Comparison of Morality Discussion in Hamlet and Crito

Comparison of Morality Discussion in Hamlet and Crito

Morality is a system of beliefs that tries to outline the right and the wrong things in the society. It is all about the characters that an individual exerts in his or her subjective environment. Through morality, the society outlines what an individual ought to do, and what not to do. Sometimes it appears to be a vague word since what is viewed as being morally good in one society, might be viewed as morally wrong in another society. The texts “Hamlet” and “Crito” can be used in attempt of trying to shed some light on the morality aspect. Both books seem to have contrasting ideas regarding the issue. However, some characters within these books seem to have similar ideas on morality. Hamlet has several themes attached to it. Among them is the mystery of death, impossibility of certainty, complexity of action, crave for vengeance and emergence of the Denmark as a diseased body.

To begin with, Hamlet was not sure of the right thing to do after receiving the distressful information from the ghost. In Act 3, Scene 1, it is apparent that he is not sure whether killing Claudius is moral or immoral. He tries to convince himself that he is only revenging his father’s death hence making his actions to be those of morality. Hamlet is convinced that Claudius deserves whatever would befall him due to his actions. However, Williams (2012) asserts that revenge is not justified under any circumstances. According to him, “it only brings gratification to personal feelings, and generates more violence hence propagating what it purports to prevent”. This scenario has been witnessed later on in the final act. Even if revenge was morally justified, Hamlet did not have water tight evidence regarding Claudius involvement in his father’s death. How sure was he that the ghost was telling the truth? Using the play-within-a-play as a method of gathering evidence was also not sufficient. Claudius reaction would have been provoked by something else, and not necessarily involvement in his father’s death.

In Crito, the scenario seems to be quite different. This is because Socrates is sure of what he is about to do. In his mind, he is utterly convinced that escaping from prison is not the right action. His mind is made up in light of pressure being put on him by his friend Crito. He tries to bring pressing issues that would make any individual consider his position before making a decision. Socrates believes that what the society thinks about him does not matter. “But why, my dear Crito, should we care about the opinion of the many”(Plato)? His reasoning is based on whether escaping is the just thing to do. He is also not moved by the idea that he will be leaving his children as orphans. He believes that living as a fugitive after escaping is all the same. This leaves Crito mesmerized bearing in mind what his friend is about to undergo. Many individuals faced with a similar occurrence would take his advice. Socrates is not perplexed by the idea that the sailing ship was on sacred mission to execute him during that day. He believes that he had some days to live before his execution. Who knows, maybe Crito had not seen the ship yet.  This maybe was a plan to create anxiety and make Socrates to succumb to his idea. However, Socrates was true to his moral believes. He was of the idea that injustice should not be paid back with injustice.

Another aspect of morality arises from Hamlet’s obsession with revenge. It is clear from the text that craving of vengeance creates a throttlehold on the authentic thoughts, emotions and actions. This is evident through three characters involved: Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras. It makes them go out of their standard ethical positions. They are involved in actions they would not have committed if it was not for the quest of exerting revenge on their compatriots. For Hamlet, thirst for revenge tends to obstruct his genuine moral outlook. The unrelenting sadness that has befallen him, prompts him to indulge in acts that he would not carry out on normal circumstances. He is ready to do whatever it takes to avenge immorally without any sense of rationale hence affecting his true morality. In Act 3, he tends to admit, “I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck” (Shakespeare, 1992). Another question of morality arises on whether Hamlet intends to avenge his father’s death since it is the moral thing to do or because he was told to do so by the ghost. Having taken an oath of promise to avenge the death of his late father, he was very determined to see this through. It is evident in the text that he goes to the extent of changing his mindset so as to fulfill his promise. This shows that these events prompt him to adjust his psychological mindset, so that he can execute his plans. If Hamlet was morally coherent, he would realize that making drastic changes was not favorable for his genuine thought. Acting under pressure, or influence of negative emotions hinders and individual’s perspective of morality (Williams, 2012). This is because one sees the need of going out of his ways so as to fulfill his quest of revenge.  Acting under such contexts makes people hurt the ones that they intend to protect along the way. Hamlet’s mother (Gertrude) died as a result of this feud.

The same question of morality arises in the Crito text. Does Crito consider his advice to Socrates as morally right or what is his motive? It is evident that he does not believe it to be right. This is because of the things he would have to do for the plan to work out. Among them is using bribery to get Socrates out of prison. There is no society where bribery is part of the morality aspect. It is utterly discouraged due to the negative implications that it brings about. It is evident that Crito is willing to go down this way due to what the society would perceive of him. He did not want the society to perceive him as greedy, and one that treasures his wealth more than the life of his friend. He also feared that people would have considered him too cheap for not having the ability to break his friend out of prison. Trying to justify the injustice of the systems used to put Socrates in jail was just a cover-up for his main objective. However, this did not prevail since Socrates is not of the similar opinion. He is true to his morals. Socrates is very relaxed, and does not allow his emotions to impair his reasoning. For him, he is not obsessed with justice. His conviction might have been unjust, but Socrates is not ready to go against the law. He considers himself a good citizen, bided by the laws of the country. Breaching one of the laws, results to a breach in all the other laws according to him.

Despite the differences outlined above regarding morality in these texts, there appears to be some similarity. This is evidenced by Hamlet and Crito who are key characters in both texts. For Hamlet, he had a notion that killing Claudius would bring justice to his father. Claudio had killed his father hence killing him would be the right thing to do. Under this context, his argument could have relied upon the Christian version of the Mosaic Law that advocated for “an eye for an eye”.  But how would this bring justice? It would widow his mother and deprive his country of their king. Would this really be justice? To a greater extent this is mere revenge. Williams (2012) asserts that the main difference between justice and revenge is that justice is undertaken by a third party that is not emotionally involved in the offense. It becomes easy for such a person to see reason and make the right decision since there is no emotion attachment.

A similar scenario is evident in the Crito text. Crito believes that Socrates was shown some form of injustice when the execution order was passed. He is of the belief that his friend is innocent. However, he intends to take action in his own hands. He is ready to revenge for his friend. He believes in fighting injustice with another injustice. This brings the question of his moral standards. Does paying a wrong with another wrong make the later a right? The answer is obviously no. Crito will only diminish his morality aspect by executing such a plan.

In conclusion, both texts have presented morality in different ways. There are some contrasting elements, while others seem to supplement each other. For example, Hamlet’s and Socrates’ morality standpoints tend to be very different. Hamlet believes in the cliché “an eye for an eye”. He believes the only way to bring justice to his father is by killing Claudius. Crito shares a similar sentiment. However, Socrates believes in upholding the morality aspect of his society by abiding to the laws of the land.


Work Cited

Plato. Crito. .: Forgotten Books, 0. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet: an authoritative text, intellectual backgrounds, extracts from the     sources, essays in criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1992. Print.

Williams, Bernard. Morality: an introduction to ethics. Canto ed. Cambridge: Cambridge   University Press, 2012. Print.



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