William Shakespeare 's ' The Death Of Claudius '

1410 Words Feb 21st, 2016 6 Pages
No surprise, this final Act of Hamlet is as mysterious, ambiguous, and controversial as those that precede it. The play begins rather straightforwardly, if ironically, as a revenge tragedy – Old Hamlet’s ghost spurs his son to revenge – and it would seem that Act Five, like the Act Fives of all major revenge tragedies preceding Hamlet, should fulfill this initial plotline. Indeed, in Act Five Hamlet kills Claudius – finally. But he does so in such a roundabout, half-cocked, off-hand way, we wonder whether this really counts as revenge. The death of Claudius certainly lacks the poetic justice that vengeance seems to require. What on earth is Shakespeare trying to do with this strange play – why doesn’t he give it a proper ending?

Many of the earliest extant critics of the play, those of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, found the strange and abrupt manner of Hamlet’s revenge to be as puzzling as we might. These critics often found fault with the play’s lack of moral meaning. After all, if Claudius was wrong to kill his brother and marry his brother’s wife (and surely he was), shouldn’t the lethal correction of these crimes feel more satisfying, more “right,” than it does in this play? Samuel Johnson, writing in 1765, voices critical dissatisfaction quite clearly: “The poet is accused of having shown little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the…
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