Hamlet 101

Your interactive study guide to shakespeare's "Hamlet"

Theme: Loyalty and Betrayal

Loyalty and Betrayal

Primarily centered on Hamlet’s various relationships, loyalty and betrayal are themes woven throughout the play. Hamlet serves as a loyal son to his father and finds a loyal friend in Horatio. However, he also sees betrayal in his mother’s incestuous actions and the actions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Hamlet and the King: Distraught by his father’s death, Hamlet dedicates all his emotion to the late king. His loyalty towards his father is exemplified in his quest for revenge. Although Hamlet finds moral hesitation in the search for revenge, his dedication to his father compels a sense of hatred for Claudius. As exemplified by his “inexpressible” grief, Hamlet’s loyalty is most directly tied to his father. Throughout the play, most of his actions are centered on this concept of loyalty.

Horatio, the Loyal Friend: In contrast to the relationship Hamlet shares with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the relationship between Horatio and Hamlet is one of allegiance. The honest friendship is first introduced when Horatio assures Hamlet of the ghost’s appearance, “”As I do live, my honored lord, ‘tis true,  And we did think it writ down in our duty,  To let you know of it” Through the play, Horatio proves to be the only trustworthy companion, and by the end, this still holds true. As Horatio sees Hamlet spiral to his death, he goes to take the poison himself, for he cannot bear to see his friend leave him. However, Hamlet takes the cup and asks his most trusted companion, “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity awhile, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, to tell my story.” In a final display of loyalty, Horatio carries out his friend’s last wishes by telling Fortinbras of what had occurred.

The Countless Betrayals: Although the audience appreciates the loyalty between Horatio and Hamlet, the relationship is often overshadowed by the countless acts of betrayal strewn amongst the characters’ relationships. In the ultimate act of betrayal, Claudius kills his own brother for the selfish title of the crown. Gertrude, in a matter of no time, abandons the memory of her husband and turns to his brother, Claudius. Ophelia, despite Hamlet’s love for her, follows the lead of her father and betrays the young prince. Lastly, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern prove to be disloyal to their once friend Hamlet by instead serving the wishes of Claudius and losing all trust.

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Additional Quotes:

HAMLET

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!

My tables,—meet it is I set it down,

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;

At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark.

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HAMLET

You were sent for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks

which your modesties have not craft enough to colour:

I know the good king and queen have sent for you.

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HORATIO

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!