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Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Powerful Essays
Speculation about whether the Shakespearean drama Hamlet satisfies the requirements of an Elizabethan revenge tragedy is discussed in this paper, with considerable critical commentary.

Richard A. Lanham in “Superposed Plays” comments on the lesser revenge tragedy within the greater revenge tragedy of Hamlet:

Now there is no doubt about how to read the Laertes play: straight revenge tragedy, to be taken – as I’ve tried to imply in my summary – without solemnity. We are to enjoy the rants as rants. When we get tears instead of a rant, as with the Laertes instance cited earlier, an apology for our disappointment does not come amiss. We are not to be caught up in Laertes’ vigorous feeling any more than in Ophelia’s bawdy punning. We savor it. (88-89)

Howard Felperin sees in Hamlet a return to the once-extinct revenge play (Felperin 105). Although defunct for awhile, the revenge tragedy resurrected prior to the date of Hamlet’s composition.

The prince has a possible motive for revenge from the very outset: he is dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle. Hamlet’s first soliloquy sees the expression of his negative feelings and their growth in intensity; it emphasizes the corruption of the world and the frailty of women – an obvious reference to his mother’s hasty and incestuous marriage:

Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,

As if increase of appetite had grown

By what it fed on: and yet, within a month

Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman!—(1.2)

Based on the meeting of the hero and Horatio, A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy presents convincing evidence of the depth of the hero’s melancholy. It is potent enough to perform revenge: ...

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...ves of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the Renaissance. N.p.: Yale University Press, 1976.

Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Mack, Maynard. “The World of Hamlet.” Yale Review. vol. 41 (1952) p. 502-23. Rpt. in Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. Rev. ed. Ed. Leonard F. Dean. New York: Oxford University P., 1967.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html No line nos.

Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “Hamlet: A Man Who Thinks Before He Acts.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar. N. p.: Pocket Books, 1958.
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