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Hamlet As So Much More Than A Traditional Revenge Tragedy

2478 words - 10 pages

Hamlet as So Much More Than a Traditional Revenge Tragedy

Although Shakespeare wrote Hamlet closely following the conventions of
a traditional revenge tragedy, he goes far beyond this form in his
development of Hamlet's character. Shakespeare's exploration of
Hamlet's complex thoughts and emotions is perhaps more the focus of
the play rather than that of revenge, thus in Hamlet Shakespeare
greatly develops and enhances the form of the traditional revenge

The main source of Hamlet is Saxo Grammaticus' Historiae Danicae, a
folk tale that has a similar plot to Hamlet; however, Shakespeare
greatly transforms this story of revenge when creating Hamlet.
Shakespeare also draws upon contemporary revenge tragedies, in
particular Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, which exemplifies the main
traditions of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy, which was developed by
Kyd from the tragedies of the Roman writer Seneca. When comparing 'The
Spanish Tragedy' and Hamlet, we can clearly see how Shakespeare has
gone far further than the conventional revenge tragedy.

Kyd's transformation of Senecan traditions of revenge tragedy in The
Spanish Tragedy, provided the main principles for the popular
Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, and thus gave Shakespeare the basic model
for Hamlet. Therefore, it is easy to draw parallels between The
Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet, for instance the use of a ghost seeking

In The Spanish Tragedy, the ghost of Don Andrea begins the play by
retelling the story of how he was 'slain,' and how the gods have sent
him back with Revenge to avenge his death. Therefore, Kyd uses the
ghost to introduce the main theme of revenge and set out the basic
plot of the play. Don Andrea does not spur Hieronimo, the main
protagonist in the play, to revenge, he merely watches in the
background, whereas in Hamlet, the appearance of his father's ghost
begins his quest for revenge. The revenge ghost is a convention Kyd
took from Seneca's tragedies, and in fact, Don Andrea has similar
parallels to the ghost of Achilles in Seneca's play Troades.

The first appearance of the old king's ghost in the opening scene of
Hamlet would have been suggestive of a revenge tragedy to an
Elizabethan audience. However, the ghost does not demand revenge as
Don Andrea does, but rather adds to the uncertainty and sense of
foreboding in the scene. The play begins in a 'bitter cold' night,
bringing a sense of pathetic fallacy to the scene, as the setting adds
to the sense of trouble in Denmark, as described by Horatio and
Marcellus. It is not until Act I, Scene V that the ghost appears to
Hamlet, demanding 'revenge [for] his foul and most unnatural murder,'
and thus introducing the theme of revenge in Hamlet. Although Hamlet
proclaims that '[he will] sweep to [his] revenge,' he does not take
his revenge...

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