In today’s society, those who have done wrong are taken to court where they go through a long trial before justice can be served – that is if it is served at all. That is not to say that there were no courts or civilized means of punishing wrongdoers in the past, though many people tended to take justice into their own hands. Those who do wrong should be punished and their victims should have some sort of relief. At some times, the villain gets away with his crime, although at other times he makes mistakes which can come back to haunt him.
This is the case in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Many of the characters have done wrong to another, the biggest victim being Hamlet. The quest for revenge and justice is very overwhelming for him. As Laertes dies, he says that he is “justly killed”. Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Claudius all have nemesis visited upon them. Their own wrongdoing backfires, bringing the downfall of each and justice for Hamlet. Polonius, the father of Laertes and Ophelia, has a large tendency to spy. He sticks his nose where it does not belong and he cannot seem to mind his own business.
Although his intentions seem fair, Polonius spies on his children quite a bit. With his son Laertes away in France, he sends his servant Reynaldo to see if everything is all right. Before the visit, Polonius wants his man “to make inquire of his behavior” (II. i. 4-5). It appears as though Polonius does not have very much trust in his son; so spying is his way to make sure that his and Laertes’ reputation remains intact. Polonius not only spies on his children, but also on Hamlet. With the king, he plans to use Ophelia to understand why Hamlet acts so strangely.
To the king, he says, “At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him. Be you and I behind an arras then” (II. ii. 161-162). This is not the only time where Polonius spies on Hamlet. He does so again when Hamlet is speaking to Gertrude in her chambers. He decides to “convey [himself] to hear the process” (III. iii. 28-29). Hamlet, not knowing that Polonius is behind the curtain, strikes with his sword killing the spy. At one point, Claudius says that together, he and Polonius are “lawful espials” (III. i. 32). Though in reality, if his spying was lawful, he wouldn’t have died.
Therefore, Polonius’ tendency to spy is what kills him and puts him to justice. Two of Hamlet’s dear friends from university, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, also have nemesis visited upon them. They are sent for by Claudius who tells them, “The need we have to use you did provoke our hasty sending” (II. ii. 3-4). This great need is for them to find out exactly what is wrong with Hamlet. It is known that Hamlet is such good friends with them because Gertrude says, “He hath much talked of you, and sure I am two men there is not living to whom he more adheres” (II.ii. 19-21).
Even though Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are supposed to be Hamlet’s good friends, they follow Claudius’ orders like a sponge, as Hamlet says, “that soaks up the king’s countenance, his rewards, his authorities” (IV. ii. 13-14). This is especially true when they take Claudius’ orders to “follow him at foot; tempt him with speed aboard” when escorting Hamlet to England (IV. iii. 51). Hamlet unfolds the grand scheme when he finds the letter that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are carrying with them to England.
In the letter, Hamlet finds “an exact command” where “[his] head should be struck off” (V. ii. 19-25). Hamlet receives justice for his friends’ betrayal when he “devised a new commission… an earnest conjuration from the king… he should those bearers put to sudden death” (V. ii. 31-47). The plan is completely turned around, and the letter they are now carrying is basically one leading to their own downfall. The downfall of Claudius is very important and very justified. He can be considered a terrible villain when one thinks of all of the terrible things he does.
Killing his own brother to take the throne and Gertrude is pure evil. The ghost of Old King Hamlet reveals the truth of his death to his son saying, “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown” (I. v. 39-40). Since biblical times, the serpent has been associated with evil and it is seen in statues how the Virgin Mary crushes the serpent’s head with her foot, which in a way brings justice for all of its evildoing. Claudius, like a serpent, uses poisonous venom to destroy anything in his way.
He kills his brother “with the juice of cursed hebona in a vial” (I. v. 62). It is not only he who uses poison to get rid of others, he also feels as though Hamlet has a poisonous effect on him, which can be seen in the letter he writes to England requesting that Hamlet be put to death. He writes, “Do it, England, for like that hectic in my blood he rages, and thou must cure me” (IV. iii. 62-64). Like an illness, Claudius feels that the only way to live his life well is to get rid of Hamlet for good.
When that plan fails, he decides to get rid of Hamlet himself through a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes. Once again, Claudius wants to use poison. The original plan is to poison the tip of Laertes’ sword so that with a slight wound, the poison would get into Hamlet’s blood. Claudius is smart enough to make a ‘Plan B’ saying, “I’ll have preferred him a chalice… whereon but sipping, if he by chance escape your venomed stuck, our purpose may hold there” (IV. vii. 157-160). The original plan works and Hamlet is poisoned by a wound from Laertes.
The problem is that Claudius’ plan works too well because Gertrude drinks from the poisoned cup and Claudius exclaims, “it is too late” (V. ii. 274). In all of the confusion and chaos Laertes is also struck by his own sword, which is when he knows that he is justly killed. Hamlet realizes what has happened questioning, “The point envenomed too? Then, venom, to thy work” (V. ii. 306-307). He wounds Claudius and also makes him drink from the poisoned cup. Before Laertes dies, he says about the king, “He is justly served.
It is a poison tempered by himself” (V. ii. 312-313). So in the end, Claudius gets a taste of his own medicine and after poisoning so many others, the snake dies from his own venom. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, nemesis is visited upon Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Claudius. Their downfall comes from their own cruelty and their plans explode ruining the lives of the innocent, and even their own. Although Hamlet also lost his life in the end, he avenged his father’s death and brought justice upon those who had done him wrong.
In a way, it appears as though fate and karma come into play as well, which can be seen in the turning around of each of the offenders’ plans. Polonius was killed because of his spying. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who carried the letter asking for Hamlet’s death ended up asking for their own. And finally Claudius whose use of poison killed the woman that he loved and himself. In closing, it has been shown that one must not play with death so closely, because eventually it will come back for more games, only then it will be fatal for the original player.