiers and daggers, and Hamlet gets the first two hits. After this, Gertrude offers Hamlet a napkin to wipe his brow. She then proceeds to drink from the poisoned cup to her son's good fortune, against Claudius' counsel. Her son is so important she disobeys a direct command from the king! After the initial warning, however, Claudius does not take any action to stop the Queen from drinking the poison. He does not want to expose himself and ruin the chance to get rid of Hamlet.
At this point, Laertes thinks of underhandedly killing Hamlet, but the King does not allow it; he wants the event to look normal in all respects, to avoid any suspicion. It becomes evident cheating bothers Laertes, "And yet it is almost against my conscience."
Hamlet and Laertes continue their duel; both are wounded and realize that they cannot play at fighting. Swords are switched in the scuffle. With Laertes' sword in hand, Hamlet realizes it has an unbated tip showing that Laertes is out to kill him. Laertes knows he is in trouble; a poisoned, sharpened tip is in the hands of a superior swordsman!
The King tries to disarm the situation by stopping them. At this time, the Queen falls from the poisoned wine. Laertes realizes he has been cut by the poisoned tip, "Why, as a woodcock to mine own springe, Osric I am justly killed with my own treachery."
Hamlet does not know what is wrong with the Queen, but she soon exclaims the drink was responsible. At this, Hamlet immediately wanted to lock the doors and seek out the source of the treachery. Laertes falls, and, realizing that he is dying, wants to expose the whole plot. It was Claudius who led to Laertes' demise, so Laertes explains to Hamlet about the poisoned tip, how they will soon die, and finishes off with, "The King, the King's to blame." Since Laertes is not going to live, he does not want to die solely a means of Claudius.
Hamlet is then enraged and yells, "The point envenomed too? Then, venom, to thy work." and hacks at the King. Venom is an appropriate word because Claudius was a slithering snake that manipulated many, including Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Gertrude, Hamlet, and Ophelia. Hamlet does not stop here, but drives it home with, "Here, thou incestuous, murd'rous, damned Dane. Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? Follow my mother." This should finally tip off the observers as to what Claudius really is, a lying, scheming, cheating, incestuous murderer. This also shows Hamlet's strong feeling of disgust for the marriage, Old Hamlet's murder, and Claudius, who will be damned for his actions. It is ironic that Claudius is killed with all three methods he intended for Hamlet, the poisoned cup, the unbated tip, and the poison on the sword. The King dies.
Laertes then is at peace, "He is justly served." Before dying, he forgives Hamlet for killing Polonius once he knows what actually happened.
Just before his death, Hamlet tells Horatio to live to tell the story to world, and that his successor will be Young Fortinbras. Hamlet does not want the world to be ignorant of the perpetrated villainy, and he cares enough for the country to make sure it has a good leader. This is important because it will give a new line control of the throne in Denmark.
Hamlet's death served to bring the play to a typical tragedical ending. For all his efforts, he could not overcome fate. He was the king for only a few moments before his death, long enough to name his successor; one he knew could managed the kingdom.
The final scene is somewhat ironic because all the issues that weighed heavy on the shoulders of the characters are made insignificant by their deaths.
The final dismal scene in Hamlet does exist for the sake of violence; the violence is the means by which the plot is consummated. It is the point at which the schemes of Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes, and Fortinbras intersect in a disastrous deluge that demonstrates the folly and futility of machination.