The novels Crime and Punishment and Hamlet are two novels that explore similar themes as their plots develop that deal with human emotions, insanity, internal conflict, unpredictable moments, and murder. The novel Crime and Punishment is written by author Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the play Hamlet was written by the English playwright William Shakespeare and they both have shared common key themes each within their own different contexts.
The first theme that comes to mind that is shared in both Crime and Punishment and Hamlet is roots of madness. In Crime and Punishment, this focuses on main character Raskolnikov. Once Raskolnikov killed Aliona, he became mad at the thought that someone would find out what he did. Throughout the novel, he seemed to have built up a sense of guilt that he represses after murdering Aliona which leads him to suffer from this great deal of madness. This is exemplified when he got home and he kept checking if everything was back in its place three times (Dostoevsky 85). In addition, he has the notion that he is an extraordinary person and justifies his madness and the idea that extraordinary people don’t have to follow laws or their own moral compass for the greater good using this notion by comparing himself to historical figure Napoleon Bonaparte (397). However, after the events of the murder, his “jabbering” and “plunging into deep thoughts to oblivion” (2) he tries to assure himself that what he did was right based on his nihilistic ideology. The whole thought of the murder drove him insane in the sense that when he realizes that this act was not done for the greater good, he ends up isolating himself even more. When Raskolnikov meets Zamiotv, he revealed an eerie and mysterious side of himself when he tells him exactly what he did with Zamiotov being completely oblivious to the fact that Raskolnikov is talking about himself (155). Then there would be his more humane, compassionate side as he tries to support Marmeladov’s family after his death as if he had a sense of sympathy towards someone’s death (179-187).
In the play Hamlet, the theme of the root of madness revolves around main character Hamlet Junior. His madness originates from his father’s death and the fact that life around him is going by so quickly as if this event did not occur. For example, his mother’s quick remarriage to his uncle and her not giving herself any time to reminisce about Hamlet senior. Throughout the book Hamlet was dealing with this internal conflict of not knowing whether or not he should kill Claudius. Hamlet claimed at first to act mad in order to psych out Claudius (Hamlet 101). But as time went on, the madness became real. For instance, when Hamlet finally confessed to Gertrude how he felt, he saw the ghost of Hamlet, this time this may have not been real this time. That possibly this may have been a figment of his imagination and just needed a reason to continue to try and kill Claudius (181). He even admitted it to Laertes that it was his madness that killed Polonius, not his own will (277). In addition to this madness of trying to avenge his father’s death, the notion of madness is also depicted in the character Ophelia who goes insane after she discovers that her beloved father was murdered and her former lover Hamlet never loved her. This insanity is expressed more explicitly in the sense that you can directly tell that she was going mad through her singing of crazy songs that state that she “cannot choose but weep to think they would lay him I’ th’ cold ground” (209). Her root of madness comes from her inability to let go of those that she cares deeply for and the sense of betrayal she feels for being left alone and their betrayal.
Next, the theme of the justification of murder is also depicted in both Crime and Punishment and Hamlet. Raskolnikov had this idea in his head that once Aliona is removed from this world, his life was going to be bright and positive. The idea of extraordinary people is also expressed in this theme as well. Raskolnikov wrote an essay on the extraordinary and ordinary people, claiming that the extraordinary people are the calm ones that do the killing or any other immoral act, but it is justified by the fact that it is for the greater good (162). Raskolnikov seeks upon vengeance to those who benefit off the impoverished and claims for ‘justice’ and the conversation between the student and officer stating “for one life, thousands of lives saved from ruin and collapse” was the final justification as to why he killed Aliona (63). The idea of taking somebody’s life also risks traumatic psychological damage due to the guilt of committing this crime. This trauma due to the involvement can affect not only your personality but the way you are around those who are close around you which was clearly noticeable in Raskolnikov (402).
In the play Hamlet, Hamlet kills Claudius for the purpose of revenge. The play takes a separate approach for the justification of murder which is that it is a rightful course of action when seeking vengeance on someone and what lives should be ended/how many lives is it okay to take in order to seek that goal of revenge. Although some are unjustified such as Polonius’ death at the hands of Hamlet and takes a personal on those who are closely related to the victims and remains on the consciousness of those who have killed such as Claudius in the scene where he forcibly stops the play Hamlet made for them.
The last theme that is presented in both themes is that when trying to receive justice for an unjust action or event, taking matters into your own hands may not result in what you expect. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov seeks upon vengeance to those who benefit off the impoverished which is the reason as to why he murdered the pawnbroker. With a utilitarian aspect to this theme, people do what is deemed to be for the greater good of the population. This comes up from the conversation between the student and officer in the beginning of the novel with a conversation between the student and officer in the beginning of the novel stating that they should “kill her, take her money, dedicate it to serving mankind, the general welfare” (Dostoyevsky 63)
In the play Hamlet, the damaging nature of vengeance is depicted when describing taking matters into your own hands. The play takes place around the renaissance where in society, one of the biggest factors was the ideology of honor and loyalty to either a group of people, a religion, or to your nation. This had various effects in the novel as many actions such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern following Claudius’s plans to kill Hamlet were followed through due to their nationalism and pride for their country. Hamlet believes that vengeance is the rightful thing to do as it would honor and avenge those who have died (his father). Unfortunately, with his obsession to avenge his father’s death came the death of the vast majority of recurring characters in the novel (Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and Hamlet). They all die from their own impulsive plans to get at each other. In this, Shakespeare symbolizes how different responses to that instinct can have drastically different results and it just leads to a chain of reactions that all starts from one vengeful character.