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Audiences watching Hamlet at the time it was first performed would recognize the play as belonging to a particular genre: they didn’t have a name for it, but modern scholars call it “revenge tragedy.” In a revenge tragedy the hero has suffered a great wrong, usually the murder of someone he loves, and the plot is driven by his desire for revenge.
Hamlet turns revenge tragedy on its head by taking away the usual obstacles to the hero’s vengeance.
In a typical revenge tragedy like The Spanish Tragedy, the hero faces two obstacles: to find out who the murderers are, and then to get himself into a position where he can kill them.
The first really popular revenge tragedy was The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd.
It was written more than a decade before Hamlet, and it was still being performed when Hamlet was first staged.
Hamlet’s only real obstacle is in his head: he is uncertain what he should believe and how he should act. The play-within-a-play staged in Act III, Scene 2 is a parody of a revenge tragedy: its rhymes would have made it sound absurdly old-fashioned to an audience in Shakespeare’s time.
Revenge In Hamlet Essay Descriptive Essays On Paintings
By making the obstacles to Hamlet’s revenge internal, Shakespeare introduces philosophical questions to the revenge tragedy which had not appeared in the genre before. With the character of Laertes, Shakespeare pokes fun at the traditional heroes of revenge tragedy.Where Hamlet doubted the morality of seeking revenge, Middleton’s hero Vindice is openly immoral in pursuing his: by the end of the play Vindice is more a villain than a hero.Modern action movies also owe a great deal to Hamlet’s comic take on the revenge plot.Hamlet's father, murdered by Claudius, appears to him and asks for revenge.Hamlet never totally accepts his father's challenge to seek revenge on Claudius.Hamlet, expressing his own desires, does not want to take revenge on Claudius, but has to comply as a duty: "O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right! In contrast, Hamlet angrily emphasizes that he must seek revenge: "Now could I drink hot blood / And do such bitter business as the day / Would quake to loot on" (397-399).Hamlet's wavering desire for retribution reinforces the theme of revenge.Shakespeare’s audiences would have noticed that Hamlet borrows several features from Kyd’s play, including a vengeful ghost, a play-within-a-play and a hero who goes mad.But rather than simply repeating the familiar conventions of the revenge tragedy, Hamlet subverts many of the tropes to question both the genre of revenge tragedy, as well as the nature of revenge itself.Shakespeare creates a situation in which Hamlet has an obligation to seek revenge as a final duty to his father, but Hamlet does not have a strong desire to seek revenge.Hamlet's vacillation between self-pity and determined rage exemplifies his situation.