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

Authors Avatar

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.  The Elizabethan audience would have shared Claudius's view as they believed in the Divine Right of Kings where the King was thought to have protection from God, because of his position.  Hamlet does not share this view.  He comes to the conclusion that position makes no difference in society, because death will eventually equal all of us.

“A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a King, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm”

Hamlet's ideas on equality would have been confusing to an Elizabethan audience.  The inclusion of this concept is successful in a play about revenge because it allows them to consider the limitations that positions in society can bring.

In our society, this has much less relevance because the audience would be well-educated, and therefore likely to agree with popularised views today such as "everyone is equal".   Our society also has a completely different attitude to the Monarch.  In contrast, the Queen is not supreme ruler of the country and the title of Queen does not necessarily gain her great respect.  In fact, the Media often ridicules her.  To a modern day audience, Claudius being a King has very little significance.  Particularly so when considering that much of the audience will include young students, who could not imagine the Queen running the country.  This does not necessarily make the play any less successful for the modern audience, as the escapism element will add more intrigue to Hamlet's revenge situation.

Join now!

Can killing a King possibly be justified? In Elizabethan society, killing a tyrant was acceptable. What complicated matters though, is that despite Claudius being a usurper, he is shown to be a good King. Michael Hattaway comments that "Shakespeare is characteristically complicating the issue by inviting us to wonder whether a bad man might not be a good King."2 This is not in fact the issue, for Claudius is undoubtedly a good King.   The issue lies more along the lies of whether Hamlet, a good man, should take on the role of King.  Claudius is shown to have many ...

This is a preview of the whole essay