Hamlet – a Revenge Tragedy?
Most of the revenge-tragic aspect of the Shakespearean play Hamlet is explicitly presented. Some is disguised as straight tragedy, for example, Ophelia’s insanity and death; and some is implied tragedy found in the history of verbal allusions.
In the essay “An Explication of the Player’s Speech,” Harry Levin discusses the implied tragic dimension of the “Hecuba” soliloquy:
But the lyrical note can prevail no more than the epical, since Shakespeare’s form is basically tragic; and here his classical model is indicated when Polonius, introducing the Players, warns: “Seneca cannot be too heavy.” From “English Seneca read by candlelight,” according to Thomas Nashe, playwrights were lifting handfuls – or were they Hamlets? – of “tragical speeches.” (31)
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:
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 – is it potent enough to perform revenge?
Hamlet and Horatio are supposed to be fellow-students at Wittenberg, and to have left it for Elsinore less than two months ago. Yet Hamlet hardly recognizes Horatio at first, and speaks as if he himself lived at Elsinore (I refer to his bitter jest, ‘We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you depart’). Who would dream that Hamlet had himself just come from Wittenberg, if it were not for the previous words about his going back there?
How can this be explained on the usual view? Only, I presume, by supposing that Hamlet is so sunk in melancholy that he really does almost ‘forget himself’ and forgets everything else, so that he actually is in doubt who Horatio is. (370)
The ghost says that King Hamlet was murdered by Claudius, who had a relationship with Gertrude prior to the murder. Hamlet swears to carry out vengeance. Gunnar Boklund in “Judgment in Hamlet” sees the ghost as the character who introduces revenge into the play:
An equally familiar and somewhat more plausible argument may also be adduced to explain the significance of the Ghost: Shakespeare, like his fellow dramatists, did not personally regard blood-revenge as justified but followed the so-called revenge convention of the...