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To what extent is 'Hamlet' a revenge tragedy? In what ways does it help us to consider it as such and what do we miss by considering it only as a revenge tragedy?

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Introduction

To what extent is 'Hamlet' a revenge tragedy? In what ways does it help us to consider it as such and what do we miss by considering it only as a revenge tragedy? Revenge tragedy was a brief sub genre of tragedy at the end of the sixteenth century, despite some clashes with the teachings of the church. In a revenge tragedy a crime, normally murder, has gone unpunished, because the criminal has too much power and cannot be reached by the law. This fact is revealed by a ghost to someone closely connected with the victim, laying on him the responsibility to revenge the crime. The revenger is usually an outsider who lacks access to the criminal, who is at the centre of a completely corrupt court. Poison plays a large part and methods of killing are intricate, insidious and imaginative. The revenger dies at the end of the play, as he has gone against religion by taking the power of revenge from God. There will be many other deaths as the corrupt court is cleansed. Revenge tragedies contain visual references to death such as graveyards, bones and skulls. Most revenge tragedies have an Italian setting and Machiavellian characterisation. One example of a revenge tragedy is 'The Spanish Tragedy' by Thomas Kyd (c1590). ...read more.

Middle

This quotation shows how simply he views life, and supports his view that the afterlife is much more important. Ears play a significant role in the imagery of this play, in the form of Hamlet's "words like daggers" as well as the literal poison poured into Hamlet's father's ear, who then returns and conveys the curse to Hamlet's ears by crying out for revenge. Fatherly advice is very much present in the play. Polonius gives a great deal of advice during the play, but it is never extremely direct. When giving advice to Laertes, he uses platitudes to hide what he really means and then employs spies to check up on his son's behaviour. This is a direct contrast to Hamlet's father who on appearing gives Hamlet very direct orders - List, list, O list! The order given to Hamlet is to listen to each word carefully and then act on it. Ophelia is also given much advice by Laertes and Polonius. She is a pathetic figure, torn by love and driven to madness. She is forced to choose between her father and her lover. Unfortunately Ophelia chooses her father - "I shall obey my lord". This decision leads to Ophelia's destruction when Polonius is killed. Polonius, however, is not the only one who believes himself always to be right. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is surprising that Hamlet, who is so religious, still agrees to revenge his father's death. He goes against his religious values by taking the Lord's work into his own hands. Hamlet risks going to hell but will not as he is different from every other revenger. Hamlet's revenge was committed in the heat of the moment. He only uses the poison on Claudius after he finds out he has killed his mother. As Hamlet grows as a person he becomes more like his parallel, Fortinbras. He becomes a quick thinker and an action taker much more as a revenger should be. 'Hamlet' is very much a play of three dimensional characters. The deep psychological character studies and universal themes of matters such as truth, lies, life and death make it a timeless piece, which has outlived other revenge tragedies. To call 'Hamlet' merely a revenge tragedy is to look at a single aspect of this multi-faceted drama. In most revenge tragedies the revenger is a fairly simple character but in 'Hamlet' we find a depressed man, a philosopher and a character who is heavily religious presented with a dilemma in which his duty conflicts with his qualms. Hamlet is the character who makes this play what it is. The central character who should be cold and devious is one who longs for death and debates which is worse, killing himself or killing Claudius. ...read more.

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