Theme Of Vengeance In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet And Merchant Of Venice

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Theme Of Vengeance In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet And Merchant Of Venice


Vengeance is a harmful action against a person in response to grievance, be it ready or perceived. This project work examines the theme of vengeance in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Merchant of Venice. In doing this, approaches to taking vengeance will be aimed in both plays. Chapter one will deal with introduction to vengeance, chapter two will consist of literature review on the selected texts. Chapter three will discuss vengeance in Hamlet, chapter four will discuss vengeance in Merchant of Venice and chapter five will be the conclusion of chapter three and four. In doing this, we are going to study the lives of the people in England at that time.

Chapter One


Vengeance is depicted in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Merchant of Venice the major theme was a social phenomenon during Shakespeare’s days. England then was a proud nation and Queen Elizabeth who was the symbol of England would not tolerate her rivals. She destroyed her enemies and in 1587,she had Mary Queen of Scots executed for treason.Also in 1588, her navy defeated a huge armada of ships from Spain.Both acts were prompted by religion.Her power was threatened for other reason. In 1594, her doctor was executed for attempting to poison her. When she died in 1603, James1 succeeded her and brought a change. He was a Scottish.At that time Scotland and England were not in good terms.

If Shakespeare needed example of life at its extremes, he had them all around him. His depicting the theme of vengeance in both plays could be traced to the life in England during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. This closeness to the count means that the understood all that was going on very well. Without reading history books,Shakespeare’s days can clearly be seen in his plays because his plays are written by one who knows the tragedy of sudden death, illness, the splendor of the life of the court in contrast to urban and rural poverty. Shakespeare’s plays contains all the hustle and bustle of normal life at the time we see the courtfool, aristocracy, roguery merchants and the servant classes.We hear of bear- baiting, fortune telling, entertainment,drinking,dancing and singing. As changes happen, they are brought into the plays.Shakespeare wrote to perform. He studied his audience closely and produced what they wanted,His play reflects Elizabethan life and times.In Shakespeare’s time,there were confiscatory attitude towards vengeance there was more sympathy than there might be nowadays for people who took private vengeance. These attitude was left over from the days when taking personal revenge was seen as defending one’s honour. However, the law of the court and the church were quite clear in condemning this.

Interest in the theme of vengeance was wide spread and led playwrights of this time to develop a genre of play known as “Revenge Tragedies”. Revenge Tragedies have many features of the plays of Seneca, a Roman Playwright who lived in the first century A.D. Examples of a few of the popular Elizabethan revenge Tragedies include the Spanish Tragedy, The Revenger’s Tragedy, The White Devil, The Duchess of Malfi. In Shakespeare’s revenge plays, the offence is described,the revenger starts planning his revenge or vengeance, he goes ahead to confront the offender, the revenge is partly completed and finally, revenge or vengeance, is carried out.

This study therefore is aimed at focusing on the theme of vengeance in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Merchant of Venice. By focusing on these issues, we hope to arrive at an evaluation of Shakespeare novel by looking at the theme of revenge in his novel.And since the focus is on the works of Williams Shakespeare, we need to look at his background and his work as a prelude to understanding the elements in his work.

Author’s Biography

Williams Shakespeare was born in 1564, we know this from the earliest record we have of his life, his baptism which happened on Wednesday,April 26th,1564.We do not actually know his birthday but from this record we can assume,he was born in 1564. William Shakespeare is a productive and prolific writer. His father was a glove – maker and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582. He left his family behind in 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright and was an immediate success Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part owner of the Alobe theatre. His Theatre troupe was adopted by King James1 as the king’s men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich man and prominent to Stratfort upon Avon in 1613 and died three years later, William Shakespeare also known as Darth Shakespeare, Destroyer of words. By his German name Wilhelm Sheibehosen, was a writer and poet who wrote text books for generations of bored students. They are called Comedies, ‘Tragedies’, ‘Histories’ and ‘ sonnets’ but all add up to hours of boredom.However, Shakespeare made all his plays interesting and worth reading.

Shakepeare was perhaps the most over-rated writer in English history. He has put 135 saying into the English Language like ‘Fair play’ ; ‘knock , knock ! ‘ etc.

He had a funny beard and went through life wearing weird duds then. Ironically, his name is an anagram of “ I am a weakfish speller” which he was. Shakespeare is also known for his plays as being precursors for today’s more lucrative entertainment genres, such as pornography,most notably a sancy little music called “ As you lick Dick”.His first dramatic production is Love’s labour Lost. Which was composed in 1591, revised in 1597 and published in 1598. Romeo and Juliet, his first tragedy was written in1591.

In 1591, he purchased for E60, the largest house in Stratford. The purchase of this house “ New Place” by name brought Shakespeare a reputation among his fellow town men. After 1611, he seemed to have abandoned dramatic composition and spent the greater part of his time at Stratford. His health began to fail at the commencement of 1616 and he died that year. The actual cause of his death is unkown. His only son Hamlet, had died many years before, but his wife and two daughters survived him. He died at the age of fifty two and was buried in the chancel of StratfordChurch, with this Epitaph inscribed over his grave.

“Good Frend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare

To dig the dust encloased heare

Blest be ye man yt spares the stones,

And curst be ye yt move my bone”

Scope of the Study

This essay will examine the theme of vengeance in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Merchant of Venice. This study has the objective of examining Vengeance in both plays. One author is selected in order to bring out the theme of Vengeance well. Due to limited time, we shall focus mainly on just the theme of Vengeance in both plays.


A topic like the theme of Vengeance clearly depicted in the society of Shakespeare has a relevance to our own society. It is a study on human behaviours. William Shakespeare’s preoccupation in Hamlet and Merchant of Venice is vengeance. This work therefore is meant to contribute to scholarship in Literature. A topic like vengeance was a common phenomenon in the society in which Shakespeare lived and it is relevant to our own society. The plays are set in England and address the problems of England then in a simple and clear language.

Chapter Five

5.1 Preamble

Vengeance is injury or harm done to one in return for being hurt. In analyzing vengeance, there are two parties and they are the offender and the offended or rather called the injurer and the injured. The enigmatic influence of vengeance, harm and hatred forms a compelling theme in Shakespearean drama.

The theme of vengeance in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Merchant of Venice is applicable to England of then and also to the Nigerian contemporary situation. Vengeance gives pain and the only person who actually finds pleasure in it is the person carrying out the harm. We have pity for those who suffer innocently. This explains that not only the offender is hurt but also the people who surround him because he would stop at no length to carry out his intention and knowingly or unknowingly ,if an innocent person who is unaware of his intention tries to stop the revenger, he tries to unblock the obstacle and this could lead to the injury or even the of the innocent .By examining vengeance in the selected texts ,we are able to pass across moral instructions, as this is seen from the actions and words that are found in the texts. We see the need to be able to control our emotions and suppress them.

Furthermore, the theme of vengeance is useful in the community full of people. People could look at the downfall and the consequences of taking revenge at his or her will. This will enable him or her to have a forgiving spirit or allow the government to take justice, it therefore helps in building good moral.

5.2 Summary and Conclusion

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Merchant of Venice, the plays portray the fact that vengeance or revenge is not just something that one just plans. It is discovered in both plays that the revenger maps out a plan that he feels would be the best way to inflict injury on the victim. While doing this, he is unaware that the decision he is making would be the cause of his downfall. This is because the only thing his mind will be set on is harming the offender and make him feel the pain that he the revenger felt at the point when he was hurt. In Hamlet, the young Prince made up his mind when his father; former king Hamlet appeared to prince Hamlet and tells him to avenge his death. Hamlet at that point recollected the pain that he felt when he lost his father and from the bitterness seen in the ghost’s speech, we understand that he is not only unhappy that he was killed by his brother Claudius but is also bitter that Claudius got married to his wife Getrude. Hamlet promised to avenge and decided that if he feigned madness, he would not be noticed when carrying out his revenge but would rather be ignored. This act of his caused the death of Polonius, Ophelia and even his mother Getrude.

The death of Polonius and Ophelia caused Laertes to also feel pain and he also swore to take vengeance on whoever caused the death of his father and sister. Laertes plans with Claudius to kill Hamlet in a duet between Hamlet and Laertes by poisoning his drink and the sword so that Hamlet would not be able to escape death. Unfortunately before Hamlet could drink from the poisoned chalice, his mother Getrude had already taken out of it and discovers that she has been poisoned. She warns Hamlet not to drink of it and at the end of the fight, both Hamlet and Laertes are seriously injured and cannot escape death. Hamlet stabs Claudius and forces him to drink from the poisoned chalice. Here we can see that the issue of carrying out vengeance takes a lot of time, planning and leads to the loss of lives. Hamlet never had in mind that it would lead to the death of many other lives, or never thought about the consequences. The only thing he had in mind was to carry out his vengeance.

In Merchant of Venice, Shylock’s unwillingness to forgive his debtor Bassanio leads to his downfall. We can say that his lust for vengeance is not only on Antonio but is on Christians. He uses the opportunity to punish Antonio because he is a Christians. Unfortunately he is outwitted and outsmarted and ends up losing out. He is bent on taking revenge on Antonio by taking his pound of flesh because Antonio is unable to pay the money at the bargained time. The only joy he wants to derive is the pain and agony that Antonio was going to feel if he had the opportunity to take his pound of flesh. Thus the point of view established for us in these plays is that man is subject to vengeance. No matter how hard or how much pain and torture. However, one may try to cool his lust for vengeance , but is has been discovered that one cannot completely overcome his lustful thirst for vengeance.

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