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How does Shakespeare explore the nature of evil in the play, 'Hamlet'?

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Introduction

Q. How does Shakespeare explore the nature of evil in the play, 'Hamlet'? 'Hamlet' is a Shakespearean revenge tragedy, which was a strong, and entertaining form of drama popular in the Elizabethan era during which Shakespeare (1562-1616) lived. 'Hamlet', like many of Shakespeare's plays has been inspired by another famous tragedy, in this case, 'The Spanish Tragedy', a revenge play written by Thomas Kyd. The great political turbulence that was taking place in England with conspiracies against the Queen and those in power could also have prompted Shakespeare to write a play like 'Hamlet'. Though the play is made up of the stock conventions of a typical revenge tragedy - a murder, with the ghost of the murdered returning to a loved one, the delay in vengeance, mental disturbance of the avenger and finally, the avenger's death, Shakespeare has made 'Hamlet' original by focusing on the psychology and tragedy of the characters and the situations. The characters in the play are like real people, and even though the play was written centuries ago, readers can still relate to their mentality, sensitivity and reactions to situations. The main character around whom the play revolves is Hamlet. He is the young Prince of Denmark, son of Gertrude and the nephew of the present King, Claudius. ...read more.

Middle

In the play, evil has been portrayed as a vice which, when desiring to destroy others, does not only that, but eventually ends up causing self-destruction as well, which has been shown in Laertes's death in Act 5, Scene 2 when he tells Osric, "I am justly killed with mine own treachery." From this point of view, Claudius's death is also ironic as Hamlet earlier says that, "Let it work/For 'tis the sport to have the enginer/Hoist with his own petard," and it shows that he is not as stupid as others make him out to be and knows what they are planning and already has a counter plot for it. And in this we case we see how the same poison that had been devised so as to kill Hamlet with has killed Claudius. Such an end shows how, though in, Shakespearean tragedies there is no poetic justice, good always triumphs and evil is destroyed. Yet, along with it, many others also suffer. In 'Hamlet', for instance, we see how Polonius had first been killed in the act of spying on Hamlet. Towards the end, Claudius and Laertes had been killed after conspiring to kill Hamlet, but it was not only them who had died. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Elizabethans, being devout Roman Catholics followed Christ's teachings of loving one's enemies and 'turning the other cheek' to one's assailants (Gospel of Luke, chapter 6). But at the same time, they were fascinated by revenge plays and this could be another reason why Shakespeare shows Hamlet torn between deciding whether to really do what the ghost had instructed him or to leave the fate of Claudius to God? In one way, he was avenging his father's death, but hadn't the Bible commanded him to do otherwise? Also, Hamlet's revenge would be tougher, as not only was he going to kill, an act forbidden by the sixth commandment, but, he was going to commit regicide - an act unimaginable in the Elizabethan times. This was because of their belief in the Divine Right of Kings, which was enforced by the ruling monarchs of their time. This meant that a king or a queen was God's representative on earth, who was protected in his function by the power of the Almighty and killing or even contradicting one was equivalent to sinning and the act would have terrible effects. Claudius mentions this in Act 4, Scene 5,"Do not fear our person/There's such divinity doth hedge a king" The descriptions of evil in the play show perhaps, Shakespeare's utter disgust and dislike of it. ...read more.

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