"In Hamlet, Shakespeare presents an incisive analysis of the conventions of the contemporary revenge play." Discuss.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This play is a fascinating presentation of a revenge tragedy, in which Shakespeare takes the standard plot of a revenge tragedy and complicates it, adding layer after layer of different elements and considerations, developing the theme of revenge and exploring it, and, in many ways subverting it. Note how in Act I scene 5, when the Ghost tells Hamlet that he is his father and that he was killed by Claudius, Hamlet seems very quick and eager to exact revenge:

Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge. 

The simile that he uses to describe the "wings" he wants to possess is used to compare him to some sort of avenging angel who rushes to claim his "revenge" as soon as possible. But, in spite of this apparent eagerness, the reality is much more complex than Hamlet at first assumes. He needs to decide whether the Ghost is authentic, and he needs to prove whether Claudius was guilty. He also is very afraid about what the act of committing regicide might mean for his eternal future, and he also wants to ensure that Claudius is not sent to heaven if he is praying when he is killed. In this play, older, more pagan world views about blood and revenge meet newer, more Christian views about forgiveness and sanctification, and fear of the afterlife. Thus Shakespeare takes a traditional revenge tragedy and really explores its elements in a much more fascinating play than a typical revenge tragedy would, seeking to deepend and, in some ways, subvert this genre.

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