Revenge is a theme featured in many modern works today, including novels, plays, musicals, and movies. However, the idea of revenge is by no means a new concept. Since the beginning of time men have done wrongs to each other and retaliated in vengeance. What is up for debate even today is whether revenge is beneficial or injurious to all involved. William Shakespeare's Hamlet explores this dispute. Shakespeare's answer on the subject of the morality of revenge is not black and white, but instead many shades of gray. Hamlet is not a straight answer to the question of whether retribution should or should not be taken; it is an insight into what the positive and negative effects may be when it is taken. Revenge may be good in some cases because it can prevent evil, but it can also do just the opposite if the truth and consequences are not carefully thought out.
Hamlet's quest for revenge begins when he finds out who killed his father through his father's ghost. The ghost himself gives Hamlet his task, saying, "Let not the royal bed of Denmark be/ A couch for luxury and damned incest" (I,v,82-83). Hamlet is extremely intelligent and thorough, making himself absolutely sure that Claudius is his father's murderer through the use of his play within the play, called "The Murder of Gonzago" or "The Mousetrap." The play is almost an exact replication of how Hamlet's own father was murdered for his crown and is meant to inspire enough reaction in Claudius to show his guilt. When it does, Hamlet knows for certain that vengeance is necessary. He soon gets his chance, but, unfortunately, does not take it. The king is praying, and Hamlet does not want Claudius to have the chance his father never did, to be "fit and seasoned for his passage" (III,iii,86) before his death. Ironically, the reader finds out later that Hamlet should have taken his revenge at this point after all: Though Claudius' "words fly up, [his] thoughts remain below" (III,iii,98), and he hasn't really had absolution.