“Hamlet” has been described as an anti-revenge tragedy. To what extent do you agree with this? Examine the extent to which the play adopts, alters or rejects the conventions of revenge tragedy. To say Hamlet is a an anti-revenge tragedy would be to deny the whole picture, instead it can be said Hamlet is a double tragedy, for one thing it adopts a certain characteristic few other plays have and can do- it reveals Shakespeare himself. Hamlet the prince of Denmark is perhaps the pivotal point around which an argument can be evolved into justifying the dualistic revenge tragedy that emerges.
It is above all a play that is complex, not to mention highly intriguing. The way in which Hamlet is an anti-revenge tragedy is not a simple matter, but a matter that carries with it underlying even subtle complexes that cannot be determined easily. It is a matter that must be approached with caution. Rene Girard states “…If we assume that Shakespeare really had this double goal in mind, we will find that some unexplained details in the play become intelligible and that the function of many obscure scenes becomes obvious…”
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Seneca the stoic Greek philosopher gives the certain and used rules, which classify a revenge tragedy. Hamlet does maintain these rules up to an extent, to the audience’s eye it is a complete revenge tragedy inducing catharsis, although what can be seen from Hamlets subconscious driving actions, his actions and thinking process will dissolve this idea; instead it is possible to deduce from Hamlet himself a play that shudders the idea of a strict revenge tragedy.
Girard points out that double goal in hamlet can be seen within some scenes, this is an agreeable point right from the beginning of play when the ghost reveals itself and serves as the catalyst for “revenge tragedy”. From the meeting with the ghost and from the death of Claudius within Hamlet there is always a delay for revenge. It is not a straightforward commitment, but a commitment that must be pondulated, scrutinized, and delayed- Hamlet n the end cannot commit the act of vengeance because otherwise it fulfils to strict coherence of revenge tragedy. Instead the delay positions hamlet in the realm in-between not avenging and avenging- this is a reflection of Shakespeare disgust with revenge tragedy. “…. throughout the play Hamlet is not only trying to convince himself that his father was innocent and his uncle a demon, but also searching for a model of sufficient force to lead him to fulfill his revenge.
He is inspired by the First Player’s speech on Hecuba, but it doesn’t get him to the state of mind he wants to find…” This quote by Peter J. Leithart, on the character of Hamlet, justifies up to a certain extent why Hamlet is not a pure revenge tragedy, but instead an “anti-revenge tragedy”. Take for example act three scene three in which Hamlet comes across Claudius praying “Now might I do it pat, now he’s praying; And now I’ll do’t- and so he goes to heaven”.
Hamlet cannot kill Claudius, as religion and belief is the underlying principle that acts as a barrier and holds the prince of Denmark back, but then there is the question of Hamlet himself; his scrutinization however minimal it would be at this point in time acts an excuse, for his duty, his burden and mission. Yes, this does fulfil the rules of Seneca, that the ghost appearing to the son appoints a duty and vengeance, but the fact that Hamlet delays, shatters the typical conventions of revenge tragedy.
It can be said Shakespeare as a dramatist must deliver to the audience a cathartic play, but Shakespeare does this,- only Shakespeare does it in a full and timely way. The act of revenge is not a straightforward duty that can be done within a matter of seconds for Hamlet but something the play reveals throughout from act one to act five, an act that is not so easy and above all necessary. Hamlet contemplates further in act four scene four, and at graveyard when Yoricks skull is revealed. – In act four scene four Hamlet states “How all occasions do inform against me, And spur my dull revenge! , “That capability and god like reason to fust in us unused”. Again Hamlet contemplates the act of revenge, for himself, for dramatic purposes and delay and as a way for Shakespeare to go beyond the conventional revenge tragedy routine. More over, the graveyard scene with Yoricks skull is a highly important one because for once gives us a true reason into the delay of revenge “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam”, is a allusion to the theme of inevitability in Hamlet- it reveals the inexorably of death.
Death is inevitable, there is no question about it, it is part and parcel of the process of nature, and Hamlet sees this, Hamlet is able to penetrate this inevitability. Hamlet is a changed man once he has returned from England, he emanates a presence of a true prince of Denmark for once in the play, and moreover a key point to note is that from now Hamlet has surrendered to the course of nature and the universe. The reign of Claudius will come to an end, and although Hamlet can intend to kill Claudius, the Kings reign will come to an end inexorably.