Revenge Tragedy: Hamlet

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Shakespeare’s early 17th century revenge tragedy “Hamlet” is shaped by our understanding that knowledge of its contextual milieu develops an appreciation for the play’s timeless resonance. We also recognize the play’s textual integrity allows Shakespeare to explore the validity of the values that defined the Elizabethan world view and enables us to understand that while the context of the composer and responder may differ markedly in terms of social, cultural and religious values, there are certain human truths that transcend contextual limitations. As individuals whose own values have been shaped by our own contemporary context we respond to the anxieties and question embedded in the text as we contemplate our ability to find meaning and moral order in an uncertain world. By utalising his dramatic skills, Shakespeare constructs a play which examines the validity of Medieval values at a time when the renaissance was raising humanist concerns about whether man might impose his will upon the world in which he existed. Through Hamlet’s soliloquies Shakespeare provides an insight into the moral dilemma of an individual whose recognition that he has “the motive and cue for passion” is subverted by his agonized conviction that “Heaven hath pleased it so/ To punish me with it”. The repeated vacillations between a commitment to his agonized role “The son of a dear father murthered/ Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell” and a “conscience (that) doth make cowards of us all” reflect hamlet’s awareness and contradictions of his position. So by creating a character as a radically transitional product of a world of flux, Shakespeare creates in us an intellectual embodied in the exclamation, “O cursed spite/ that ever I was born to set it right”! So we can see that by using the soliloquies, Shakespeare furthers our understanding of Hamlet’s inability to resolve upon a course of action and of the emotional consequences that ensue. As adolescents in the 21st century, we...
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