Revenge tragedies often incorporate similar plot lines, which are usually relatively simple, and they regularly contain similar features, such as a ghost, a hesitating revenger, a villain and concepts of madness, all of which are featured in Hamlet. Although the play is much more complex than a stereotypical revenge tragedy, one of the central themes is revenge, and Shakespeare portrays this through three entirely different characters. The main plot focuses on Hamlet, however there are intricate links to Laertes and Fortinbras.
Shakespeare effectively presents the three revenge characters as possessing parallel lives, especially Fortinbras and Hamlet. In using 5 Acts, Shakespeare does more than present the popular genre of revenge tragedy and through the structure of these he effectively uses sub plots, as well as the main plot, in which Hamlet is instructed to take revenge on Claudius. The sub plots, including Laertes revenge on Hamlet and Fortinbras revenge, are particularly effective because they allow contrasts between the main revenge characters, and allow the audience to observe each character in a different perspective.
In this way Hamlets attitude towards revenge contrasts with that of Laertes, the typical avenger, and Fortinbras life appears to almost parallel Hamlets. Shakespeare effectively brings the main and sub-plots to a close dramatic conclusion. Various scenes, such as the gravediggers scene, have a dual purpose in that whilst they provide an integral concentration on death, they also act as comic relief scenes, and inject some humour into the play. Shakespeare presents Hamlet as the central character and the main focus in the theme of revenge.
The audience initially meets Hamlet in Act 1 ii, where the court is assembled, and there are signs of conflict between Hamlet and the newly appointed King, Claudius. The audience is given the plot basis, which in turn the play develops from. Hamlets disgust for the King and Queen is specifically addressed in his first soliloquy, where he shares with the audience his anguish and resentment for them. He attempts to come to terms with his Fathers death and his Mothers hasty marriage to Claudius, But two months dead, nay, not so much, not two!
(Act 1 ii) Due to his mothers swift marriage, Hamlets opinions of womenhood are shattered, Frailty, thy name is woman. Shakespeare effectively develops this initial resentment, which Hamlet feels towards both the King and Queen due to their oerhasty marriage (Act 2 ii), and it intensifies when Hamlet is informed by the Ghost of the true nature of his fathers death. In this first soliloquy, his speech is evocative, especially where he conveys strong emotions in the metaphor comparing the current world to an unweeded garden, (Act 1 ii) with things rank and gross in nature.
Shakespeare effectively presents Hamlet as a considerable intellect, shown by his reference to Greek mythological figures. He emphatically uses juxtaposition, where Hamlet makes a strong comparison between his father and Claudius, Hyperion to a satyr. Act 1 ii, implying his father was like a sun god whereas Claudius was a mere half goat half man creature. The strong comparison reveals his bitterness towards Claudius. It can be argued that the ghost is created by Shakespeare as a powerful, metaphorical force and as such acts as the initial figure to provoke Hamlet to pursue an active revenge against Claudius.
Hamlets first response to the ghosts claim is rather hasty, May sweep to my revenge. Act 1 v. This appears to echo Laertes impetuous attitude towards revenge, however, Hamlet does not fit this role, and he remains a thinking revenger. The ghost states Ay, that incestuous¦ and prey on garbage, (Act 1 v) suggesting that Claudius had seduced Gertrude before her husbands death, although there is no evidence in the rest of play to support this judgement. As a result, Hamlet experiences greater resentment towards both Gertrude, but more specifically Claudius.
Hamlet is instructed by the ghost to avenge his fathers death, If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not¦ damned incest. (Act 1 v) however, he tells Hamlet to leave Gertrude to Gods judgement, Leave her to heaven¦ prick and sting her. Act 1 v. Shakespeare effectively uses a metaphor to present Gertrudes conscience. The ghosts last words to Hamlet are Remember me (Act 1 v) which sounds like a command, but is actually an unequivocal instruction, in which Hamlet must not forget to avenge his father.
Shakespeare utilises the Ghosts speech to relate the terrors of purgatory, ending with the effective simile, Like quills upon the fretful porpetine. Act 1 v. The ghost continues this passionate language to arouse intense feelings and incite Hamlet to commit murder as the ultimate revenge, Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast. (Act 1 v). Similarly the ghosts narrative uses particularly graphic and evocative language to enhance strong emotions, That swift as quicksilver is courses through / The natural gates and alleys of the body. Act 1 v.
Shakespeare effectively presents Hamlet as a thinking revenger and not a warrior, a major contrast to Laertes character. Hamlets second soliloquy particularly focuses on his delay for avenging his Fathers death, when he begins with O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! Act 2 ii. Hamlet expresses his disgust for himself for delaying his revenge, and the language of the speech is passionate, because he is punishing himself. During the soliloquy, he constantly criticises himself, A dull and muddy-mettled rascal¦ not for a King. Act 2 ii.
Hamlet expresses himself as dull spirited and unable to act, because he is pigeon-livered and lack gall. Act 2 ii, suggesting that he does not contain the capacity for revenge, and doesnt have the courage to accomplish the deed. Shakespeare effectively presents Hamlets inner frustration, in his language by using a series of adjectives, Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! / O, Vengeance! Act 2 ii, which reveals his real hatred for Claudius. Hamlet questions the ghosts honesty for the first time, The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil, and the devil hath power.
Act 2 ii. Therefore, Hamlet decides to catch the conscience of the King, (Act 2 ii) by staging a re-enactment of the crime and this portrays Hamlets thinking and philosophical approach to revenge, which he wants to be perfect. The prayer scene also reveals his philosophical temperament as Hamlet, the sole son, realises he is the only person appointed to take revenge for his fathers death. Shakespeare provides Hamlet with a perfect opportunity in which he has the chance to kill the King.
However, Hamlet feels it is morally wrong to kill Claudius at prayer, not because it is a sacrilegious act, but because it would allow Claudius to go to heaven, which Hamlet obviously objects to. Now might I do it pat, now a is a-praying. And now Ill dot, And so a goes to heaven. Act 3 iii. It could also be argued that this suggests that he is not a cold blooded killer. Hamlet also feels he would be letting his father down, Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge, and so consequently, Hamlet spares his Uncles life. Hamlets language during this speech appears particularly passionate.
Shakespeare further portrays Hamlet as a major contrast to Laertes, in that Hamlet believes the King must be engaged in a sinful act before he can take revenge, When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage / Or in thincestuous pleasure of his bed. Act 3 iii. However, Laertes is presented as a rash revenge hero and states that he would cut his throat ithchurch! Act 4 vii. Ironically, Hamlets soliloquy appears irrelevant, because Claudius repentence is not sincere, as his last couplet in the scene suggests, My words fly up, my thoughts remain blow. / Words without thoughts never to heaven go. Act 3 iii.
The audience witnesses the kings first, and only, confession during his soliloquy, in which he cannot pray due to his ill conscience and guilt, A brothers murder. Pray can I not. Act 3 iii. Consequently, it could be argued that Shakespeare wanted to give the audience a psychological insight into Claudius character and to feel some sympathy towards him, especially in the opening line, O, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven. (Act 3 iii) In a sense, Shakespeare could be presenting Claudius in this manner to allow the audience to see him from a different perspective, instead of the traditional revenge villain.
Claudius reveals why he killed the previous king Hamlet, My crown, mine own ambition, and my Queen, (Act 3 iii) and, he does ask for forgiveness, Forgive me my foul murder? Act 3 iii. Yet it is significant that he cannot fully repent because he is not willing to consider giving up the crown. Therefore, Shakespeare continues to present Claudius as the main villain in the play, one who is driven by cowardly and evil ambitions, but the audience is given a psychological insight, in which they gain a new understanding of his character.
Shakespeare appears to present Hamlet from an alternative viewpoint, during the fencing match in the concluding scene. Hamlets revenge for Claudius is intensified, when his mother too is killed. She drinks to the success of her son, despite Claudius rebuke of Gertrude, do not drink. (Act 5 ii) The audience anticipates his strong objection to the Queen drinking, yet Shakespeare effectively presents Claudius cowardice and, arguably doubtful feelings for her, in this simple reproach.
It is clear that Claudius cannot contemplate abandoning the plot, in order to save the Queen. After the trauma of his mothers death, Hamlet acts with spontaneity when Laertes tells him who is responsible for the poisoned drink, The King, the Kings to blame, (Act 5 ii) and he wounds the King with the envenomed sword. Hamlets impulsive act echoes the murder of Polonius. He forces Claudius to drink the poison, the King dies. and in dying without contrition or forgiveness, Hamlet experiences some satisfaction in that his revenge will result in Claudius being sent to hell.
However, Hamlet has experienced four acts of dilemma and deliberation and, in a sense, he was forced to take revenge due to Claudius callous actions and had a prime opportunity to do so. Shakespeare presents Laertes as a rash revenge hero, an effective contrast to Hamlet, and his revenge develops as a sub plot. Laertes returns home from Paris and demands to know how his father died, How came he dead? Act 4 v. Laertes appears to the audience as the more traditional revenger when compared to Hamlet, and he seems extremely determined, My will, not all the worlds.
Act 4 v, implying that nothing in the world will stop him, until his desire for revenge is satisfied. The contrasting character of Laertes reveals the complex and indecisive manner in which Hamlet carries out revenge. Laertes revenge is intensified when he sees Ophelias madness, and he specifically compares Ophelias situation to that of their fathers, a young maids wits and an old mans life. Act 4 v. Laertes, addressing Polonius funeral, describes it as obscure because there was no trophy, sword, nor hatchment oer his bones. Act 4 v.
In this sense Laertes experiences a greater resentment for his fathers death, in that he has not been honoured with an elaborate funeral. However, the relative secrecy of Polonius death is probably deliberate to avoid betraying the corruption of the court, an aspect Laertes is blind to. Claudius manipulates and corrupts Laertes, taking advantage of his rash state, and so is deliberately presented as a villain. By Act 4 vii, Laertes has discovered that Hamlet killed Polonius and his vengeful determination leads him to question Claudius as to why he has not yet taken action against Hamlet.
Claudius gives two special reasons, which are that the Queen loves Hamlet and he loves the Queen, therefore he could not bear to act, The Queen his mother lives almost by his looks. In addition the common people love Hamlet and would support him, Is the great love the general gender bear him. Act 4 vii. The reasons Claudius gives reflect his manipulation of the truth and his cowardly attitude because he needs an instrument for his treachery. Both Claudius and Laertes are interrupted by a letter from Hamlet, From Hamlet? Who brought them?
(Act 4 vii) Claudius is very surprised because he would have expected Hamlet dead. Claudius manipulation over Laertes is expressed again; Will you be ruled by me? Act 4 vii. Claudius must now make Laertes take revenge on Hamlet, because his plot to have Hamlet killed in England has failed. Claudius attempts to make Laertes a possible ally, by manipulating and flattering him, Sir, this report of his¦ to play with you. Act 4 vii. The suggestion that Hamlet envies Laertes is possibly an invention on Claudius part because there is no other mention of this in the play.
Claudius moves onto more urgent questions, Laertes, was your father dear to you? which makes Laertes appear helpless and eager to co-operate. Laertes comments that he would cut his throat ith church! to prove himself to Polonius. Again Shakespeare uses these words significantly as they contrast strongly with Hamlets unwillingness to kill the king while he is at prayer. Laertes plays right into the kings hands when he offers to put poison on his sword tip, I will dot, / and for that purpose Ill anoint my sword. Act 4 vii. Ophelias drowning acts to further intensify Laertes revenge on Hamlet.
The fencing match reinforces the presentation of Laertes as a revenge hero, as he acts in a typically rash and immoral manner. Shakespeare specifically presents this when Laertes becomes impatient and wounds Hamlet with the poisoned sword, Have at you now! (Act 5 ii) The indication that Laertes suddenly drives at Hamlet, and wounds him, reveals that he has now carried out his revenge. However, Laertes quickly notices the revenge on Hamlet has backfired I am justly killed with mine own treachery, (Act 5 vii) and that in addition he has also assisted Claudius in accidentally killing Gertrude.
However, unlike Claudius, Laertes stays alive long enough to ask for forgiveness, Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet. Act 5 ii. It is significant that Hamlet accepts Laertes apology, in that he is not pursuing revenge against him, the opposite being true of Claudius. More importantly it illustrates the greatness of Hamlet in comparison to the relative weakness of Laertes. Fortinbras is rarely mentioned in the play, however, he is briefly outlined by Claudius at the beginning. Shakespeare portrays Fortinbras as the third revenger, thus developing a complex presentation of tragedy in that there are three revengers.
Fortinbras is introduced as having a parallel life to Hamlets and being a minor character compared to Laertes and Hamlet. In the sub plot Fortinbras wishes to take revenge for the lands his father lost in a duel with old King Hamlet, Now sir, young Fortinbras¦ so by his father. Act 1 i. It appears that Fortinbras is like his father, a warrior, and this contrasts with Hamlet, who although his own father was also a warrior, has been well educated. When Fortinbras visits Elsinore in the final scene, he discovers he has succeeded to the throne, But I do prophesy thelection lights on Fortinbras.
Act 5 ii, suggesting Hamlet is preparing the future throne of Denmark, and wants Fortinbras to succeed him. It is significantly ironic that Fortinbras gives Hamlet a soldiers funeral, even though he wasnt a warrior. Therefore Shakespeare uses various effective ways to present the theme of revenge throughout Hamlet. He uses contrasts between characters; Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras and divides each scenario into sub plots, which he effectively incorporates to one in the concluding scenes.
Hamlets soliloquies allow the audience to experience a greater perception of his complex character, particularly as he is the main focus in the theme of revenge. Similarly Shakespeares language and imagery effectively portrays emotions and allows the characters to reveal aspects of their nature to the audience.
Bibliography The Embassy of Death: An Essay on Hamlet G. Wilson Knight www. ulg. ac. be/libnet/germa/haleteng. htm http://absoloute shakespeare. com http://shakespeare. about. com.