A Return To Moral Order : The Extent To Which Good Overcomes Evil / Order Overcomes Chaos In Shakesp Essay, Research Paper
In every society a distinctive hierarchy (organization of power) exists; it could a
country?s government, with a president, his cabinet and voters or it could be something as
simple as a school, where the teachers are the decision makers and the children follow
obediently. In the Shakespearean world, life was kept constant through the maintenance
of the Great Chain of Being or moral order. The Great Chain of Being was thought to
be the natural order of power amongst all the beings in the universe. According to this
chain, God had the most control over life followed by Archangels, Angels, Saints, Kings,
Nobles and Peasants (who had little power). Any disruption in this chain was believed to
cause chaos in society. As people today challenge the government, and children conflict
with teachers, so too did people of the Shakespearean world sometimes try to challenge
moral order, the results were disastrous.
In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Denmark is thrown into chaos by the
reckless actions of several characters who fail to follow the moral order. However, at the
play?s end, the chaos resulting from these actions is resolved and moral order is restored
as Shakespeare proves that good does triumph over evil. Hamlet?s quest for revenge of
his father?s death leads him on a horrific journey that destroys the Danish monarchy, yet
manages to be successful. Although the spying of Polonius, Rosengrantz and
Guildenstern leads to the disruption of the natural progression of the battle between
Hamlet and Claudius, these characters are reprimanded for their actions. Finally, the
cause of all the tragedy, Claudius and his overzealous ambitions, are destroyed, so that
order may be returned to Denmark.
After his father?s ghost returns to command vengeance for his death, Hamlet casts
aside his normally intelligent, sensible personality and takes the task which leads to the
devastation of the Danish monarchy. Hamlet was uncertain as to whether the ghost was
?a spirit of health, or goblin damn?d? (I. iv. 40) : however, ?with wings as swift / as
meditation, or the thoughts of love, / [he swept] to [his father?s] revenge?. (I. v. 31-32)
To assist in his plot to catch the murderer of his father, Hamlet feigns insanity and
considers whether it is serves his purpose better
To be or not to be, that is the question; / whether ?tis nobler in the
mind to suffer / the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / or to
take arms against a son of troubles / and by opposing, end them.(III. i. 55-60)
Hamlet is unsure whether the ghost is a good or evil presence, yet he commits himself to
the quest regardless; this ignorance of right from wrong proves to be fatal. By taking
vengeance for his father?s death, Hamlet tries to overthrow moral order, by going above
Claudius? authority in a plot to kill him. Through his reckless disregard for the natural
progression of life, Hamlet initiated the chaos that would cost the lives of almost all those
around him, including his own mother. Although Hamlet started off with the good
intention of putting his father?s spirit at ease he was forced to consider whether or not his
actions were as evil as the original murder and if in fact he should have left Claudius?
punishment to fate. Despite the many victims of Hamlet?s quest, Claudius was killed for
his crime; completing Hamlet?s journey, and restoring order to Denmark.
The persistent spying of the play?s characters contributes to the chaos of the plot.
Polonius, advisor to Claudius, attains all his information for the King through spying; to
gain information about Hamlet?s sanity he went ?Behind the arras to convey [himself], / to
hear the process: I?ll warrant she?ll tax him home:? Claudius not only spies on Hamlet,
but he also spies on his own son Laertes when he goes off to France. Polonius?
distrusting nature is abruptly ended when Hamlet fatally while he hide behind the arras
listening to a conversation between Hamlet and Gertrude. Like Polonius, Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern are used by Claudius to spy on their childhood friend Hamlet. The two
men engage Hamlet in a renewal of their friendship, but Hamlet becomes aware of their
loyalty to Claudius. Upon a trip to England commissioned by the Claudius, Hamlet
discovers a letter from the King sentencing him to death. Hamlet alters the letter to order
the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who were accompanying him to England, and
then Hamlet escapes the ship.(V. ii. 13-47) By failing to realize their own limitations,
(that is that they are men, and not capable of foreseeing the future as they tried to do
through spying) Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern caused a disruption of order by
providing Claudius with the information he otherwise wouldn?t have had, thus helping him
avoid Hamlet?s revenge. It was the consequential death of these characters that restored
order; as Hamlet could then carry out his vengeance against Claudius without interference.
Like Hamlet, Claudius, the King of Denmark tried to step outside his natural role in the
moral order and control fate. Claudius admitted that his ?offense [was] rank, it smells to
heaven. / It hath the primal eldest curse upon?t, / A brother?s murder…? (III. iii. 36-37)
Claudius killed his brother, Hamlet Sr. with poison, while he was sleeping, and then
married his brother?s wife and took his crown. Claudius believed that in ? the corrupted
currants of [his] world / offense?s gilded hand [could] shove by justice? (III. iii. 57-58)
and that God could not forgive him ?since [he was] still possessed / of those effects for
which [he] did murder, / [his] crown, [his] own ambition and [his] queen?.(III. iii. 53-55)
After Claudius lost his crown, Gertrude and his life, Fortinbras arrived in Denmark to
claim the Danish throne. Claudius? higher ambitions of royalty he was not naturally to
have, caused him to commit a murder that would spark tragedy to all those around him.
Furthermore, Claudius believed that wealth procured a higher power in society, above the
average citizen and even above the law; for Claudius, this perception of power was
enough to induce the evil act of murder. At the play?s end, with Gertrude dead, it is
Hamlet?s sword that finally kills Claudius, ending his reign as monarch with his life and
allowing Hamlet the satisfaction of completing his original goal before he too died.
Therefore it is shown that the noble quest for revenge overcomes the evils of greed, and
restores order to life.
In conclusion, let it be shown that if Fortinbras (who was to seek revenge for the
murder of his father at the hand?s of Hamlet Sr.) had invaded Denmark when he originally
wanted to, he would have made the same mistake as Claudius, Hamlet and all the spies:
trying to control destiny. However, because he waited, he was rewarded with the
attainment of the Danish crown in an honest manner. Fortinbras? impeccable timing at the
play?s end signifies the final restoration of order and proves that following the moral order
leads to a civilized life and the triumph of good over evil.