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Elizabethan attitudes to revenge were divided; honour demanded it, religion forbad it. How does Shakespeare create powerful drama from such a division?

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Elizabethan attitudes to revenge were divided; honour demanded it, religion forbad it. How does Shakespeare create powerful drama from such a division? During the age of Elizabeth the first, religion was at its strongest. People's views where dictated by the policies and beliefs of the protestant ideal, which where firmly upheld by the ruling monarchy. Due to this strong religious influence forced upon the daily lives of the public, many poets, authors and playwrights contained many references to religious ideals within there works. Shakespeare was no different in this sense, with many of his works containing strong religious connotations referencing to the common beliefs of the people of the day. One ideal in which Shakespeare explores in his plays, and especially focuses on in Hamlet, is revenge, and the moral confrontations surrounding it. In the play Shakespeare examines the conflict between human instinct and religious values when it come to revenge and the effects it can have on the human psyche. He portrays his views on the subject, through three characters in the play, Hamlet, Laertes and young Fortinbras whose paths become connected in the quest to avenge the deaths of their fathers. Revenge: take revenge on behalf of someone else or for a wrong. [Oxford English dictionary] Or as Francis Bacon puts it, "Revenge is a kind of wild justice". Revenge can enable one to act irrationally through anger or rage, rather than sensibility and reason. ...read more.


Hamlet, Laertes and young Fortinbras all seek vengeance for the murder of there fathers, which in one way or another can be linked to one of the two other men. Hamlet lost his father due to his scheming uncle Claudius, who murdered the king to take his place on the thrown of denmark, and claim queen Gertrude as his own. "My offense is rank, it smells to heaven; A brother's murder." Hamlet therefore seeks to end the life of his uncle, in order to repair his father's honour, by reaping his vengeance beyond the grave. Laertes who also seeks revenge for the acts taken against his family, is motivated to take revenge for his father, after he finds out that young Hamlet murdered his father Polonius in cold blood. However what Laertes doesn't realize is that his death was a mistake in which only happened because Polonius was eves dropping on a convocation between Hamlet and his mother, where Hamlet admits his plans to murder her husband, king Claudius. "How now! A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!". The final of the three men seeking revenge, is Young Fortinbras, King of Norway, who again like the other two men, seeks vengeance on behalf of his deceased father, who was killed by the old king Hamlet. Young Fortinbras's character however does not only seek to avenge his father through taking the life of the old king Hamlet (it was not known by Fortinbras that the old Hamlet was dead) ...read more.


Laertes, like Hamlet, is a character who has eternal conflict when it comes to taking revenge on his father's murderer; however, for Laertes this only becomes apparent once he is on his death bed. In the final act of the play, once Laertes has been stuck down by Hamlet in the duel, with his poisoned sword, the son of the murdered Polonius, emotes guilt for his treachery and vengeance toward Hamlet, revealing his and Claudius's plot to murder the young prince. "It is here, Hamlet: Hamlet, thou art slain; No medicine in the world can do thee good; in thee there is not half an hour of life; the treacherous instrument is in thy hand, Unbated and envenom'd: the foul practise hath turn'd itself on me lo, here I lie, never to rise again: thy mother's poison'd: I can no more: the king, the king's to blame." Although Fortinbras does seek revenge on the old king Hamlet, he is the only of the three men who does not suffer from his decision to exact his vengeance in the name of his father. He in fact ends up succeeding in reclaiming the land from which was taken from his father, which consequently makes his quest for revenge successful. This point brings up the argument, that perhaps Shakespeare himself did not believe that revenge was an improper way to settle such matters, but perhaps even condoned revenge as a correct for of justice, however portraying it has being negative in his work for the sake of his audience. ...read more.

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