Hamlet as a Revenge Play

Essay 2013 8 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Discuss Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” as a revenge play.

Introduction :

Shakespeare was a groundbreaking pioneer in his time and wrote plays that were totally different from anything the world had ever seen before. He explored the human spirit and what happens when it is challenged. He also tested the limits of language, inventing new words and phrases. Big Willy wrote Hamlet between 1599 and 1601, and the play tells the story of Prince Hamlet. Hamlet, in particular, has a lot of "most famous" things in it. It is Shakespeare's most famous play about Shakespeare's most famous character Hamlet, and it contains Shakespeare's most famous line: "To be or not to be, that is the question." If extraterrestrials were to visit Planet Earth, we would probably put a copy of Hamlet in their welcome basket. It's that good. Now, over 400 years after William Shakespeare wrote the play, readers and audiences are still connecting with it. Here I am going to consider “Hamlet” as a revenge tragedy. Before doing so, I would like to discuss something about Elizabethan era in which the play was written.

“Hamlet” as a revenge play :

During the Elizabethan era the revenge plays were well acclaimed. Most of them were a typical tragedy, a melo-drama with so many twists and turns to keep the audience spellbound. Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy opened a new chapter in the history of the revenge plays. Our Shakespeare has also enriched the field of revenge plays with his “Hamlet”. But Hamlet is certainly a great advance on The Spanish Tragedy. Hamlet is definitely a great example of a typical revenge tragedy of the Elizabethan theater era. It followed every convention required to classify it as a revenge play quite perfectly. Hamlet is definitely one of the greatest revenge stories ever written and it was all influenced first by Sophocles, Euripides and other Greeks, and then more importantly by Seneca. Hamlet as well as The Spanish Tragedy tackled and conquered all areas that were required for the consummation of a great revenge tragedy.

Characteristics of a revenge play and their application in “Hamlet”:

1. Such play deals with the theme of murder or some crime to the person of the state.

In this reference we can say that the central theme of the play “Hamlet” is revenge to be taken. The play “Hamlet” is built upon the long, tragic conflict between Hamlet and Claudius and the conflict is built upon the motif of revenge. So, the driving force that shapes the turns of the plot of the play namely exposition, gradual development of the plot, the suspense, climax and the catastrophe of the play is the revenge, especially the revenge for the death of father. It is not only Hamlet’s desire to take revenge ,but also that of Laertes’ that also acts as the driving force behind the plot. In the play “Hamlet” two of the characters’ fathers are brutishly murdered. The first murdered character is King Hamlet who is supposed to be revenged by his son prince Hamlet. The second murder is Polonius who is supposed to be revenged by his son Laertes. Both Prince Hamlet and Laertes go to seek revenge for the death of fathers, however they will each use different methods to accomplish their deeds.

So far as the crime to the person of th state is concerned, the king Claudius makes a secret plan to kill Hamlet while Hamlet is in England.

2. The ghost of the dead appears to tell about the identity of the killer.

Generally speaking the ghost is a part of the machinery of the revenge play, and as such the ghost in Hamlet. The ghost is primarily connected wit the motif of revenge; and so there is the justification of such a convention. Now the deftness of Shakespearre in handling the supernatural is a thing that nobody will question. The opening scene sets the tune of the whole play-a play shrouded in mystery and terror. The ghost does indeed visible appear, but it is a shadowy figure, resembling in dress and armour the late king of Denmark, Hamlet’s father.

We can observe the subtle skill of Shakespeare in that the ghost is not made to speak but strides away majestically. It leaves a profound impression upon the night guards. Horatio becomes skeptical. He has to believe the evidence of his eyes, and concludes that “this bodes some eruption to our state.” The ghost appears twice in the opening scene, but will vouchsafe no reply to Horatio’s question. The speculation that the ghost invokes Horatio has some bearing upon the play, and generates the necessary tension of feeling. The news of the appearance of the ghost is later on communicated to Hamlet.

In “Hamlet” the Prince of Denmark is urged in very strong terms by the ghost of the dead king to take revenge upon Claudius who has ascended to the throne by foul means, whose guilt is unknown to anybody.

The real tension of the play begins as soon as the ghost of the late king tells Hamlet about his murder. Hamlet learns that his father's death was no mistake, but it was Hamlet's uncle's plan to murder him. The ghost also tells Hamlet that he has been given the role of the person who will take revenge upon Claudius. So, like a typical revenge tragedy ,in Hamlet a crime (the killing of the king) is committed and for various reasons laws and justice cannot punish the crime so the individual ,Hamlet proceeds on to take revenge in spite of everything.

"And so I am revenged. That would be scanned: A villain kills my father, and for that, I, his sole son, d this same villain send to heaven;"

In this quote, Hamlet states that since he is his father's only son, it is up to him to avenge his murder. This development for Hamlet comes after his encounter with his father's ghost. It is one of the first times that the theme of revenge is introduced as a primary element of the story.



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Title: Hamlet as a Revenge Play