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In what ways, and how effectively, do you think Shakespeare presents the theme of revenge in Hamlet?

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Introduction

"In what ways, and how effectively, do you think Shakespeare presents the theme of revenge in Hamlet?" "Hamlet" contains particular elements which categorise it as a revenge tragedy, a popular genre in late 1500's and early 1600's. Revenge tragedies often comprise of certain characters who are appointed to pursue vengeance against a particular person. In addition, there is frequently a central plot, for example Hamlet's revenge on Claudius for his father's death, and minor sub plots; Laertes' revenge on Hamlet and Fortinbras' attempt to regain the lands his father lost. Revenge tragedies often incorporate similar plot lines, which are usually relatively simple, and they regularly contain similar features, such as a ghost, a hesitating revenger, a villain and concepts of madness, all of which are featured in "Hamlet." Although the play is much more complex than a stereotypical revenge tragedy, one of the central themes is revenge, and Shakespeare portrays this through three entirely different characters. The main plot focuses on Hamlet, however there are intricate links to Laertes and Fortinbras. Shakespeare effectively presents the three revenge characters as possessing parallel lives, especially Fortinbras and Hamlet. In using 5 Acts, Shakespeare does more than present the popular genre of revenge tragedy and through the structure of these he effectively uses sub plots, as well as the main plot, in which Hamlet is instructed to take revenge on Claudius. The sub plots, including Laertes' revenge on Hamlet and Fortinbras' revenge, are particularly effective because they allow contrasts between the main revenge characters, and allow the audience to observe each character in a different perspective. ...read more.

Middle

Act 3 iii. It could also be argued that this suggests that he is not a cold - blooded killer. Hamlet also feels he would be letting his father down, "Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge," and so consequently, Hamlet spares his Uncle's life. Hamlet's language during this speech appears particularly passionate. Shakespeare further portrays Hamlet as a major contrast to Laertes, in that Hamlet believes the King must be engaged in a sinful act before he can take revenge, "When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage / Or in th'incestuous pleasure of his bed." Act 3 iii. However, Laertes is presented as a rash revenge hero and states that he would "cut his throat i'th'church!" Act 4 vii. Ironically, Hamlet's soliloquy appears irrelevant, because Claudius' repentence is not sincere, as his last couplet in the scene suggests, "My words fly up, my thoughts remain blow. / Words without thoughts never to heaven go." Act 3 iii. The audience witnesses the king's first, and only, confession during his soliloquy, in which he cannot pray due to his ill conscience and guilt, "A brothers murder. Pray can I not." Act 3 iii. Consequently, it could be argued that Shakespeare wanted to give the audience a psychological insight into Claudius' character and to feel some sympathy towards him, especially in the opening line, "O, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven." (Act 3 iii) In a sense, Shakespeare could be presenting Claudius in this manner to allow the audience to see him from a different perspective, instead of the traditional revenge villain. ...read more.

Conclusion

More importantly it illustrates the greatness of Hamlet in comparison to the relative weakness of Laertes. Fortinbras is rarely mentioned in the play, however, he is briefly outlined by Claudius at the beginning. Shakespeare portrays Fortinbras as the third revenger, thus developing a complex presentation of tragedy in that there are three revengers. Fortinbras is introduced as having a parallel life to Hamlet's and being a minor character compared to Laertes and Hamlet. In the sub plot Fortinbras wishes to take revenge for the lands his father lost in a duel with old King Hamlet, "Now sir, young Fortinbras...so by his father." Act 1 i. It appears that Fortinbras is like his father, a warrior, and this contrasts with Hamlet, who although his own father was also a warrior, has been well educated. When Fortinbras visits Elsinore in the final scene, he discovers he has succeeded to the throne, "But I do prophesy th'election lights on Fortinbras." Act 5 ii, suggesting Hamlet is preparing the future throne of Denmark, and wants Fortinbras to succeed him. It is significantly ironic that Fortinbras gives Hamlet a soldier's funeral, even though he wasn't a warrior. Therefore Shakespeare uses various effective ways to present the theme of revenge throughout "Hamlet." He uses contrasts between characters; Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras and divides each scenario into sub plots, which he effectively incorporates to one in the concluding scenes. Hamlets' soliloquies allow the audience to experience a greater perception of his complex character, particularly as he is the main focus in the theme of revenge. Similarly Shakespeare's language and imagery effectively portrays emotions and allows the characters to reveal aspects of their nature to the audience. ...read more.

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