The Nature of Evil in William Shakespeare's Hamlet
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'Hamlet' is a Shakespearean revenge tragedy, which was a strong, and
entertaining form of drama popular in the Elizabethan era during which
Shakespeare (1562-1616) lived. 'Hamlet', like many of Shakespeare's
plays has been inspired by another famous tragedy, in this case, 'The
Spanish Tragedy', a revenge play written by Thomas Kyd. The great
political turbulence that was taking place in England with
conspiracies against the Queen and those in power could also have
prompted Shakespeare to write a play like 'Hamlet'. Though the play is
made up of the stock conventions of a typical revenge tragedy - a
murder, with the ghost of the murdered returning to a loved one, the
delay in vengeance, mental disturbance of the avenger and finally, the
avenger's death, Shakespeare has made 'Hamlet' original by focusing on
the psychology and tragedy of the characters and the situations.
The characters in the play are like real people, and even though the
play was written centuries ago, readers can still relate to their
mentality, sensitivity and reactions to situations. The main character
around whom the play revolves is Hamlet. He is the young Prince of
Denmark, son of Gertrude and the nephew of the present King, Claudius.
Hamlet finds himself in a difficult situation when his dead father's
ghost pays him a visit, calls Claudius a murderer and demands revenge.
The complete court of King Claudius was corrupt and Claudius himself
was the source of all evil in the play, which is why Shakespeare has
chosen a name like 'Claudius' as it would automatically remind the
Elizabethan audience of the Roman emperor, Tiberius Claudius Drusus
Nero Germanicus, who had indulged in an incestuous marriage with his
sister and who, according to them was the epitome of evil.
In 'Hamlet', Shakespeare has portrayed evil as something that corrupts
and deceives and upon analysis, one finds images which give the
feeling of disgust and sickness, as in the Ghost's speech in Act 1,
Scene 5, where he describes the effect of the poison Claudius had
poured in his ears by saying, "And curd, like eager droppings into the
milk/The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine/And a most instant
tetter bark'd about/Most lazar-like with vile and loathsome crust".
Such graphic imagery is found again in Act 5, Scene 4 where Hamlet
asks his mother to accept her mistake and not to use Hamlet's madness
as an excuse for his words - "Lay not that madness upon your soul/That
not your trespass but my madness speaks/It will but skin and film the
ulcerous place/Whiles rank corruption, mining all within/Infects
unseen." The continuous use of this sort of vivid and revolting