Justice, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a conflict between two Bible teachings: The Old Testament says, "An eye for an eye," but the New Testament preaches, "Turn the other cheek." Those around Hamlet tell him to let go of his father\'s death and accept his mother\'s remarriage to Claudius. Claudius himself says,
"To persever
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness, \'tis unmanly grief “ (Hamlet, I.ii.92-94)
and “Why should we in our peevish opposition/ Take it to heart?" (Hamlet, I.ii100-1). However, Hamlet, especially upon learning of Claudius\' responsibility for, the former King, Hamlet\'s death, takes the Old Testament view and seeks to avenge his father\'s death. To Hamlet, his revenge will wipe out the injustice brought on by Claudius\' usurping of the former King Hamlet\'s throne and wife, and justice will be served.
Hamlet thinks, Claudius\' ascension to power was unjust: He murdered his brother, Caludius, and married his brother\'s wife, Gertrude, two months later. To the people of Hamlet\'s day, the son avenging his father\'s death was an acceptable form of justice. Hamlet himself sees such an action more as "cleaning house" than revenge:
"A villain kills my father, and for that,
I, his sole son do this same villain send
To heaven.
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge." (Hamlet, III.iii.76-79)
The son avenging the father theme is especially prevalent in Hamlet, with Fortinbras seeking to fight the elder Hamlet for the death of his father, Hamlet looking for revenge against Claudius for the death of the elder Hamlet, and Laertes pursuing Hamlet to avenge the death of Polonius. In this sense, the society that advocates "turn the other cheek" still allows a certain degree of "an eye for an eye." In the case of Hamlet (and that of Fortinbras as well, except that Claudius became king after killing the elder Hamlet), the issue of regicide comes up. At this time, the king was considered above all others, and had a right to "play god" as he saw fit (an attitude compounded by the idea of divine right). Regardless of how the king came to power, the fact remains that he is king and above everyone else. The acceptability of regicide especially becomes an issue given the overthrow of Richard III in the late 1400s by the Earl of Richmond "recent history" for Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Richard III had been established as a tyrant, and some viewed the actions of the Earl of Richmond (who later became Henry VII) as God\'s intervention. Given this added dimension, Hamlet\'s revenge could have been accepted by the people, but for one major difference, the public perceived Richard as a tyrant, while Claudius was a popular king. Hamlet would have to convince the people that Claudius was wrong to be king by letting everyone know the circumstances behind Claudius\' ascension to power.
Given these conditions, Hamlet\'s revenge may have been socially acceptable, if he had not gone to such excesses with his scheme, which resulted in the deaths of many innocents. If Hamlet had simply killed Claudius outright once he received verification of Claudius\' role in his death, he could have avoided so much bloodshed and become king himself. For the purposes of Shakespeare\'s society, justice could be considered restored. However, justice would never have been truly served. Matters would have spiraled out of control again. The son (Hamlet) had killed the killer (Claudius) and taken control, but what about sons, family, or supporters of Claudius? There would likely be some degree of retaliation for Hamlet\'s actions, sending the world into bloody chaos again.
Young Hamlet resents Claudius but does not turn murderous until he learns from the ghost of his father that Claudius was responsible for King Hamlet\'s death: "The serpent that did sting thy father\'s life/ Now wears his crown" (Hamlet, I.v.39). After receiving this news, Hamlet sets out to receive verification through the group of actors and his own "mad" behavior. Hamlet\'s growing madness interfered with his judgement, and he almost completely succumbed to his growing rage. The Ghost asked his son to center his plans on Claudius and to leave Gertrude out, because her sins were few and of lesser degree: "Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive/ Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven" (Hamlet, I.v.85-6). However, Hamlet\'s madness and resentment