The Domino Effect in William Shakespeare's Hamlet
Length: 1304 words (3.7 double-spaced pages)
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If there is one game that turns the gears in the mind of a child, it is dominos. The excitement that builds as one carefully sets up each domino at a time, being sure not to tip any of the pieces over until he or she creates a marvelous maze with curves and zigzags swooping side to side. Finally, after diligently finishing his or her masterpiece, the big moment arrives. The excited child slowly reaches over to the very first domino that he or she has set up, and taps it. The youth watches in awe as a chain reaction occurs right in front of his or her eyes. The child thinks to itself, "Wow. I cannot believe that one action can affect so many of the other dominos." The chain reaction of a domino set relates with the complex events that occur through out William Shakespear's tragedy, "Hamlet". When King Claudius murders his brother at the beginning of the play, he "taps the first domino" in a series of murders that eventually revenge him to his own death. By tracing the domino effect that Claudius begins after killing Hamlet senior, the theme of revenge becomes prominent through the play.
The play's plot begins when King Claudius pours poison into his brother's ear. There are many reasons that cause Claudius to take his brother's life. Obviously, Claudius envies everything that Hamlet senior owns. As a character, Claudius presents himself as a greedy, self-absorbed person. He will go to extremes in order to obtain whatever he desires. He certainly reaps the benefits with his cheap sin by receiving the thrown to Denmark and the lovely queen's hand in marriage. His manipulative style fools many people while he poses as the rightful king; that is until Hamlet meets his father's ghost and learns of his stepfather's ungodly sin. The ghost plays a crucial part in the play by sharing King Claudius' dirty secret with Hamlet. At this point the initial theme of revenge is set into motion. Hamlet lays low until he is certain of Claudius' guilt, which is proven during the play "Mousetrap." Although Hamlet's idea concerning the play works brilliantly, he also makes a terrible mistake acknowledges Philip Burton, the author of The Sole Voice.
Burton goes on to explain that "Hamlet has succeeded in his purpose, but in his impetuosity he has also revealed his knowledge to the king and has thus put him on his guard, in uncovering the kings secrets he has also uncovered his own (Burton 303)." In other words, by acting so smugly when he sees the king's reaction about the play, Claudius also becomes aware that Hamlet knows of his wrongdoing.
Hamlet, distraught and filled with hatred for Claudius, declares revenge on his father's death.
Haste me to know't, that I with wing as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge ( 1.5.29-31).
There is one problem, however, because his procrastination with the revenge on his uncle is so severe that he takes the lives of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern before actually murdering Claudius. William Hazlitt, the author of Characters in Shakespear's Plays: Hamlet, interprets Hamlet as a character that "seems incapable of deliberate action, and is only hurried into extremities on the spur of the occasion, when he has no time to reflect (Hazlitt 165)." An excellent example that relates with the thoughts of Hazlitt occurs in act three, scene four of the play. When talking to Gertrude in her chamber, Hamlet stabs Polonius through a hanging drapery thinking that the listener is really Claudius spying on the two's conversation. "How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead (3.4.23-24)." After Polonius' murder, the plot begins to speed up, bringing the play to a dynamic set of events.
After Hamlet's treatment toward her, and her father's murder, the beautiful Ophelia commits suicide, thus another domino falls. The situation that Ophelia is forced into most definitely points to craziness because her lover is also the murderer of her father. As a result of Ophelia's death, Laertes irately seeks revenge on Hamlet. At poor Ophelia's funeral the two men get into an argument in which Hamlet states, " I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum . . . ( 5.1.241-243)." This claim infuriates Laertes; therefore he devises the perfect revenge with Claudius' assistance. To activate the plan Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel. He then laces his sword with a deadly poison. In addition to the poison on the sword, Claudius poisons the wine as well.
Claudius and Laerte's plan acts as a catalyst in the ending scenes of the play. The theme of revenge steps up to a new level as the play nears the end. First, Claudius poisons the wine by dropping a pearl into the cup after he toasts Hamlet. He soon realizes that his actions are costing him more than he bargained for when his beautiful wife, Gertrude, drinks the poisoned wine.
No, no, the drink, the drink! Oh my dear Hamlet!
The drink, the drink! I am poisoned (5.2.288-289).
Laertes takes this advantage and stabs Hamlet's arm while he turns his attention to Gertrude's strange behavior nearby. While Hamlet watches his dying mother, he realizes that he will soon die as the laced tip of Laerte's sword has no cure. Hamlet then revenges Laertes by stabbing him with his own murder weapon. Claudius stands dumbfounded as Laertes confesses the king's involvement in the death of his mother along with the announcement that he will die in a short time as well.
It is here, Hamlet. Hamlet, thou art slain;
No med'cine in the world can do thee good.
In thee there is not half an hour's life.
The treacherous instrument in thy hand,
Un bated and envenomed. The foul practice
Hath turned itself on me. Lo, here I lie,
Never to rise again. Thy mother's poisoned.
I can no more. The king, the king's to blame (5.2.292-299).
Claudius realizes that his transgression has been uncovered for everyone to know. He cannot defend himself as Hamlet wounds him with the poisoned sword. Hamlet then pours the poisoned wine into Claudius' mouth before he too turns to Horatio and dies.
In conclusion, "Hamlet" is perhaps Shakespear's most brilliantly written play. Its complexity really adds emotion as the play's dramatic ending ends in Bing. Bang. Boom. The theme of revenge throughout the play is easy to trace by means of the domino effect. In other words, the long process that Shakespear takes to develop the play's unique theme is like the child, carefully setting up his or her dominos. On the other hand, the ending of "Hamlet" is quick and dramatic like when the dominos come crashing down after being tapped. Claudius' revenge eventually revenges himself. He not only loses Gertrude in his own ignorance and greed but also dies by means of his murderous weapon at the beginning of the play. Whether it be an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, revenge definitely has a way of coming back to the one who initiates it.
Burton, Philip. "The Sole Voice." New York: "The Dial Press." 1970. 302-303.
Hazlitt, William. " Characters of Shakespear's Plays: Hamlet." Hamlet William Shakespear.
Ed. Cyrus Hoy. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992. 164-169.
Shakespear, William. Hamlet. Ed. Cyrus Hoy. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992.