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How does Shakespeare display Hamlets limitations as a conventional revenger? How do you as a member of a modern audience respond to Hamlet's dilemma and solutions?

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Introduction

"Hamlet is brave and careless of death; but he vacillates from sensibility and procrastinates from thought and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve." Coleridge 1818. How does Shakespeare display Hamlets limitations as a conventional revenger? How do you as a member of a modern audience respond to Hamlet's dilemma and solutions? Although Hamlet is a revenge tragedy, it is unique in its portrayal of the protagonist. Far from being a typical one-dimensional revenge hero, Hamlet displays immense depth of character. Shakespeare has chosen to focus on the psychological aspect of a revenge hero. Typically, revenge heroes are men of action. With Hamlet this is not the case, as he is practically defined by his lack of action. We can see this contrast by comparing Hamlet to the characters Laertes and Fortinbras, both of whom have been placed in similar situations to our hero. Laertes follows the path of a typical revenger. After learning of his father's death, he immediately springs into action, ready to kill and to accept damnation as a result. To hell allegiance! Vows to the blackest devil! Conscience and grave, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation. This disturbing imagery shows Laertes' great commitment to his cause. Shakespeare has accentuated his rage through the use of superlatives. ...read more.

Middle

Shakespeare's use of metaphor is intended to convey the ease with which Hamlet feels he could let himself die. The fact that he compares death to sleep shows that he sees it as easy and relaxed, far preferable to the stress of his current life. Again, Hamlet's careless attitude to his own life supports Coleridge's idea of Hamlet being "brave and careless of death". The idea is neatly verified by many of Hamlets lines, "I do not set my life at a pins fee" (said when asked by Horatio if he feared the ghost) being a good example. His fear of what may come after death could also prove a barrier to his success, as all revengers are doomed to die. In Christianity, revenge is a sin as it is only God who can take revenge. Committing revenge is damnable offence, and in Hamlet's case the punishment would be far more serious. He would also be committing regicide, in an Elizabethan context this means killing God's representative on Earth. The contemplation and fear of damnation also quite clearly contrasts with Laertes' response and that of revengers on the whole. These religious undertones are extremely relevant to the period in which the play was written. Elizabethan audiences were, on the whole, strongly religious. They would have sympathised with his religious quandaries, and as the monarchy still held enormous power, the prospect of regicide would have been even more shocking. ...read more.

Conclusion

Hamlet's deliberation and instinctive mistrust again strongly contrasts with the mind of a traditional revenger. They possess a mind of action, not of careful thought and consideration. When we compare Hamlet's uncertainty over the provenance of the ghost to Laertes' reaction to his father's death, Laertes is clearly far more decisive. Hamlet's mind is far more academic than that of a typical revenge hero. His ability to analyse leads to careful consideration of all actions. However, this intense analysis often prevents Hamlet from carrying out a productive course of action, he "loses the power of action in the energy of resolve". A good example of this is when he comes upon Claudius at prayer Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; And now I'll do't - and so he goes to heaven ; And so I am revenged - that would be scanned. Hamlet clearly states here that he must consider his actions, and eventually decides not to kill him at that point, but instead to wait until, "when he is drunk asleep or in his rage". The irony comes when Claudius reveals that he could not pray, saying "my words fly up, my thoughts remain below". This makes a mockery of Hamlet's careful deliberation and shows that a conventional revenger would have been more suitable for this task. A major cause for Hamlet's seclusion at the beginning of the play is the emotional trauma he had suffered due to his mother's remarriage. ...read more.

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