Shakespeare’s very tragic play Hamlet is generally regarded by literary critics as a revenge tragedy. This essay seeks to explain how Hamlet satisfies the requirements of a tragedy.
There is near-absolute proof of the notion that Hamlet is a revenge-tragedy in the fact of the large number of instances in which this play corresponds to the formula of a “typical” revenge-tragedy of the Elizabethan era. Phyllis Abrahms and Alan Brody in “Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy Formula” enlighten us on this more-than-coincidental conformity:
There are ten deaths in Hamlet, if we include the death of Hamlet’s father and the “make-believe” death of the Player-King. The cause of each can be attributed directly to another character’s action – or lack of it. But if a play is to be a coherent work of art there must be some central action around which all the other parts revolve. What is the central, unifying action of Hamlet? Revenge (43-44).
[. . .] Revenge tragedy follows a rather strict formula; a number of elements are common to all plays of the type. All contain the appearance of a ghost who cries for revenge. In all, the hero must disguise himself in order to obtain the information he needs to justify his acts of revenge. Sometimes he employs physical disguise; more often he feigns madness which threatens to become real. In all, a female character goes mad from excessive grief. In all, the villain is a Machiavellian politician who has murdered for both lust and power. In all, the hero is forced by some circumstance to delay the consummation of his plot. In all, the act of revenge finally demands the death of the revenger as well (44).
Howard Felperin se...
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...rean Mimesis.” The Yale Review 63, no.3 (Spring 1974).
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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