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Problems in the Revenge Tragedy: William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Shakespeare's Hamlet presents the generic elements found in Renaissance revenge tragedies ("Revenge Tragedy"). However, although Hamlet is a revenge tragedy by definition, Shakespeare complicates the basic revenge plot by creating three revenge plots out of one. By adding significant innovations, Shakespeare creates "three concentric rings of revenge" (Frye 90), depicting an indecisive protagonist who is an intellectual rather than a physical hero, an ambiguous ghost, and several problematic aspects of the play, such as the reason for Hamlet's delay, the confusion of time, and the truth behind Hamlet's apparent madness.
In a typical revenge tragedy, a hero is called upon by the ghost of a family member to avenge his death ("Revenge Tragedy"). Hamlet is the main protagonist and hero called upon by the spirit of his father to "revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (1.5.31). When Hamlet first hears that his father was murdered, he exclaims, "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift...may sweep to my revenge" (1.5.35-37). He is hungry to avenge his father; however, Hamlet does nothing and at the end of Act II he scolds himself that "this player...could force his soul so to his own conceit...all for nothing...yet, [he]...can say nothing for a king upon whose property and most dear life a damned defeat was made" (2.2.578-598). Hamlet is upset that he cannot act to avenge his father, but this mere actor can build up so much emotion for nothing. Shakespeare complicates the plot because revenge plots are supposed to have an aggressive protagonist with courage to carry out his deed of revenge; instead, Shakespeare modifies the hero and portrays Hamlet as an indecisive and contemplative man.
Additionally, because of the read...

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...grieving over his father's death and the shock of finding out his uncle murdered him. Hamlet's life was uprooted and destroyed in the matter of three months and that is enough to make anyone go crazy. Overall, Hamlet can be sympathized with more easily than the other characters by modern readers because we are able to see inside his head and understand his struggles and how deals with them as he progresses through the play.

Works Cited

Aeschylus. The Oresteia. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1977. Print.
Frye, Northrop. Northrop Frye on Shakespeare. Ed. Robert Sandler. New Haven: Yale UP, 1986. 90. Print.
"Revenge Tragedy." Research at UVU. Utah Valley University, 2003. Web. 22 November 2013.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. The Folger Shakespeare Library. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2012. Print.
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