Essay on Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Speculation about whether the Shakespearean drama Hamlet satisfies the requirements of an Elizabethan revenge tragedy is discussed in this paper, with considerable critical commentary.

Richard A. Lanham in “Superposed Plays” comments on the lesser revenge tragedy within the greater revenge tragedy of Hamlet:

Now there is no doubt about how to read the Laertes play: straight revenge tragedy, to be taken – as I’ve tried to imply in my summary – without solemnity. We are to enjoy the rants as rants. When we get tears instead of a rant, as with the Laertes instance cited earlier, an apology for our disappointment does not come amiss. We are not to be caught up in Laertes’ vigorous feeling any more than in Ophelia’s bawdy
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. . . Is not this passing strange? Hamlet and Horatio are supposed to be fellow-students at Wittenberg, and to have left it for Elsinore less than two months ago. Yet Hamlet hardly recognizes Horatio at first, and speaks as if he himself lived at Elsinore (I refer to his bitter jest, ‘We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you depart’). Who would dream that Hamlet had himself f just come from Wittenberg, if it were not for the previous words about his going back there?

How can this be explained on the usual view? Only, I presume, by supposing that Hamlet is so sunk in melancholy that he really does almost ‘forget himself’ and forgets everything else, so that he actually is in doubt who Horatio is. (370)

The ghost says that King Hamlet was murdered by Claudius, who had a relationship with Gertrude prior to the murder. Hamlet swears to carry out vengeance. Gunnar Boklund in “Judgment in Hamlet” sees the ghost as the character who introduces revenge into the play:

An equally familiar and somewhat more plausible argument may also be adduced to explain the significance of the Ghost: Shakespeare, like his fellow dramatists, did not personally regard blood-revenge as justified but followed the so-called revenge convention of the Elizabethan theatre. Dramatic heroes were, in other words, traditionally supposed to have the right to revenge the deaths of their kinsmen, provided that they did not resort to such un-English methods as poisoning or allow their desire for
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