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"Hamlet is so much more than a traditional revenge tragedy"

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Introduction

"Hamlet is so much more than a traditional revenge tragedy" Although Shakespeare wrote Hamlet closely following the conventions of a traditional revenge tragedy, he goes far beyond this form in his development of Hamlet's character. Shakespeare's exploration of Hamlet's complex thoughts and emotions is perhaps more the focus of the play rather than that of revenge, thus in Hamlet Shakespeare greatly develops and enhances the form of the traditional revenge tragedy. The main source of Hamlet is Saxo Grammaticus' Historiae Danicae, a folk tale that has a similar plot to Hamlet; however, Shakespeare greatly transforms this story of revenge when creating Hamlet. Shakespeare also draws upon contemporary revenge tragedies, in particular Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, which exemplifies the main traditions of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy, which was developed by Kyd from the tragedies of the Roman writer Seneca. When comparing 'The Spanish Tragedy' and Hamlet, we can clearly see how Shakespeare has gone far further than the conventional revenge tragedy. Kyd's transformation of Senecan traditions of revenge tragedy in The Spanish Tragedy, provided the main principles for the popular Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, and thus gave Shakespeare the basic model for Hamlet. ...read more.

Middle

The king's ghost states that '[during] the day [he is] confined to fast in fires...till [his] foul crimes...are burnt and purged away,' which suggests that he is in purgatory. However, this is a Catholic rather than a Protestant belief, and thus a Protestant Elizabethan audience would have believed that the ghost was from hell. Therefore, the Elizabethans may have seen the king's ghost as an evil spirit leading Hamlet to his doom. Therefore, this shows that Hamlet is distracted by many other worries from his pursuit of revenge, and again suggests how the focus of Hamlet is not revenge, but rather Hamlet's inner turmoil, which indicates Shakespeare's departure from 'the formulaic restrictions of the revenge tragedy.'1 In the characters of Laertes and Fortinbras, Shakespeare presents examples of more traditional revenge tragedy heroes, who seek revenge without any delay. Fortinbras can be easily compared to Hamlet, as his father has been murdered and his uncle is now king. However, unlike Hamlet, 'young Fortinbras of innaproved mettle hot and full' immediately mobilises an army 'to recover [his father's lost land]' and thereby avenge his death. After the murder of his father Polonius, Laertes, 'with impetuous haste' storms the castle and proclaims that '[he will] be revenged most thoroughly for [his] father.' ...read more.

Conclusion

However, Shakespeare skilfully manages to construct the last scene so that revenge is fittingly achieved. This again shows that Shakespeare's main concern in Hamlet is the exploration of the prince's mind, rather than that of revenge. It is this examination of human nature, which perhaps makes Hamlet so popular and relevant today. Through Hamlet 'Shakespeare challenged the expectations of his contemporary audiences,'2 by going beyond the confines of the popular revenge tragedy genre at the time. In Hamlet he shows the complex human emotions that arise as a result of grief, and also takes a new stance on the 'burden of the call to revenge,'3 by showing how Hamlet is hindered by his overwhelming feelings about the corruption in Denmark, such as the 'incestuous' marriage of his mother to Claudius. Therefore, although very much adhering to the conventions of the traditional revenge tragedy, Shakespeare goes beyond this in Hamlet, through his focus on human nature, rather than that of revenge. 1 A. Bailey, Tragedy, Revenge and Revenge Tragedy in Hamlet 2 A. Bailey, Tragedy, Revenge and Revenge Tragedy in Hamlet 3 A. Bailey, Tragedy, Revenge and Revenge Tragedy in Hamlet Thulasi Naveenan 1 ...read more.

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