Hamlet: parent-child relationships

Throughout the play, relationships between parents and their children played a pivotal role in the outcome. The entire plot line develops from Hamlet seeking revenge for his father’s murder. The relationship between Hamlet and his father would seem to be more loving and respectful at first glance. However, when looked at further it is the opposite. It is obvious that Hamlet respected his father, yet it does not seem like it was a loving relationship between father and son. When the ghost appears, it is not a joyous moment but more of strategic. After all, some of the first words the Ghost says is “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I.v.25). Hamlet then seems to be avenging his father more out of duty rather than emotion driven revenge during the rest of the play. If it was emotion-driven then he would have taken the multiple chances he had to kill Claudius, but he didn’t. Hamlet waited until the opportune moment giving it a more calculating feeling; a more dutiful act. Then when looking at Fortinbras and his ‘revenge’ is seems less thought out and unorganized. Which can be translated to more emotional meaning that Fortinbras and his father’s relationship could be a foil to Hamlet and his father. With these two relationships, the roles of children seeking revenge for the parent, could even be considered political. However, there are different motives involved. Still, when looking at any family with power throughout history, most actions taken are political and are done to further a family’s power.

When looking at another relationship between parent and child, Hamlet and Gertrude, it appears completely disconnected and negative. Hamlet despises his mother and what she has done. His famous line regarding his mother is “frailty, thy name is women;” that sums up his feelings towards her (I.ii.146). However, those this seems like a negative relationship, it could be considered more positive because it could be argued that Gertrude is looking out for her son. He is nowhere near ready to be king, and Gertrude probably knew that and stayed Queen to allow him more time to grow up. So with that in mind, this relationship (in a very simplistic sense) is more of the ‘normal one’; with a protective parent and a child who basically ‘hates’ her.

When looking at step-parent roles, the relationship in the play is very unhealthy and paints step-parents as these bad, evil people. With the plot line though, there is not many other options for Shakespeare to explore different types of roles for step-parents. Claudius has to be ‘evil,’ he killed the king. So in this instance, I don’t feel like there is much wiggle room for Shakespeare to write the different relationships kids can have with step-parents and vice versa.

Also in the novel, Polonius and his two children serve to show a better, ‘healthier’ relationship. Whereas the other is more political, Polonius seeks to better his children’s lives. He does not act maliciously towards his children nor controlling of their lives. Some could argue, and have, that the opposite is true; after all, he does send Reynaldo after Laertes and tells Ophelia not to marry Hamlet. However, I feel like he did that more out of parental love for his children. Looking at modern society, many parents track their children’s whereabouts from their phone or check their child’s social media to see what they are up to. No, it is not the same as sending a servant to trail the child, but the premise can be considered the same. Also, regarding Ophelia, Polonius did tell her not to marry Hamlet. But, it seems more likely that he told her that with protecting her in mind. He tells Ophelia “do not believe his vows, for they are brokers / not of that dye which their investments show” (I.iii.127-128). Most parents would give their children the same advice if they didn’t like the person their kid was dating. Also, some argue that Polonius is a ‘bad’ person and takes after his kings ‘evilness.’ And if that were the case, it is also probable that Polonius wishes to rise in station and what easier way then marrying his daughter off to the prince. Yet, he does not do that. He explicitly tells her not to and knows what that means: his daughter won’t be princess. In this particular parent-child relationship it seems like Polonius truly cares about the well-being of his children. And his children love and respect him in return; that is why they both react so strongly to his death.

Throughout the play, there are multiple parent-child relationships that each have unique characteristics and explore different things. Each one presents a different role for the parents, whether loving, protective, and dutiful. Whatever role is assigned to the parent reflects what the child’s role will be in return (like Polonius and his kids). And while this play is set hundreds of years ago, the variety of relationships and roles are still seen today.


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