William Shakespeare's Hamlet as a Revenge Tragedy
Revenge Tragedy was a genre which lasted from 1590 until 1615. The
genre appealed to the Elizabethan audience’s desire for blood and
violence without emotional depth.
Revenge tragedies originated in the writings of the Roman Seneca
(4BC-AD65) whose plays heavily influenced Elizabethan dramatists.
Seneca’s tragedies, using stories derived from mythology emphasised
bloody action, horrific incidents and ranting speeches. The devices
Seneca used in his tragedies were later imitated by Elizabethan
playwrights. These included the five act structure, the appearance of
ghosts, the one–line exchange known as stichomythia and Seneca’s use
of long rhetorical speeches. English revenge tragedies written in the
Elizabethan era began with ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ written by Thomas
Kyd, in which a father, Hieronomo, avenges a son. The father delays
the revenge in passionate outbursts near to madness.
According to the accepted characteristics, revenge tragedies should
have included ghosts or supernatural beings, violence, sex,
bloodthirsty revenge for family honour and bloody carnage. Most
revenge tragedies end in a bloodbath killing off all the main
characters apart from the loyal best friend. Hamlet’s complex plot is
advanced, compared with most revenge tragedies as it included
subplots. It uses many of the typical themes of a Revenge Tragedy in
order to get points across. The play has depth to it making the impact
of revenge felt deeply by the audience. The audience is able to
empathize with Hamlet and look at the ethics of revenge.
‘Hamlet’ follows these main conventions meticulously. However, the
differences are interesting. Hamlet delays the whole process of
revenge, and this is more subtle than Kyd’s 'Spanish Tragedy.'
Bernard Lott believes that 'when Hamlet's speeches are straightened
out the evident complications of phraseology and syntax remain to
sense reflection of the inner turmoil in his soul'. This is clearly
shown in Hamlets 'To be or not to be' soliloquy. Soliloquies in
general show characters’ innermost emotions and are frequently used in
revenge tragedies. Shakespeare uses speech to reflect characters’
roles and status; superior figures such as Hamlet speak in verse,
whereas characters with less significance to the play speak in prose.
This dramatic effect raises ‘Hamlet’ above the typical Revenge
Laertes and Hamlet are the two main characters linked to revenge
throughout 'Hamlet’. They are in the same situation, with Hamlet
stating 'by the image of my cause I see the portraiture of his.'
Laertes is the stereotypical revenger. He is quick to assume that
Claudius murdered his father and goes to seek him with a 'riotous
head' and only...