Betrayal Essays Hamlet


Gertrude betrays Hamlet and the late King Hamlet by marrying Claudius. Hamlet, being still depressed about his father’s death was further upset and felt betrayed by his mother when she quickly married Claudius.

“Mother, you have my father much offended …You are the queen, your husband’s wife …” (3.4.10-15)

By marrying her former husband’s brother, she also betrayed the late King Hamlet.

Another way that Gertrude had betrayed the late King Hamlet was by defending Claudius when he was accused by Laertes of killing his father Polonius:

LAERTES: Where is my father?

KING: Dead.

QUEEN: But not by him. (4.5.126-128)

Gertrude also betrays Hamlet by telling King Claudius that Hamlet killed Polonius.


Hamlet betrays his father’s ghost by not killing Claudius immediately as he has promised, and how he keeps contemplating over whether or not he should actually kill him.

He also hurts his mother’s feelings, which were against the wishes of the ghost as well.

“Do not forget: this visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose” (3.4.110-111)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Both of these two people were Hamlet’s former schoolmates, and Hamlet entrusted them with the secret that he indeed was not mad. Although they do not betray him at first, they end up agreeing to bring him to death in England.

“[Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s] grand commission; where I found, Horatio, A royalknavery, an exact command, …That, on the supervise, no leisure bated, No, not to stay the grindling of the axe, My head should be struck off” (5.2.17 – 24).

King Claudius

King Claudius betrays Gertrude by indirectly killing her. He did not tell her that the cup she was going to drink from was poisoned, and he did not stop her either even though he knew.

“It is the poson’d cup; it is too late [for Gertrude]” (5.2.282)

He also betrayed her in the sense that he planned to kill her son that he knew she loved dearly.

“…If he be now return’d…Under the which he shall not choose but fall: And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe, But even his mother shall uncharged the practice, And call it accident.” (4.7.61-67)


Polonius betrays his own son, Laertes by sending a servant to go spy on him:

“You shall do marvellous wisely, good Reynaldo, Before you visit him, to make inquire of his behaviour” (2.2.3-4).

He betrays Laertes’ belief in his trust when he is in France.

Image Credit: Xiao H., Naperville, IL

Hamlet is an exaggerated reflection of life, a hyperbolic “mirror of nature” on both the page and on stage. Like life and death, betrayal and madness come hand in hand. Rarely are these concepts ever cut and dry, but rather intertwined with one another. As shown in Hamlet, it is very much a case of which came first. Is insanity sparked from treachery, or does dishonesty and a cheating nature stem from an existing delusion?

Hamlet searches for justice in an environment preoccupied with lies and deception. The version of truth that he seeks is not culminated by vengeance against his father’s murderer, but the question of murder itself. He lives in a world steeped in blood and confusion and conspiracies against the crown; how can a young man cope with that sort of betrayal without rendering himself insane? The simple answer: he doesn’t. Hamlet is a character of antic, verging on melodramatic depending on how he is read, and is almost disturbingly preoccupied by death. He speaks with the ghost of his father, kills Polonius in a fit of rage towards whom he believes to be Claudius, effectively causes Ophelia to commit suicide, and holds a one way conversation with a deceased jester’s skull. “To be or not to be” he asks, yet never seems to reach a solid conclusion.

The concept of death in Hamlet is nearly directly tied with a falseness of some sort. Most striking of these are the acts of murder and accusation that Hamlet himself commits while under the “guise” of madness. It is never clear whether or not he was mad before the events of the play, but it is safe to assume that his pretense of insanity spiralled into an actual affliction. Spurred on by the discovery of Claudius murdering his father, and Gertrude, the queen, willingly marrying him so soon after King Hamlet’s death, Hamlet hatches a plan to avenge his father’s memory. But, in the process, he feeds into the lies that plague so many of the characters in the play. Hamlet’s life becomes full of deception whilst he attempts to off Claudius, socially and physically, thus completing his descent into unbalance. He is no longer any different than those who killed and were killed throughout the work. His craving for honesty dissolved the moment his truth became twisted around the lies of his madness.

That is not to say, however, that Hamlet was ever truly a light character to begin with. It is true that he is always hesitant to exact revenge or end a life, but there comes a point where his actions contradict his inner turmoil. In one memorable scene, he refuses to murder a praying Claudius,  claiming that “ this same villain send to heaven” were he murdered in a moment of faith (3.3.1). In another instance, he laments over whether or not to commit suicide and decides against it, yet drives Ophelia to do so with seemingly little remorse until Act V. To Gertrude, as well, he shows nothing but contempt, calling her marriage a foray into “incestuous sheets” (1.2.159). This ill regard for women is apparent even before he feigns insanity, and possibly stems from bitterness over his father’s death .

This change from an disenchanted youth content to stew over his mother’s marriage and father’s death to a man of increasing madness and frustration effects not only himself, but nearly everyone in the play. The characters are subtly forced to choose sides and the results of their decision end in either death or misfortune. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern remain loyal to Claudius, thus effectively turning their backs on Hamlet. Polonius does the same until his dying day, which ends in murder at the hands of Hamlet, a betrayal to Laertes as well. Ophelia’s relationship with her father is spoiled by his warning her against Hamlet, and the couple’s relationship is spoiled by Hamlet’s betrayal of her emotions. Though Laertes, in Act V, acknowledges his actions by declaring that he is “justly kill’d with mine own treachery”, the seeds have already long been sewn (5.2.12).

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