William ‘Bill’ Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, King of Denmark, a turn of the 16th century revenge tragedy play, is today still a relevant and delving tale, that stands as Bill’s reconceptualization of the genre. The genre was popular at the time of Hamlet’s creation, and thereby retains traditional elements of a revenge tragedy. However, and after adding many dramatic elements, a flicker of an Oedipus complex, and a touch of humor, Bill analyses and explores the revenge tragedy on a more complex level.
Using the character’s thoughts, conversations and interactions to demonstrate the progress from disruption to accord while dramatizing the interplay of key values such as virtue and honor, ‘Shakesy’ presents a revenge tragedy that exists as being more relatable at a human level, as opposed to an epic tale. Though, may I might add, the tale is still epic in a timeless sense, ‘Spearesy’ uses small-scale settings and conversations to say a thing or two about morality and its effect on life and lives. “ ‘Murder most foul, as in the best it is; but this most foul, strange’, ‘Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift?
As meditation or the thoughts of love,? May sweep to my revenge’ “. Now, Spearesy stays true to the conventional revenge tragedy, in that the play is a tragedy, that centers on revenge. Indeed, like many other revenge tragedies, the plot begins with a death (King Hamlet, hamlets father), involves some madness (Hamlet, whether fake or real remains ambiguous), plotting, and lies (everyone) and then ends with a lot more deaths (everyone), all the while of course progressing from disruption (or disorder) to accord (or harmony).
Where Hamlet differs from other revenge tragedies however, is in the manner that the revenge is carried out; while most other RT’s are accepted instantly and given courses of action, Hamlet’s hesitation and caution are what separates him from, say, Count Lodovico or Vindice (well known protagonists of plays that the learned speech marker should know of. ) Indeed, Hamlet’s lack of blind faith is demonstrated when he states ‘The spirit that I have seen? May be the devil… I’ll have grounds? More relative than this: the play ‘s the thing? Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. ”
Now that we’ve explored and understand what a revenge tragedy is and how Hamlet differs from the norm, we can discuss the interplay of virtue and honor, or should I say, dishonor. These values are best exhibited through the characters of Horatio, Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius. Horatio is Hamlets one true confidante, a foil character that outlines the lack of virtue that Hamlet himself exhibits. Horatio is a respected figure in the community and loyal like a dog, as Shakesy makes evident in the first instance we meet Horatio, one where he was chosen as the most rational person to meet a ghost “If thou art privy to thy country’s fate…
O, speak! ” Unlike the other three characters, it can be argued that for Horatio, honor and virtue are hand in hand, himself even offering to commit suicide once Hamlet is dead. Before that even, Hamlet professes “Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man/As e’er my conversation cop’d withal” Hamlet on the other hand, while filled with a perverted sense of honor, that in which he feels compelled to murder his uncle in revenge for his own fathers killing, lacks the virtue that Horatio exhibits.
Hamlets sense of honor is displayed in his soliloquy about the rival prince Fortinbras, “Rightly to be great iss not to stir without great argument, But greatly to find quarrel in a straw When honour’s at the stake. ” Now, in this play the idea of progression from disruption to accord is murky up until the final few pages, and Hamlets virtue and honor are parallel with this idea. After concluding that to be a great man is to act for any reason to preserve honor at the start of the play, by the end of the play he has accepted that to be a great man is to be virtuous and honorable, not to endlessly search for it.
Some of his last words show empathy and wisdom to Horatio “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, To tell my story. ” At the other end of the spectrum are Claudius and Gertrude, two characters without virtue or honor. Claudius has killed his own brother the King, presumably to bed his wife, and coincidentally is also the new King. Gertrude has wed her previous husbands brother, and allegedly doesn’t know that Claudius is the cause of King Hamlets death (although this speaker thinks otherwise).
When Claudius discusses a prayer for forgiveness he tries to make he states “That cannot be, since I am still possessed of those effects for which I did the murder: My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen. May one be pardoned and retain th’ offense” Showing that he feels no regret for his actions, and is only concerned with getting into heaven. Until the end, when other characters seem to have developed, in accordance with the disruption/accord theme of an RT, Claudius does not.
Gertrude herself grows from an early “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended” displaying clear dishonor towards King Hamlet, and a lack of virtue, to the final act; “I will, my lord; I pray you pardon me. ” While its not clear whether Gertrude is asking Claudius to pardon her for disobeying him, or for God to pardon her for her part in the whole affair is uncertain, but it can be determined that she has regained some honor, at least in relation to her son, whom she seems to care for again.
Claudius, until his dying last words “O, yet defend me, friends! I am but hurt. ”, shows no honor or virtue, and all things considered, Spearesy leads the reader to believe he will suffer in hell. Many ideas can be gathered from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, however the one I’ve deemed most prudent is this; Revenge tragedy progresses from disruption to accord while dramatizing the interplay of honor and virtue, and Shakespeare has demonstrated this through the fate of the characters he creates.
Horatio, a truly good man, lives to tell the tale of Hamlet and his back-stabbing family, while Hamlet dies somewhat willingly, as a man with honor. Claudius and Gertrude die without either, an unwanted fate. A complex, intense revenge tragedy play, Hamlet aims to express the importance of morality, especially in a world with questionable morals.
January 9, 2018
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