In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, loyalty has a major effect on the way the plot unravels and displays the true nature of the characters. It is through their actions and the things they say where the audience discovers whether a character is loyal or disloyal.
Some of the characters that display a sense of loyalty and faithfulness include Hamlet, Fortinbras, Laertes, and Horatio. Although loyalty is considered to be good, it has a negative impact which leads to damage in the play. The act of being disloyal also leads to a breakdown of characters and Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a mere example of this disloyalty.
Hamlet is the protagonist who seems to be very loyal. After his father, the King of Denmark, is murdered, Hamlet wants to seek revenge. His loyalty towards his father and his family name results in his madness and wanting to kill Claudius.
After the Ghost comes to tell Hamlet of his murder, Hamlet begins his second soliloquy in which he wants revenge and says “So, uncle, there you are; now to my word; It is “Adieu, adieu! Remember me.” I have sworn’t” (I.V.110-112). Thus, since he is loyal to his father, Hamlet wants to seek revenge on Claudius.
This ambition leads to the downfall of the play which in turn causes Hamlet to be classified as a Shakespearean tragedy.
Fortinbras, similar to Hamlet, is loyal to his father after he is murdered. Fortinbras wants to seek revenge on Denmark and begins to form an army to fight in Denmark.
When Claudius finds out about this, he sends Cornelius and Voltimand to deliver a message to Fortinbras’ uncle warning him “his nephew’s purpose, to suppress his further gait herein, in that the levies, the lists and full proportions, are all made out of his subject” (I.II.30-33).
Therefore, Fortinbras’ loyalty towards his father stirs up a false foreshadow where the audience believes that Fortinbras will attack Denmark to avenge his father’s death.
Horatio vs. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
The loyalty between Horatio and Hamlet is opposite to the loyalty between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hamlet. Horatio is very loyal to Hamlet and Hamlet trusts him by explaining to him that he is “acting” mad.
However, Hamlet becomes angered when he finds Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be disloyal. He is irritated when he finds a letter in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s room saying “no, not to stay the grinding of the axe, my head should be struck off” (V.II.23-24). At first, he believes that the two of them are long-time friends of his.
However, he realizes that they are loyal to Claudius and Hamlet begins to act madder. Overall, Horatio is a loyal friend of Hamlet who he is able to trust but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are disloyal and side with the King, which in turn gives Claudius power. His power is the downfall of the play.
The death of Polonius causes Laertes to want to seek revenge like Hamlet and Fortinbras, proving him to be loyal. However, Laertes is ready to kill Hamlet for murdering Polonius which is the trigger point for the tragic end of Hamlet.
Laertes’ plan was to kill Hamlet “accidentally” in a fencing battle. It is at this battle where Laertes stabs Hamlet and says “No medicine in the world can do thee good, in thee there is not half an hour’s life; the treacherous instrument is in thy hand” (V.II.304-306).
In addition, Claudius is murdered, Laertes is killed and Gertrude is killed. Laertes wanting revenge on Hamlet, in turn, causes the death of many other characters. In this case, loyalty had a negative impact in Hamlet.
Gertrude being disloyal to her first husband causes a downfall in the play. Since she marries Claudius, Hamlet is angered due to the “o’er hasty marriage” (II.II.57). Most of Hamlet’s anger is a result of this which gives him more ambition in wanting to kill Claudius. Instead, this leads to him killing Polonius.
Gertrude is also loyal to Claudius. Although she is told what he did to her first husband and promises Hamlet she will ignore him, she goes back to Claudius and tells him everything that happened with herself and Hamlet. This loyalty towards Claudius ensures that Claudius has continued power in Denmark, which in turn causes a downfall.