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Explore Shakespeare's dramatic manipulation of the revenge tragedy genre, considering how his presentation of avengers might be perceived by different audiences.

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Introduction

Michael Archer 12F2 English Literature Coursework Hamlet "Rightly to be great Is not to stir without great argument, But greatly to find quarrel in a straw When honour's at the stake." Explore Shakespeare's dramatic manipulation of the revenge tragedy genre, considering how his presentation of avengers might be perceived by different audiences. Contemporary as well as modern audiences view Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', as a Revenge Tragedy. However Shakespeare has manipulated the genre to present a more complicated, more captivating play. Largely influenced by Roman playwrights, such as Seneca, the conventional Revenge Tragedy of Elizabethan times "served up a rich diet of madness, melancholy and revenge." 'Hamlet' contains many elements of traditional Elizabethan Revenge Tragedies, yet the main differences lie in the number of parallel revenge plots, and in the presentation of the character of the main avenger, Hamlet. Hamlet's character is interesting to an audience because of the way he goes about his revenge. Compared to Laertes and Fortinbras he is very hesitant, a thinker, not a warrior. His delay is mainly due to his perception of the ghost, whether it is really his father's spirit or an evil apparition. The important thing that Shakespeare is trying to portray is that Hamlet seeks certainty before he can take action. ...read more.

Middle

The same obsession with keeping his family's reputation can be seen when Laertes questions the unceremonious burial of Ophelia, "I tell thee, churlish priest \ A ministering angel shall my sister be \ When thou liest howling." This leads the audience to wonder whether his unmeasured grief has less to do with the loss of his sister and more to do with the perceived attack on his family's reputation. Hamlet confronts the ghost in Act I scene v and discovers the truth behind his father's death. This scene is significant because we can contrast Hamlet's reaction to finding out his father was murdered and compare it with Laertes' reaction to his father's murder. When the ghost tells Hamlet of the "unnatural murder" Hamlet's reaction to this development is, "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift \ As meditation or the thoughts of love, \ May sweep to my revenge." This response is very similar to Laertes' in that it is both aggressive and it mentions the speed with which he will enact his revenge. However it is incredibly ironic of Hamlet to say this as his delay in taking revenge is far longer then first foretold. ...read more.

Conclusion

Hamlet is a character that seeks certainty, in that he wants to know the true identity of the ghost, and whether Claudius deserves to be killed for his crime. In fact, in the end, a contemporary as well as Elizabethan audience would be left contemplating whether or not Hamlet is thinking about his father when he kills Claudius. Some critics argue that Hamlet is more enraged by the emergence of the plot to kill him by Claudius, and the death of his mother, caused by the same man, "Thy mother's poisoned. \ I can no more. The King, the King's to blame." Others believe that Hamlet's reaction to Laertes' revelation shows that Hamlet never really becomes a contriving avenger. He kills the King, as he had killed Polonius, on the spur of the moment, "Then, venom, to thy work." Francis Bacon, one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, suggested that revenge is "a kind of wild justice". Certainly the dramatic and brutal deaths at the end of the play leave the audience, both contemporary and Elizabethan, philosophising and perhaps questioning their own actions and beliefs about the importance of family loyalty and reputation, and whether, in fact, revenge can ever be justified. ...read more.

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