The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1825 Friday, 4 November 2005
From: Joseph Egert <
Date: Thursday, 03 Nov 2005 18:00:56 +0000
Subject: 16.1811 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: Re: SHK 16.1811 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Responding to Ed Taft's contention that Hamlet's smiting of Claudius is
not the Will of God, David Bishop writes, "One aspect of God's will is
clear: the Christian God opposes personal revenge."
As did His Father before Him, at least in the Beginning. To later
Christian shepherds, the Hebrew Ur-God of GENESIS 4 was unaccountably
forgiving of First Murderer Cain's crime against his brother Abel, an
early Christ figure. As posthumous agents of human "justice", they
sentenced Cain to endless torment in Hell's deepest pit. Not only did
God, like a good minister, seek to dissuade Cain from sin before his
crime; He protected him with His mark (a hedging crown, perhaps?) from
human justice or revenge, personal or collective, enabling him to found
civil society where "wild justice" could be tamed. Anyone harming Cain
would be repaid sevenfold. The Ur-God does not prevent his time of life
nor does He deny him free will, seeking perhaps to guide His ultimate
prodigal toward sincere penance and salvation of his soul. In IMITATIO
DEI, young Hamlet ministers to his mother Gertrude, though with
questionable lasting success.
Claudius' lament in his attempt at prayer, that his offense "hath the
primal eldest curse upon't/ A brother's murder", may be glossed in more
than one way. Every deliberate homicide in the human family may be seen
as a fratricide--this being the ineradicable curse on our "old stock."
Or, more likely, the curse may be God's punishment for Cain's
fratricide, namely, "vagabondage" for life and beyond. RICHARD II's
Bolingbroke, IN IMITATIO DEI, sentences Richard's murderer Exton: "With
Cain go wander through shades of night,/ And never show thy head by day
nor light." Who, in HAMLET, is doomed to "walk the night"? What
"extravagant and erring spirit" flees the light of day and, perhaps,
Marcellus' "partisan" cross? Is King Hamlet being punished, like Cain,
for our tragedy's First Slaying of a brother monarch? Does the sevenfold
punishment for Claudius' crime now include the deaths of Polonius,
Ophelia, Rosenkrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, and
Yet GENESIS 4 does not end with Cain himself. Will humanity, in the form
of his descendant Lamech, learn from God to spare the criminal his life
and guide him toward repentance and possibly salvation? Instead, God's
mercy emboldens Lamech to murder at will, feeling he will be protected
as well. The moral anarchy from God's leniency, as in Vincentio's
Vienna, spreads like a plague. God will now temper his mercy with
The Flood is at hand.
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