Problems in the Revenge Tragedy: William Shakespeare's Hamlet

2646 Words 11 Pages
Shakespeare's Hamlet presents the generic elements found in Renaissance revenge tragedies ("Revenge Tragedy"). However, although Hamlet is a revenge tragedy by definition, Shakespeare complicates the basic revenge plot by creating three revenge plots out of one. By adding significant innovations, Shakespeare creates "three concentric rings of revenge" (Frye 90), depicting an indecisive protagonist who is an intellectual rather than a physical hero, an ambiguous ghost, and several problematic aspects of the play, such as the reason for Hamlet's delay, the confusion of time, and the truth behind Hamlet's apparent madness. In a typical revenge tragedy, a hero is called upon by the ghost of a family member to avenge his death ("Revenge …show more content…
By portraying them as foils, Shakespeare helps illuminate the fact that this revenge plot has a very melancholic, contemplative, and intellectual hero as opposed to the heroes usually seen who immediately act upon request or knowledge. Heroes are often depicted as being immediate in their responses for revenge as shown in the play Oresteia when Orestes hears of his father's death and immediately prays to the gods to "let [him] avenge [his] father's murder" (LB. 21). Although Hamlet first appears eager to avenge his father's death (1.5.35-37), his actions do not reflect the truth behind his words. However, Orestes immediately starts planning is vengeance (LB. 541-565), and when the opportunity arises he tells his mother that "[she] killed and it was outrage - suffer outrage now" (LB. 917). Unlike Hamlet, Orestes does not procrastinate his vengeance; instead, he plans and strikes at the most opportune moment. Likewise, in Hamlet, Young Fortinbras seeks revenge on the land that his father lost to King Hamlet and is "pester[ing] [them] with message[s] importing the surrender of those lands lost by his father" (1.2.23-24). When asked to stop, he agrees to attack Poland instead; however, when Hamlet "witness[es] [Fortinbras'] army of such mass and charge led by a delicate and tender prince whose spirit with divine ambition puffed"