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To what extent is Hamlet a Revenge

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To what extent is Hamlet a Revenge Tragedy? In what ways does it help to consider it as such and what do we miss by considering it only as a Revenge Tragedy? Revenge Tragedy was a genre which lasted from 1590 until 1615. The genre appealed to the Elizabethan audience's desire for blood and violence without emotional depth. Revenge tragedies originated in the writings of the Roman Seneca (4BC-AD65) whose plays heavily influenced Elizabethan dramatists. Seneca's tragedies, using stories derived from mythology emphasised bloody action, horrific incidents and ranting speeches. The devices Seneca used in his tragedies were later imitated by Elizabethan playwrights. These included the five act structure, the appearance of ghosts, the one-line exchange known as stichomythia and Seneca's use of long rhetorical speeches. English revenge tragedies written in the Elizabethan era began with 'The Spanish Tragedy' written by Thomas Kyd, in which a father, Hieronomo, avenges a son. The father delays the revenge in passionate outbursts near to madness. According to the accepted characteristics, revenge tragedies should have included ghosts or supernatural beings, violence, sex, bloodthirsty revenge for family honour and bloody carnage. Most revenge tragedies end in a bloodbath killing off all the main characters apart from the loyal best friend. ...read more.


This delay of action is a typical convention of Revenge Tragedy, where the main character is prevented from going through with the revenge. The method of revenge is often intricate and devious, usually involving poison. However, in 'Hamlet', Claudius, (the criminal) is responsible for planning and scheming and using poison, whereas Hamlet fails to follow any particular scheme. However, he begins a battle of wits with Claudius by feigning madness, his "antic disposition." This is a plan to remain close to Claudius, in order to avenge his father's death more easily. The tactic has a disadvantage in that it draws attention to himself. Typical revengers usually lack access to the criminal, who is the head of a royal court which consequently has been corrupted. They face various obstacles, which prevent them from carrying out their revenge. Hamlet as a man and revenger shifts from external vengeance to an internal one; there are no physical obstacles in his way. He has clear access to Claudius; however, he is endlessly faced with the conflicts in his mind. The Elizabethan audience would relate to concepts, which reflected upon historical events, taking place at the time. ...read more.


The irony of this is that Claudius felt so trapped in this shame, he is unable to 'make assay' and pray. He has to ask his 'stubborn knees' to bend as he is so deep in his guilt. Another example of Christian teachings in the play is the idea of King Hamlet in purgatory. He tells Hamlet to 'revenge his foul and most unnatural murder'. The appearance of a ghost is a common device to get the revenger to go through with the deed. The revenger usually had a very close relationship with the audience through soliloquies and asides. The ghost describes to Hamlet the process by which the poison murdered him which also parallels what is happening to Denmark. The ghost explains to Hamlet the effects of the poison: 'and in the porches of my ears did pour the leprous distilment" Shakespeare uses many images of disease throughout 'Hamlet.' This imagery is an ominous sign that revenge is going to occur later in the play. The images of disease can also be perceived as 'something is rotten in the state of Denmark.' Francisco exclaims that he is 'sick at heart', giving the play an inauspicious beginning and a clue to the remainder of the story. There are also many visual references to death in the play, which can be expected in all revenge tragedies. ...read more.

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