AO1 • The concept of loyalty against betrayal is at the heart of Hamlet’s moral dilemma. When the ghost demands that he avenges his father’s death, Hamlet must decide whether he betrays his deceased father’s wishes by obeying moral law and not killing Claudius or whether he is loyal to his wish and kills Claudius, which in turn would be an action against all existing religious beliefs. This dilemma is made all the more complex by the fact that universal law could dictate that Claudius deserves to be killed because he committed regicide. • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern portray ultimate betrayal against Hamlet, by spying on him and monitoring his behaviour for Claudius and Gertrude, who suspect Hamlet is mad. This prompts Hamlet to question the sincerity of man and the contrasting splendour of man with the heavens. In comparison, Horatio is always loyal and honest to Hamlet, to the point where he threatens suicide at Hamlet’s death at the end of the play.
AO2 • “The earth seems to me a sterile promontory…this majestical roof fretted with golden fire…it appeareth no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours… What a piece of work is a man!” – Hamlet when he discovers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have betrayed him.• “Haste me to know’t, that I with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love may sweep to my revenge” – Hamlet outlining how he must think very carefully about whether or not to fulfil his deceased father’s wish.• “When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world. Now I could drink hot blood, and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on” – Hamlet’s desire to be loyal to his father becomes so strong that he openly talks of killing Claudius and defying God. An example of how his thoughts and intentions rapidly fluctuate throughout the play.• “They did make love to this employment. They are not near my conscience. Their defeat does by their own insinuation grow.” – Hamlet insists he did not feel guilty for sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their death because they in turn betrayed him and were instruments of Claudius – Hamlet yearns for justice and he believes that this is a prime example of it.
AO3 • In Ancient Greek philosophy, Aristotle’s ‘Golden Mean’ dictated that an individual should possess a balance between two polar opposites such as reason and passion and failure to abide by this was thought to result in poor physical health. When Hamlet exhibits supreme passion regarding the avenging of his father’s death, he has an excess of choler and emotion.• If Hamlet is to be loyal to his father, he will ultimately be disloyal to God, because killing a king, the act of regicide, defied the concept of ‘The Divine Right of Kings’ which suggested that kings received their power from God and were at the top of feudal order and the ‘Great Chain of Being’, an Aristotelian theory suggesting that all aspects of life were ranked in terms of morality and importance. Betraying a king, whether that be Hamlet’s former father who was rightfully king before his murder by not killing Claudius or Claudius by killing him, was likened to the betrayal of Christ by Judas and this concept is evidently shown in Thomas Hobbes’ ‘Leviathon’. However, Claudius unjustly usurps the thrown from Old Hamlet who he murders, adding greater moral complexity to the moral debate. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern face a similar dilemma because if they refused to carry out Claudius’ demands of spying on Hamlet, they could be executed and would ultimately defy the ‘Divine Right of Kings’.• Hamlet’s evident despise of human nature and the Earth in comparison with the heavens may have biblical connotations. In the Christian story ‘The Fall of Man’, Eve commits the first sin by eating ‘forbidden’ fruit from the tree of knowledge, after she is tempted by a serpent. Christians believe this ‘original sin’ corrupted the entire natural world and the ‘Great Chain of Being’ suggests that Earth is poisoned and rotten as a result.• The concept of Hamlet’s deceased father returning to him in the form of a ghost is also a complex topic because Elizabethans were thought to believe that unquiet spirits walking the Earth were signs of universal imbalance. This belief could drive Hamlet’s need to avenge his father’s death as he may feel it will restore justice to the universe.
AO5 • Rather than being a premonition or warning, the ghost may actually serve as a figure of Hamlet’s subconscious desire to avenge his father’s death out of hatred towards Claudius. • In Phillip Edwards’ 1983 critical essay ‘Tragic Balance in Hamlet’, he questions whether or not the deceased father’s desire for revenge is divinely justified. He argues that the play takes place in a time of ‘terrible balance’ in the development of human ethics, suggesting that the concept of actions like murder being justified by the divine is growing outdated.• Critic Catherine Belsey claims in “The subject of Tragedy: Revenge in Hamlet” that “Revenge is not justice (but rather) an act of injustice on behalf of justice.” • The use of “promontory” could suggest that the Earth is stands out as an object of tainted morality, while another reading would be that the word supplies the Earth with literal height, as if humanity is close to Heaven physically but denied the opportunity of reaching it morally.