Analyzing Hamlet as a Revenge Tragedy

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William Shakespeare’s most notable work, Hamlet, has left play viewers and readers speculating over every aspect of the play for hundreds of years. Since the play came into existence in the early seventeenth century it has left millions of Shakespearian critics, authors, readers, and play viewers perplexed as Shakespeare fails to answer a number of questions. Some of these questions include: Is Hamlets father in the form of a ghost really trustworthy? Why does Hamlet procrastinate from getting revenge throughout the play? Is Hamlet insane, or do his melancholy ways manipulate the play viewer into thinking he’s mad? Is his mother remorseful? Does Hamlet really love Ophelia? What is Hamlet trying to say before he dies? These questions, along with many others, will remain the subject of debate for many years to come (Greenblatt 103). Despite the uncertainties that these questions arise, there is one component to this play that many critics, authors, readers, and play viewers can agreed upon. That is, just as this paper intends to address, that Hamlet is a revenge tragedy. In order to analyze Hamlet as a revenge tragedy we must first understand what defines a revenge tragedy. According to M.H. Abrams’ Glossary of Literary Terms a revenge tragedies subject “is a murder and the quest for vengeance, and it includes a ghost, insanity, suicide, a play-within-a-play, sensational incidents, and a gruesomely bloody ending” (323). Abrams then goes on to state that according to this template, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the greatest revenge tragedies of all time (Abrams 323). With this template, analyzing Hamlet as a revenge tragedy becomes straight forward as I intend to provide specific examples throughout the play that pertain to each of the components that make up a revenge tragedy as defined by Abrams. With this, my goal is to support the claim that despite unanswered questions and speculation, one thing that can be universally agreed upon among Shakespearian critics is that Hamlet is indeed a revenge tragedy. I’ll begin supporting this claim by addressing the fact that Hamlet’s plot is centered around a murder and the quest for vengeance, as described in Abrams definition. We first learn about the plays murder and quest for vengeance when Hamlet’s father appears to him in the form of a ghost, explaining that he has been murdered by his brother Claudius (Hamlets uncle), and that it’s Hamlets duty to revenge his death. The spirit elaborates on the murder, telling Hamlet: 
 “Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,

A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by forged process of my death
Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth, 
The serpent that did sting thy fathers life
Now wears his crown.” (1.5 35-40)

It is at this moment that Hamlet is enlightened about the truth of what’s really happened to his father. He realizes that all of Denmark is under the impression that his father was bitten by a poisonous snake while sleeping in the orchard, when that is not the case. The truth is that the real snake who has poisoned King Hamlet now sits on the throne of Denmark (King Hamlets brother, Claudius). Following the quote Hamlet cries “O my prophetic soul! Mine uncle?” (1.5 41) Only to be reassured by the ghost of his father that it was in fact Hamlets uncle and the new King of Denmark, Claudius, who has murdered his father. With this information Hamlet understands that he must seek vengeance as the spirit of his father has told him it is his duty to “revenge his foul and must unnatural murder” (1.5 25). Thus, it is clear that the play contains a murder and the quest for vengeance as Hamlet sets out to revenge the murder of his father. The next component that makes up a revenge tragedy according to Abrams is the inclusion of a ghost. Having already touched on the ghost which claims to be King Hamlet, I’d like to touch on other compelling factors about the ghosts character. According to Eleanor...
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