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How successful is Hamlet as a play about revenge? Consider both the modern and Elizabethan audience.

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Introduction

How successful is Hamlet as a play about revenge? Consider both the modern and Elizabethan audience. Hamlet as a play about revenge is very successful in the way that it raises many questions about the morality of revenge. Despite the modern day and Elizabethan society having various different beliefs, both types of audience are able to empathise with many of Hamlet's problems. Helen Gardner says, "The Elizabethans thought murder unethical and private revenge sinful." 1 The Elizabethan society was strongly Christian. In their society, God was in highest position, followed by the Monarch, then the other Elizabethan people. This was known as the "Chain of Being". Gardener's statement would certainly be true according to Christian teachings. They believed that a King had been appointed by God, and was therefore the person on Earth closest to God. Any murder is a sin, but murdering a King is a sin of the worst kind and complete blasphemy. This is how many would have viewed Hamlet's revenge. The fact Claudius is King affects opinions concerning him considerably. Claudius himself believes that "There's such divinity doth hedge a king/That treason can but peep to what it would,/Acts little of his will." Ultimately, the fact that Claudius is King will not protect him as he thinks it will. ...read more.

Middle

William Hazlitt describes how Hamlet "is not a character marked by strength or sentiment of will or even passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment." 3 It is true that Hamlet is thoughtful, and is not strong-willed - this is clearly seen when he agonises over carrying out Claudius's murder. Careful thought may not sound disadvantageous but it is not a typically good trait in a King, who must be capable of making instantaneous decisions concerning affairs of the state, and be able to carry them out swiftly. However, this delay in revenge is successful when considering an Elizabethan audience, because it allows them to think more carefully about the consequences of Hamlet's revenge. Hamlet is successful as a play about revenge because it makes us consider Hamlet's true motives for revenge. Hamlet says he will feel no remorse for killing Claudius because "He hath kill'd my king and whor'd my mother,/Popped in between th'election and my hopes." The idea that Hamlet's main reason for killing Claudius is because he took Hamlet's rightful position as King can be dismissed, because this is the only point in the play that he mentions this. One question that can be raised is whether Hamlet is genuinely seeking revenge for his father's sake. ...read more.

Conclusion

When he says "I'll be revenged/Most thoroughly for my father," he does mean to carry it out. Laertes acts rashly in comparison to Hamlet, yet his circumstance is ultimately the same as Hamlet's at the end- his revenge successful, but he dies. Fortinbras acts upon his revenge quickly, but with thought, as he decides to "suppress /His further gait herein, in that the levies,/The lists, and full proportions are all made/Out of his subject". Ultimately, he is the most successful out of the three because he gains Denmark- his aim, as well as Hamlet's respect. Because their situations are so different it is difficult to draw any conclusions about whether Shakespeare was attempting to portray a particular moral about revenge. Shakespeare may well have been suggesting that there is no "right" answer. This is what partly makes the play so successful as one about revenge - it does not choose for the reader what is morally correct and what is not, but allows us to make up our own mind. 1 Gardner, Helen. "Hamlet and the Tragedy of Revenge" 1967 2 Hattaway, Michael. "An introduction to the variety of Criticism - Hamlet" 1987 3 Hazlitt, William. "Characters of Shakespeare's Plays" 1817 4 Carson, Eric. 5 Freud, Sigmund "The Interpretation of Dreams" 1914 6 Hanmer, Sir Thomas. "Some Remarks on the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" 1736 7 Ed Friedlander, "Enjoying Hamlet by William Shakespeare" 8 Catherine Belsey. ""The Subject of Tragedy" 1985 ...read more.

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