Is Hamlet a Revenge Play

During the Elizabethan era, revenge plays were all the rave. A play that’s main plot is purely a quest for vengeance. It begins with a hero who has been wronged and feels the need for revenge. These themes drive the plot. Typically, in the end, the hero kills the one who has wronged him and ends up a casualty in their own ploy. Hamlet is no exception to this. It falls into the footsteps of the classic revenge tale. It holds plotting, murder, ghosts, anguish, and madness. Hamlet starts with the King being dethroned by a murderous brother and a son who wants revenge for the heartbreaking death of his beloved father. One thing that brings into question whether this play falls under the revenge list is that it has internal conflicts instead of external.

Hamlet has such a complex plot that brings into question the sanity of Prince Hamlet. Shakespeare not only questions the idea of what a revenge play is but, also of the nature of revenge in itself. He goes about revenge in a different way than normal revenge plays. He brings in other characters who seek revenge on Hamlet. By doing this Shakespeare automatically makes the reader compare the differences in Hamlet’s revenge plot to those who seek revenge on him. Shakespeare follows the traditional structure of a revenge play but brings in other aspects that evolve the play into something much more than simple revenge. He turns the play into a story about a man who lost everything that makes him who he is and his journey to find his way back to himself, even if that means revenge and death.

Hamlet changes the idea of a revenge tragedy by taking away the normal obstacles the hero would face. The two areas revenge plays focus on are finding out who the murder is and exacting that revenge. In Hamlet, Prince Hamlet finds out the identity of the murderer almost immediately at the end of act one. He is also in the position from the very beginning to kill Claudius but, does not take the opportunity. Unlike normal revenge tragedies, no one is trying to interfere with Hamlet’s desire for revenge.

The only real obstacle Hamlet faces is himself. He is the one interfering with his own plot. He is the only one who questions if what he is doing is right or wrong. He is the only one who feels unsure about how to feel or act. This makes the revenge conflict internal instead of external. Shakespeare makes Hamlet question everything. Can Hamlet believe the evidence being placed in front of him? Can this revenge be justified? What consequences will the action of revenge create? Will this damn his soul? Shakespeare puts Hamlet through the emotional ringer. Hamlet tortures himself in an internal battle that is slowly causing him temporary insanity. Readers really see this in Hamlet’s to be or not to be speech;

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep”(Shakespeare III.i.127).

He is so overcome with emotions brought about by his father’s untimely death that he doesn’t know who he is or what he believes. He feels like he lost a part of himself and he can’t seem to stop obsessing over if he is doing the right thing. He is debating internally about what to do and if it matters. Hamlet is so lost that his mind keeps wandering back the idea of suicide. That death is the only way to end his suffering. Throughout the speech, Hamlet talks about the nature of self and death and debates the course of action he should take. Even after this inanimate talk with himself, he remains indecisive. This inability to act upon his revenge plot cause the play to stray from the typical revenge storyline.

Instead of making Hamlet go mad by pure anger and rage, he makes Hamlet go mad by his own moral conflicts. To add fuel to the flame of his internal issues, Hamlet seems to be struggling with putting aside his feelings towards his mother’s betrayal. In his eyes, his mother moved on so effortlessly that it is insulting to him and his departed father. The betrayal takes a step even future when she marries the man who killed her husband, Hamlet’s uncle. He is so utterly disgusted by his mother and uncle that the anger he feels continues to grow throughout the play. Readers see these issues from the very first line Hamlet speaks in the play “A little more kin and less than kind” (Shakespeare I.ii.25 ). By using this line as his first words Shakespeare is creating the layout for this conflict. It foreshadows the anger that will consume Hamlet over his mother’s actions. This issue is the biggest obstacle that Hamlet must face. He is telling the readers that yes this is a revenge play, but it’s not like any other. These internal conflicts are what creates the external conflicts that he is faced with. In a traditional revenge story, the conflicts would be purely external and therefore would be caused by other people’s thoughts and actions about the revenge. By making the external conflicts stem from Hamlet’s internal struggles causes the play to be unique. It becomes a revenge play that focuses on internal struggles instead of external struggles.

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