A Theme Of Loyalty As The Source Of Tragedy In Hamlet


In the book Hamlet, written by Shakespeare, loyalty is manifested in the manner by which it unravels on the plot and goes ahead to help the readers to have a true display of how nature is. The actions that the characters in the play manifest hold a great understanding of how disloyalty is displayed. Thus, though loyalty is considered as a virtue by many individuals, it is demonstrated as a negative impact which damages the play in Hamlet. Disloyalty is also seen as a source of breakdown to characters such Fortinbras, Gertrude, and Hamlet. Shakespeare in his literary work emphasizes so much on loyalty. The loyal characters enjoy a prolonged lifespan and are painted as morally uprights. However, in other literary works such as the play “Hamlet”, the loyal characters in a way fall into tragedy. Tragedy can befall anyone but has Shakespeare would have it, those who are loyal and do not deserve then are more vulnerable. When it strikes, it does so in battalions. Both the leading protagonists and the minor characters in the play “Hamlet” have fallen into tragedy for their loyalty. Hamlet’s loyalty to his father is seen in the play in the manner by which Hamlet seeks for revenge but he does not succeed. Fortinbras on other hand finishes himself due to the loyalty he had for family, relationships and authority. He recognizes the force that comes with these institutions is great, therefore the need to respect them. Gertrude on the other hand uses loyalty to destroy the life of Hamlet by betraying him to Claudius. In as much as she knows Claudius killed her first husband, she ignores Hamlet and goes ahead to spill out secrets from Hamlet. Consequently, it is true to observe how loyalty has been a source of tragedy to some of the characters in the play.

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet is categorized as a strong protagonist. His actions in the play show that he is a loyal fellow. His loyalty comes as a result of wanting to revenge the death of his father, the King of Denmark. These actions make him develop his madness and the urge to kill Claudius. The sequential ambitions that Hamlet had eventually led to the downfall of the play and as a result, the reason Hamlet is considered as a tragic hero. The madness that Hamlet had made him develop into a strong, daring, and brave man, in him, the urge to avenge his father’s death on Claudius. Examples, where Hamlet’s loyalty was detrimental to him, was like when he went to England. He was very well aware that he was taking a great risk in his life. It was clear that if his plan had not worked, it would eventually be the end of him. This shows how loyalty in the play was a source of tragedy moments. He was loyal to his father, thus the reason he was angry at his mother and Claudius. In as much as Hamlet is portrayed in the play as intelligent, he shows flaws in his traits like any other tragic hero. He could never move on with anything that he had planned to do. This was among the reasons he never succeeded in killing Claudius. He kept faking up ideas of him being insane so that he would know more about Claudius. He was also poor at moving on, which is manifested in the play in the manner by which he grieved his dad for a very long time because he had never wanted to forget his past life. His inability to move on was also manifested in the way by which he had been in a relationship with Ophelia but had not been able to marry her.

Among the characters that are strange in the play is Fortinbras. In the play, he is a soldier from Norway. What is surprising is in the manner by which he realized about the violence between Norway and Denmark. It was also clear that Fortinbras was going to sit with his father after he was killed. Fortinbras was driven by loyalty, thus he raised an army. Horatio claims that Fortinbras was able to recover from them as a result of the compulsory terms that he was given. The Fortinbras army raises a lot of concern to Horatio in the manner by which it raises concerns in the minds of the many characters in the play. From the play, it is evident that Horatio is not only one watching the movements of Fortinbras. Claudius also seems to have a direct interest in the manner by which Fortinbras carries out himself. He mentions in the film that, “Fortinbras was holding a weak supposal in their value.” Eventually, from what Claudius says in his speech, he acknowledges two essential details portrayed in his message. First was the suggestion that Fortinbras was aware of the situation in Denmark. Second, since he knew that Fortinbras was not loyal to him but being a hypocrite, he goes on to name the prince of Norway as being a shameless opportunist.

The events that escalated make Fortinbras have a great connection with the life of Hamlet. He also takes up a stand similar to the one of a protagonist. Both the two have lost their fathers and are being forced to seek revenge. The difference comes in the way both of them had different family relationships. Fortinbras had a strong and genuine relationship with his family, contrasting Hamlet. The relationship in the family is a quality that Claudius uses to dissuade Fortinbras. Instead of facing Fortinbras, he hits on him by sending messengers to go and capture his sickly uncle. He ends up obeying, and the events lead to him receiving rebukes from Norway. In as much as he had loyalty and respect for family and the authority, he ends up showing having too much can end up in the destruction of an individual’s personality.

Whereas he knew that he was a prince and a warrior, Fortinbras acknowledges that there are other forces that have great authority over him and therefore he had the responsibility of ensuring that he honored those forces. Fortinbras loyalty is a source of tragedy in the play in the manner by which glory meant to him at the end of it all because he was even ready to commit himself to death. The tragedy comes when the audience has a belief in Fortinbras attacking Denmark to avenge the death of his father, an event that never occurs.

Gertrude is manifested as one of the challenges that Hamlet faced in the play as a protagonist. Hamlet viewed Gertrude and Claudius as individuals who had immoral unfaithfulness. Immoral unfaithfulness was evident in the manner by which Gertrude became disloyal to her first husband by marrying Claudius, the killer, and brother. Eventually, the loyalty of Gertrude to Claudius was a source of tragedy as the downfall of the play. Hamlet was always angered by the fact that Gertrude had made a hasty decision to go and marry and submit herself to Claudius. This leads to the anger that gives Hamlet the ambitions to go and want to kill Claudius. However, he instead ends up killing Polonius. Gertrude’s loyalty to Claudius also leads to tragedy in the play in the manner by which she betrays Hamlet. Whereas she is aware that Claudius killed her husband, she promises Hamlet that she will ignore Claudius but still goes back and tells her new husband of the events that happened between her and Hamlet. The loyalty that she had for Claudius ensured that continued power was on Claudius. She ends up disloyal to her first husband and Hamlet, her living son. Thus, it is true to say that the immorality led by disloyalty manifested by Gertrude, is among the actions that caused some of the main conflicts in the play hence leading to the madness that hamlet is experiencing.


The loyalty shown by few of the main characters examined in this paper have unfolded the revelation of how loyalty could sometimes lead to a tragedy. Fortinbras, Gertrude, and Hamlet are some of the characters that are responsible for showing how loyalty can be detrimental to some natural cases. Hamlet was driven by his loyalty to his father to avenge his death on Claudius. Eventually, he never succeeds as a result of some of the challenges that he faces. Fortinbras was also by the loyalty to revenge his father’s death. As a prince, he was expected to stand up and confront Claudius. He, however, lets his loyalty to family and authority to suppress him with forces that he acknowledges as superior. When Claudius captures his sickly uncle, he is forced to surrender and obey. Eventually, his audience becomes agitated in the manner by which he never recognizes his limits but failing in an attempt to earn glory. Gertrude’s loyalty also led to the tragedy of the play in the manner by she betrays her blood son and her first husband. She is seen in the play as the source of the madness that Hamlet is going through. Consequently, it is true to acknowledge how Shakespeare used the theme of loyalty to show how it has always failed strong heroes in the society.

Works Cited

  • Bell, Millicent. 'Hamlet, Revenge!.' The Hudson Review 51.2 (1998): 310-328.
  • Şerban, Andreea. 'When Power Seduces Women: Shakespeare’S Tragic (Mother) Queens in Manga.' Romanian Journal of English Studies 11.1 (2014): 126-136.
  • Williams, Simon. Shakespeare on the German stage. Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 2004.  
16 December 2021
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