The Nature of Evil in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

1756 words 8 pages
Society has been preoccupied by the concept of good and evil since the emergence of civilization and, just as humankind has evolved over time, so has the definition of evil. Evil was first used to describe someone who placed themselves above others and it wasn't until the Old and Middle English period that evil became associated with wrong-doing. As time passed, the definition continued to become increasingly more specific until it reached its modern day definition: “extreme moral wickedness.” ( However, what one ultimately defines as evil depends on one's personal experiences, frame of reference, and culture. For instance, during World War II, the Americans believed that dropping an atomic bomb on …show more content…

By trying to figure out whether or not Claudius is guilty, Hamlet shows that he is trying to cause the least damage possible and does not want to kill those who do not deserve it. A truly evil person would not care whether or not their victim was innocent, as is the case with Claudius. Unfortunately, Hamlet becomes tangled up in his thoughts and emotions and causes more problems than he intends to; primarly when Hamlet and his mother are talking and Hamlet attacks Polonius who is hiding behind an arras. The attack kills Polonius, who Hamlet initially thought was Claudius. While some may consider this to be evil, Hamlet recognizes the event as a tragic accident:
A bloody deed. Almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king and marry with his brother...
Thou wretched, rash intruding fool, farewell.
I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune.
(III.iv.28-29, 31-32)

By comparing the murder of Polonius to the murder of his father, Hamlet acknowledges that what he has done is wrong but unfortunately this does not allow him to escape the repercussions which follow. Killing Polonius is the biggest mistake that Hamlet makes in the play, turning Laertes against him and leading to the death of both himself and Ophelia. Although Hamlet can be seen as unnaturally cruel many times throughout the


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