Hamlet and Revenge

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What is arguably Shakespeare 's greatest play, "Hamlet,"​ is often understood to be a revenge tragedy, but it is quite an odd one at that. It is a play driven by a protagonist who spends most of the play contemplating revenge rather than exacting it.

Hamlet’s inability to avenge the murder of his father drives the plot and leads to the deaths of most of the major characters , including Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And Hamlet himself is tortured by his indecision and his inability to kill his father's murderer, Claudius, throughout the play.

When he finally does exact his revenge and kills Claudius, it is too late for him to derive any satisfaction from it; Laertes has struck him with a poisoned foil and Hamlet dies shortly after. Take a closer look at the theme of revenge in Hamlet.

Action and Inaction in Hamlet

To highlight Hamlet’s inability to take action, Shakespeare includes other characters capable of taking resolute and headstrong revenge as required. Fortinbras travels many miles to take his revenge and ultimately succeeds in conquering Denmark; Laertes plots to kill Hamlet to avenge the death of his father, Polonius.

Compared to these characters, Hamlet’s revenge is ineffectual. Once he decides to take action, he delays any action until the end of the play. It should be noted that this delay is not uncommon in Elizabethan revenge tragedies. What makes "Hamlet" different from other contemporary works is the way in which Shakespeare uses the delay to build Hamlet’s emotional and psychological complexity. The revenge itself ends up being almost an afterthought, and in many ways, is anticlimactic. 

Indeed, the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy is Hamlet's debate with himself about what to do and whether it will matter. Though the piece begins with his pondering suicide, Hamlet's desire to avenge his father becomes clearer as this speech continues. It's worth considering this soliloquy in its entirety. 

To be, or not to be- that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep- No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die- to sleep. To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause. There's the respect That makes calamity of so long life. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th' unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death- The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn No traveler returns- puzzles the will, And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry And lose the name of action.- Soft you now! The fair Ophelia!- Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins rememb'red.

Over the course of this eloquent musing on the nature of self and death and what actions he should take, Hamlet remains paralyzed by indecision.

How Hamlet's Revenge is Delayed

Hamlet’s revenge is delayed in three significant ways. First, he must establish Claudius’ guilt, which he does in Act 3, Scene 2 by presenting the murder of his father in a play. When Claudius storms out during the performance, Hamlet becomes convinced of his guilt.

Hamlet then considers his revenge at length, in contrast to the rash actions of Fortinbras and Laertes. For example, Hamlet has the opportunity to kill Claudius in Act 3, Scene 3. He draws his sword but is concerned that Claudius will go to heaven if killed while praying.

After killing Polonius, Hamlet is sent to England making it impossible for him to gain access to Claudius and carry out his revenge. During his trip, becomes more headstrong in his desire for revenge.

Although he does ultimately kill Claudius in the final scene of the play , it's not due to any scheme or plan by Hamlet, rather, it is Claudius’ plan to kill Hamlet that backfires.

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hamlet revenge thesis

William Shakespeare

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Action and Inaction Theme Icon

Every society is defined by its codes of conduct—its rules about how to act and behave. In  Hamlet , the codes of conduct are largely defined by religion and an aristocratic code that demands honor—and revenge if honor has been soiled. As the play unfolds and Hamlet (in keeping with his country’s spoken and unspoken) rules) seeks revenge for his father’s murder, he begins to realize just how complicated vengeance, justice, and honor all truly are. As Hamlet plunges deeper and deeper into existential musings, he also begins to wonder about the true meaning of honor—and Shakespeare ultimately suggests that the codes of conduct by which any given society operates are, more often than not, muddy, contradictory, and confused.

As Hamlet begins considering what it would mean to actually get revenge—to actually commit murder—he begins waffling and languishing in indecision and inaction. His inability to act, however, is not necessarily a mark of cowardice or fear—rather, as the play progresses, Hamlet is forced to reckon very seriously with what retribution and violence in the name of retroactively reclaiming “honor” or glory actually accomplishes. This conundrum is felt most profoundly in the middle of Act 3, when Hamlet comes upon Claudius totally alone for the first time in the play. It is the perfect opportunity to kill the man uninterrupted and unseen—but Claudius is on his knees, praying. Hamlet worries that killing Claudius while he prays will mean that Claudius’s soul will go to heaven. Hamlet is ignorant of the fact that Claudius, just moments before, was lamenting that his prayers for absolution are empty because he will not take action to actually repent for the violence he’s done and the pain he’s caused. Hamlet is paralyzed in this moment, unable to reconcile religion with the things he’s been taught about goodness, honor, duty, and vengeance. This moment represents a serious, profound turning point in the play—once Hamlet chooses not to kill Claudius for fear of unwittingly sending his father’s murderer to heaven, thus failing at the concept of revenge entirely, he begins to think differently about the codes, institutions, and social structures which demand unthinking vengeance and religious piety in the same breath. Because the idea of a revenge killing runs counter to the very tenets of Christian goodness and charity at the core of Hamlet’s upbringing—regardless of whether or not he believes them on a personal level—he begins to see the artifice upon which all social codes are built.

The second half of the play charts Hamlet’s descent into a new worldview—one which is very similar to nihilism in its surrender to the randomness of the universe and the difficulty of living within the confines of so many rules and standards at one time. As Hamlet gets even more deeply existential about life and death, appearances versus reality, and even the common courtesies and decencies which define society, he exposes the many hypocrisies which define life for common people and nobility alike. Hamlet resolves to pursue revenge, claiming that his thoughts will be worth nothing if they are anything but “bloody,” but at the same time is exacting and calculating in the vengeances he does secure. He dispatches with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern , charged with bringing him to England for execution, by craftily outwitting them and sending them on to their own deaths. He laments to Horatio that all men, whether they be Alexander the Great or a common court jester, end up in the same ground. Finally, he warns off Horatio’s warning about dueling Laertes by claiming that he wants to leave his fate to God. Hamlet’s devil-may-care attitude and his increasingly reckless choices are the result of realizing that the social and moral codes he’s clung to for so long are inapplicable to his current circumstances—and perhaps more broadly irrelevant.

Hamlet is a deeply subversive text—one that asks hard, uncomfortable questions about the value of human life, the indifference of the universe, and the construction of society, culture, and common decency. As Hamlet pursues his society’s ingrained ideals of honor, he discovers that perhaps honor means something very different than what he’s been raised to believe it does—and confronts the full weight of society’s arbitrary, outdated expectations and demands.

Religion, Honor, and Revenge ThemeTracker

Hamlet PDF

Religion, Honor, and Revenge Quotes in Hamlet

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Women Theme Icon

This above all—to thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

O, villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!

O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

Action and Inaction Theme Icon

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form, in moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

The play’s the thing, Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

We defy augury. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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146 Hamlet Essay Topics & Thesis Ideas

We know how long students search for interesting Hamlet essay topics. In this post, you will find a list of the most debating Hamlet essay titles and thesis ideas. We’ve also developed a guide on how to write a Hamlet paper and included some helpful Hamlet essay examples.

👍 Hamlet Essay Writing – Tips & Ideas

🏆 best hamlet essay examples, 📜 hamlet research paper topics & thesis ideas, 📌 catchy hamlet essay titles, 🌟 best hamlet thesis ideas, 🔍 easy hamlet essay topics, ❓ hamlet essay questions.

Here, at IvyPanda, we know how daunting can be the task of writing a Hamlet Essay. In this post, you will find out how to write a paper that would get top marks.

Tip #1. Read critically before starting hamlet essay outline

Critical reading will help you to prepare for writing your paper. There are a lot of techniques that can increase your reading speed. You may try some of them, described below:

Highlighting

Grab a few highlighters and use them to underline things that might suit for various topics. For example, use green when you see something pertaining to a tragic hero character analysis; pink for a particular symbol, etc. Don’t forget to make a key, so you know what each color means.

This method helps you to organize your evidence and allows you to see if you have enough support to write your essay.

Note-taking

Take notes and record your ideas and critical aspects while reading the plot. This approach will help you to avoid multiple re-readings. However, be sure to remark what part of the essay your notes pertain to.

Making annotations in the margins of the book, you will ensure that you understand what is happening in a text after you’ve read it. Note the author’s key points, central areas of focus, and your thoughts.

Annotating will help you to summarize, highlight crucial pieces of information, and prepare yourself for writing Hamlet essay prompts that your professor may give you

You can use the methods mentioned above or try any other, or even come up with your own technique. This simple exercise will help you to recall which points to write about in your paper.

Tip #2. Write a detailed outline

Now, when you’ve done the prewriting work, it’s time to focus on what you’re going to write in and create your Hamlet essay outline.

Here’s the trick: the more detailed your outline will be, the less time you will spend on the writing process. If you put a lot of detail in the outline, all you will have to do is connect arguments and make it readable.

If you have to turn in a formal outline, as part of your essay, check that each level has at least two parts.

Tip #3. Write your Hamlet essay thesis statement

A thesis statement is among the crucial parts of your entire essay. It tells your readers what you will write in the rest of the paper. It should correspond with the essay title and act as a short preview of the assignment.

You will bring up may points in the paper, although the thesis should tie all of them together.

Write your Hamlet essay thesis statement during outlining and refine it when you start writing. It is possible to revise it when the essay is already finished, and you see ways to improve the thesis.

Tip #4. Start writing your Hamlet essay

When you begin to write an essay, you can check available samples and titles to get inspiration. However, make it personal. Ask yourself questions.

Here are some question examples: What interests me about the play? Is it Hamlet’s monologues? Is it the figure of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father? Or is it something even more obscure?

If you are still struggling to find your Hamlet essay topics or ideas to add to the paper, check these free samples of high-quality papers!

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  • Themes in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare With consideration of critical responses, use of language and structure, and through a close analysis of Hamlet’s soliloquies, the role of Shakespeare’s characterization of Hamlet in shaping the enduring power of the text is appreciated […]
  • The Character of Gertrude in ‘Hamlet’ The character of Ophelia is responsible for projecting an aura of guilt and deception to the role of women in ‘Hamlet.’ She is not treacherous or complicated, but instead weak and insensibly dependent on the […]
  • Hamlet’s Parental Relationships The death of his father, the actions of his mother and his existing relationship with his uncle all have Hamlet confused regarding the true nature of the world.
  • William Shakespeare: Hamlet’s Actions and Inactions This paper is an attempt to analyze Hamlet’s actions and inactions to prove the authenticity of the application of these maxims to the protagonist.
  • Protagonist in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” The Protagonist plays a major part to achieve the goals of the story while the antagonist is an adversary who struggles against the efforts of the protagonist.
  • The Vision of the Main Character in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” The main character of the tragedy is Hamlet, a young man who comes to know about the real reasons of his father’s death from the ghost that claims to be the spirit of his father. […]
  • The Use of Revenge in William Shakespeare`s “Hamlet” The only character in the play to claim to have first-hand knowledge of the murder of Hamlet’s father and who speaks aloud about them to another character is the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
  • Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” as the Central Tragedy for Revenge Understanding The core concept of revenge in Hamlet, Shakespeare’s play, is the hesitation of the main character and his doubt moral and philosophical maxims in the whole world; the main idea of the play may be […]
  • Genji, Hamlet, Oedipus and Jesus Christ Character Analysis This paper will attempt to asses the characters in the following set of books and plays: The New Testament, Oedipus the King, Shakespeare Hamlet and Shikibu the tale of the Genji.
  • Hamlet’s Hesitation in Revenge: Four Separate Theories The play within a play is one of many tactics Hamlet employs over the course of the play to delay the revenge and therefore avoid his own death.
  • “The Prince” by Machiavelli and “Hamlet” by Shakespeare The author tries to bring to light the concepts of life when he uses the different aspects of death in the piece of work.
  • “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare: Overview In the play Hamlet is a noble soldier with admirable qualities but he avenges the death of his father using his free will.
  • Minor Characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Some of the stories that the reader comes to know, about some people or events in the play, come inform of narrations from the minor characters. The minor characters give most of the information known […]
  • Supporting Characters in “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” Shakespeare utilizes secondary characters to depict the theme of friendship and loyalty, as these aspects are influential on the main character.
  • Hamlet’s Relationship With His Mother and Uncle Hamlet’s assessment of his issues is accurate in the sense that he already associates Claudius with problems, but the prince is too quick to judge his mother.
  • William Shakespeare: Hamlet and Macbeth It is important to examine the role that the setting plays in Hamlet and Macbeth in relation to the tragic flaw and developments of the plot.
  • Shakespearean Hamlet’s Character Interpretation For example, Hamlet believed that his mother was loyal to his father and to the kingdom, but he felt unhappy with how events unfolded when grieving.
  • Human Nature in Shakespearean Tragedy “Hamlet” Soliloquies maintain significant place in the play Hamlet, which start with the beginning of the play, and chase the protagonist almost near the close of the end of the play.
  • Hamlet: Analyzing Various Scenes On top of this, Hamlet hopes that seeing a replay of the murder of his father would move the king’s conscience to a point where he would be forced to admit his crime.
  • “The Lion King” Movie as Adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” The film parallels Hamlet as the main characters in the play and the film are both princes, and the antagonists are uncles who murder their brothers to gain power.
  • “Oedipus King” by Sophocles and “Hamlet” by Shakespeare The protagonist is on the verge of madness: an intelligent and unexcelled humanist in the world, which is an enemy to his ideas. However, Oedipus later comes to terms with his fate and takes responsibility […]
  • Oedipus and Hamlet Characters’ Contrast and Comparison The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast one of the main characters of literature – Oedipus and Hamlet, as well as to determine the qualities and skills of people which make them […]
  • Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: The Use of Allusion and Metaphors Shakespeare’s use of allusion and metaphors in Hamlet is vital to creating the dramatic imagery surrounding the play and foreshadowing the extent of the growing conflict.
  • Is Shakespeare’s Hamlet Really Crazy? According to the first one, Hamlet pretends to be mad, so that he is not taken seriously and is not considered as dangerous, under the guise of a madman, he can say anything.
  • Consideration of the Ghost in “Hamlet” by Shakespeare The Ghost in the play is charitable because it helps Hamlet to know the truth about the way his father died and to begin finding clues for the murder.
  • Gender Roles and Representation of Women in “Hamlet” Specifically, the author refers to the problem of being confined in the prison of gender stereotypes that can be experienced when reading Shakespeare’s works.
  • Deceiving Appearances in “Hamlet” and “The Lion King” In particular, Claudius and Scar represent villains under the guise of well-wishers, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet and hyenas from The Lion King appear worse than they seem.
  • Power and Importance of Hamlet’s Role in Shakespeare’s Play The first striking problem of Hamlet is the one of choice, which may be considered a reflection of the main conflict of the tragedy.
  • Hamlet and Gertrude Relationships in Shakespeare’s Play However, even though Hamlet threatens to murder Gertrude to “wring” her heart, the audience can understand that he loves his mother and wants her to repent of her sins and end the relationship with Hamlet’s […]
  • Does Shakespearean Hamlet Love Ophelia? The love that Hamlet has for Ophelia is demonstrated in letters that he wrote to her. Hamlet reminds Ophelia that he is in love with her in the later stages of Act 3 of the […]
  • Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Play: Then and Now Hamlet’s cynicism, as well as his sense of meaning, distinguish him as a uniquely contemporary figure and a watershed moment in the theatrical past.
  • Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and the Modern World The tragedy of Hamlet addresses eternal problems: the incompatibility of lofty ideals and dreams with reality, the mismatch between the goals and the means of achieving them, and the role of the individual in history.
  • “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” and “A Raisin in the Sun” In this regard, the decisions of Hamlet, Claudius, Walter, and Lena illustrate the character’s commitment to family despite differences of opinion and disagreements.
  • Coping With Changes in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and O’Connor’s “A Good Man…” Tragedies in “Hamlet” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” lead characters to rely on the change as a coping mechanism.”Hamlet” narrates the story of an individual dealing with a loss which leads him […]
  • Hamlet’s Mental State and Issues That Affected Him To begin with, it is evident to the reader that the main character is overwhelmed by the grief and mourning of his father.
  • Resilience of Hamlet and Oedipus The plot of the tragedy of Sophocles is built on a chain of accidents, which are in fact the fatal will of the powerful gods.
  • “Hamlet the Prince of Denmark” by William Shakespeare The first one is the plot of the play that lasts from the beginning till the scene when Hamlet meets the ghost of his father.
  • Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: Hamlet as a Masculine Character Initially, the themes and scenes of the play were designed for staging at the Shakespeare theatre, and the costumes and the actors’ play were supposed to evoke awe for the rich life of medieval nobles.
  • Reality and Illusion in Shakespeare’s Hamlet The last and the greatest deceiving character is Claudius, who is far from being the brave brother of the monarch who ascended to the throne in order to protect the kingdom. It is evident that […]
  • Horatio (Hamlet): Character Analysis Hamlet does not follow his friend’s caution and goes with the ghost, where he learns of his father’s murder and swears to avenge him.
  • Hamlet vs. Oedipus Rex: Who Is More Resilient? In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Oedipus is a protagonist; he is seeking the truth and is unconcerned about the harm it may pose.
  • How Effectively Does Shakespeare Introduce the Characters and Themes of “Hamlet”?
  • How Does Shakespeare Present Women and Sex in “Hamlet”?
  • Is Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Based on a True Story?
  • What Are the Symbols in “Hamlet”?
  • Where Did Shakespeare Get His Inspiration for “Hamlet”?
  • How Does Shakespeare Use Conflict in “Hamlet” as a Way of Exploring Ideas?
  • What Is the Language Style in “Hamlet” Play?
  • How “Hamlet” Was Inspired by an Obscure Tale From Finland’s Kalavala?
  • How Does Shakespeare Introduce the Theme of Madness in “Hamlet”?
  • What Does “Hamlet” Teach Us About Humanity?
  • Did William Shakespeare Really Write “Hamlet”?
  • How Strange Behavior and Ghosts Are Depicted in “Hamlet”?
  • What Is the Most Important Theme in “Hamlet”?
  • What Is the Contrast Between Hamlet and Claudius in “Hamlet”?
  • What Is the the Meaning of Soliloquy in “Hamlet”?
  • How Perennial Issues of the Human Condition Are Imaged in “Hamlet”?
  • What Are the Similar Motifs Between “Wuthering Heights” and “Hamlet”?
  • Why Did Shakespeare Choose Loyalty and Betrayal as Lead Themes in “Hamlet”?
  • What Are the Inward and Outward Conflicts in “Hamlet”?
  • How Does Shakespeare Use Language in “Hamlet” to Teach the Reader?
  • What Is the Significance of “Hamlet’s” Creating?
  • How Do “Hamlet” Characters Solve Their Mental Problems?
  • How Crime Fiction and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Are Connected?
  • What Is Corruption and How Its Rampant Impact Is Depicted in “Hamlet”?
  • Why Is the Ending of “Hamlet” Ironic?
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IvyPanda . "146 Hamlet Essay Topics & Thesis Ideas." November 30, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/hamlet-essay-examples/.

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Justice And Revenge In Hamlet

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. The story revolves around Hamlet’s quest for revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who murdered Hamlet’s father in order to take the throne. Hamlet is a tragedy, and as such, it raises questions about the nature of revenge and justice.

On the one hand, Hamlet is motivated by a desire for revenge. He wants to kill Claudius in order to avenge his father’s death. This desire for revenge is what drives Hamlet to commit murder himself. On the other hand, Hamlet also feels that it is his duty to bring Claudius to justice. He wants to make sure that Claudius pays for his crime, and he does not want anyone else to suffer because of Claudius’s actions.

Hamlet is torn between these two impulses, and he struggles to decide what is the right thing to do. In the end, Hamlet chooses revenge over justice, and he kills Claudius. However, this choice comes at a great cost. Hamlet dies in the process, and his death brings about the downfall of Denmark.

So, what can we learn from Hamlet? Perhaps Shakespeare is trying to tell us that revenge is not always the best course of action. Or maybe he is trying to say that while revenge may be satisfying, it ultimately leads to more pain and suffering. Either way, Hamlet provides us with a complex portrait of the human condition, and raises important questions about the nature of justice and revenge.

Hamlet’s aims fluctuate between revenge and justice throughout the play, with this interior debate determining how events unfold. Revenge motivates Hamlet as his initial aim in his quest for vindication of his father’s death. Later, Hamlet’s torn sensibility and concern for justice are revealed in Soliloquy. Hamlet’s ability to act against Claudius is hampered as a result of this internal conflict. Only when Hamlet faces his own procrastination does inaction cease.

Hamlet swings towards his newfound realization that in order for justice to be carried out, Claudius’ wrongs must be righted through Hamlet’s own death. In the end, Hamlet chooses justice over revenge and both he and Claudius die.

Revenge is Hamlet’s dominant motive throughout much of the play. From the very beginning of the play, Hamlet is marked by his desire to avenge his father’s murder. Hamlet is unable to act on this feeling, however, because he is uncertain of Claudius’ guilt. Hamlet delay’s his revenge until he has absolute certainty that Claudius killed his father which leads him into a downward spiral as he attempts to Hamlet’s delay in revenge is caused by his uncertainty of Claudius’ guilt.

Hamlet’s soliloquies reveal his Hamlet’s thoughts and feelings to the audience, providing insight that would otherwise be unavailable. In Hamlet’s second soliloquy, Hamlet bemoans his inaction, cursing himself as a “dull and muddy-mettled rascal” (II.ii.560). Hamlet recognizes his own faults and weakness, yet he is still unable to take action against Claudius. Hamlet is again torn between his desire for revenge and his uncertainty of Claudius’ guilt, caught in a limbo between the two emotions.

However, Hamlet’s inaction is not simply caused by his uncertainty of Claudius’ guilt. Hamlet is also motivated by a desire for justice. Hamlet does not want to kill Claudius without just cause, as that would make Hamlet no better than a murderer himself. Hamlet wants Claudius to be punished for his crimes, but he also wants Claudius to suffer the same type of pain and anguish that he has been feeling since his father’s death.

Hamlet’s soliloquies make it clear that he is struggling with this internal conflict. In Hamlet’s fourth soliloquy, he contemplates suicide as a way to escape the pain and suffering that he has been experiencing. Hamlet is not sure whether death is the answer, but he recognizes that death may be preferable to the life that he is currently living. Hamlet is still motivated by his desire for revenge, but he is also motivated by his sense of justice.

Hamlet does not fully realize it until later in the play, but his desire for revenge and justice are actually two sides of the same coin. Hamlet wants Claudius to be punished for his crimes, and he wants Claudius to suffer as much as he has suffered.

Hamlet’s ultimate goal is to see that justice is done. Hamlet finally realizes this near the end of the play, when he decides to take action against Claudius even though he knows that it will lead to his own death. Hamlet’s decision to kill Claudius is motivated by his desire for justice, not revenge. Hamlet knows that he will die in the process, but he also knows that it is the only way to ensure that Claudius is punished for his crimes. Hamlet’s final act is one of justice, not revenge.

While Hamlet’s initial motivation is revenge, he eventually realizes that justice is more important. Hamlet’s journey from revenge to justice is a long and difficult one, but it is ultimately a successful one. Hamlet chooses to sacrifi ce himself in order to ensure that Claudius is punished for his crimes. In doing so, Hamlet ensures that justice is done. Hamlet’s story is a reminder that justice is more important than revenge.

Hamlet triumphs over his internal debate by combining opposed forces and justifying vengeance from the inside out. Hamlet’s will isn’t initially strong enough to act only on revenge. Even though Hamlet promised he would be “swift” and “sweep to my revenge,” he admits in the “rogue and peasant slave” soliloquy that he has been “unpregnant of my cause.” It is not until Hamlet grows weary of his own passivity that he begins to question Claudius’ culpability.

Hamlet’s procrastination is due to his conscience, which reminds Hamlet that murder is a sin. Hamlet must find a way to take revenge without becoming a sinner himself. Hamlet then decides that it is better to kill Claudius in public and suffer the consequences than to privately damning Claudius, who would go unpunished in the eyes of God.

Hamlet also justifies taking revenge as a form of justice as he believes that Claudius deserves to die for murdering Hamlet’s father and marrying Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet’s internal struggle between doing what is morally right and satisfying his thirst for revenge ultimately leads him to commit murder.

Revenge is often seen as an act that is motivated by anger and hatred. Hamlet is no different as he wants to revenge his father’s murder. However, Hamlet is also motivated by a sense of justice as he believes that Claudius deserves to be punished for his crimes. Hamlet’s inner struggle culminates in him committing murder, which can be seen as both an act of revenge and an act of justice.

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Jeffrey R. Wilson

Essays on hamlet.

Essays On Hamlet

Written as the author taught Hamlet every semester for a decade, these lightning essays ask big conceptual questions about the play with the urgency of a Shakespeare lover, and answer them with the rigor of a Shakespeare scholar. In doing so, Hamlet becomes a lens for life today, generating insights on everything from xenophobia, American fraternities, and religious fundamentalism to structural misogyny, suicide contagion, and toxic love.

Prioritizing close reading over historical context, these explorations are highly textual and highly theoretical, often philosophical, ethical, social, and political. Readers see King Hamlet as a pre-modern villain, King Claudius as a modern villain, and Prince Hamlet as a post-modern villain. Hamlet’s feigned madness becomes a window into failed insanity defenses in legal trials. He knows he’s being watched in “To be or not to be”: the soliloquy is a satire of philosophy. Horatio emerges as Shakespeare’s authorial avatar for meta-theatrical commentary, Fortinbras as the hero of the play. Fate becomes a viable concept for modern life, and honor a source of tragedy. The metaphor of music in the play makes Ophelia Hamlet’s instrument. Shakespeare, like the modern corporation, stands against sexism, yet perpetuates it unknowingly. We hear his thoughts on single parenting, sending children off to college, and the working class, plus his advice on acting and writing, and his claims to be the next Homer or Virgil. In the context of four centuries of Hamlet hate, we hear how the text draws audiences in, how it became so famous, and why it continues to captivate audiences.

At a time when the humanities are said to be in crisis, these essays are concrete examples of the mind-altering power of literature and literary studies, unravelling the ongoing implications of the English language’s most significant artistic object of the past millennium.

Publications

Why is Hamlet the most famous English artwork of the past millennium? Is it a sexist text? Why does Hamlet speak in prose? Why must he die? Does Hamlet depict revenge, or justice? How did the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, transform into a story about a son dealing with the death of a father? Did Shakespeare know Aristotle’s theory of tragedy? How did our literary icon, Shakespeare, see his literary icons, Homer and Virgil? Why is there so much comedy in Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy? Why is love a force of evil in the play? Did Shakespeare believe there’s a divinity that shapes our ends? How did he define virtue? What did he think about psychology? politics? philosophy? What was Shakespeare’s image of himself as an author? What can he, arguably the greatest writer of all time, teach us about our own writing? What was his theory of literature? Why do people like Hamlet ? How do the Hamlet haters of today compare to those of yesteryears? Is it dangerous for our children to read a play that’s all about suicide? 

These are some of the questions asked in this book, a collection of essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet stemming from my time teaching the play every semester in my Why Shakespeare? course at Harvard University. During this time, I saw a series of bright young minds from wildly diverse backgrounds find their footing in Hamlet, and it taught me a lot about how Shakespeare’s tragedy works, and why it remains with us in the modern world. Beyond ghosts, revenge, and tragedy, Hamlet is a play about being in college, being in love, gender, misogyny, friendship, theater, philosophy, theology, injustice, loss, comedy, depression, death, self-doubt, mental illness, white privilege, overbearing parents, existential angst, international politics, the classics, the afterlife, and the meaning of it all. 

These essays grow from the central paradox of the play: it helps us understand the world we live in, yet we don't really understand the text itself very well. For all the attention given to Hamlet , there’s no consensus on the big questions—how it works, why it grips people so fiercely, what it’s about. These essays pose first-order questions about what happens in Hamlet and why, mobilizing answers for reflections on life, making the essays both highly textual and highly theoretical. 

Each semester that I taught the play, I would write a new essay about Hamlet . They were meant to be models for students, the sort of essay that undergrads read and write – more rigorous than the puff pieces in the popular press, but riskier than the scholarship in most academic journals. While I later added scholarly outerwear, these pieces all began just like the essays I was assigning to students – as short close readings with a reader and a text and a desire to determine meaning when faced with a puzzling question or problem. 

The turn from text to context in recent scholarly books about Hamlet is quizzical since we still don’t have a strong sense of, to quote the title of John Dover Wilson’s 1935 book, What Happens in Hamlet. Is the ghost real? Is Hamlet mad, or just faking? Why does he delay? These are the kinds of questions students love to ask, but they haven’t been – can’t be – answered by reading the play in the context of its sources (recently addressed in Laurie Johnson’s The Tain of Hamlet [2013]), its multiple texts (analyzed by Paul Menzer in The Hamlets [2008] and Zachary Lesser in Hamlet after Q1 [2015]), the Protestant reformation (the focus of Stephen Greenblatt’s Hamlet in Purgatory [2001] and John E. Curran, Jr.’s Hamlet, Protestantism, and the Mourning of Contingency [2006]), Renaissance humanism (see Rhodri Lewis, Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness [2017]), Elizabethan political theory (see Margreta de Grazia, Hamlet without Hamlet [2007]), the play’s reception history (see David Bevington, Murder Most Foul: Hamlet through the Ages [2011]), its appropriation by modern philosophers (covered in Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster’s The Hamlet Doctrine [2013] and Andrew Cutrofello’s All for Nothing: Hamlet’s Negativity [2014]), or its recent global travels (addressed, for example, in Margaret Latvian’s Hamlet’s Arab Journey [2011] and Dominic Dromgoole’s Hamlet Globe to Globe [2017]). 

Considering the context and afterlives of Hamlet is a worthy pursuit. I certainly consulted the above books for my essays, yet the confidence that comes from introducing context obscures the sharp panic we feel when confronting Shakespeare’s text itself. Even as the excellent recent book from Sonya Freeman Loftis, Allison Kellar, and Lisa Ulevich announces Hamlet has entered “an age of textual exhaustion,” there’s an odd tendency to avoid the text of Hamlet —to grasp for something more firm—when writing about it. There is a need to return to the text in a more immediate way to understand how Hamlet operates as a literary work, and how it can help us understand the world in which we live. 

That latter goal, yes, clings nostalgically to the notion that literature can help us understand life. Questions about life send us to literature in search of answers. Those of us who love literature learn to ask and answer questions about it as we become professional literary scholars. But often our answers to the questions scholars ask of literature do not connect back up with the questions about life that sent us to literature in the first place—which are often philosophical, ethical, social, and political. Those first-order questions are diluted and avoided in the minutia of much scholarship, left unanswered. Thus, my goal was to pose questions about Hamlet with the urgency of a Shakespeare lover and to answer them with the rigor of a Shakespeare scholar. 

In doing so, these essays challenge the conventional relationship between literature and theory. They pursue a kind of criticism where literature is not merely the recipient of philosophical ideas in the service of exegesis. Instead, the creative risks of literature provide exemplars to be theorized outward to help us understand on-going issues in life today. Beyond an occasion for the demonstration of existing theory, literature is a source for the creation of new theory.

Chapter One How Hamlet Works

Whether you love or hate Hamlet , you can acknowledge its massive popularity. So how does Hamlet work? How does it create audience enjoyment? Why is it so appealing, and to whom? Of all the available options, why Hamlet ? This chapter entertains three possible explanations for why the play is so popular in the modern world: the literary answer (as the English language’s best artwork about death—one of the very few universal human experiences in a modern world increasingly marked by cultural differences— Hamlet is timeless); the theatrical answer (with its mixture of tragedy and comedy, the role of Hamlet requires the best actor of each age, and the play’s popularity derives from the celebrity of its stars); and the philosophical answer (the play invites, encourages, facilitates, and sustains philosophical introspection and conversation from people who do not usually do such things, who find themselves doing those things with Hamlet , who sometimes feel embarrassed about doing those things, but who ultimately find the experience of having done them rewarding).

Chapter Two “It Started Like a Guilty Thing”: The Beginning of Hamlet and the Beginning of Modern Politics

King Hamlet is a tyrant and King Claudius a traitor but, because Shakespeare asked us to experience the events in Hamlet from the perspective of the young Prince Hamlet, we are much more inclined to detect and detest King Claudius’s political failings than King Hamlet’s. If so, then Shakespeare’s play Hamlet , so often seen as the birth of modern psychology, might also tell us a little bit about the beginnings of modern politics as well.

Chapter Three Horatio as Author: Storytelling and Stoic Tragedy

This chapter addresses Horatio’s emotionlessness in light of his role as a narrator, using this discussion to think about Shakespeare’s motives for writing tragedy in the wake of his son’s death. By rationalizing pain and suffering as tragedy, both Horatio and Shakespeare were able to avoid the self-destruction entailed in Hamlet’s emotional response to life’s hardships and injustices. Thus, the stoic Horatio, rather than the passionate Hamlet who repeatedly interrupts ‘The Mousetrap’, is the best authorial avatar for a Shakespeare who strategically wrote himself and his own voice out of his works. This argument then expands into a theory of ‘authorial catharsis’ and the suggestion that we can conceive of Shakespeare as a ‘poet of reason’ in contrast to a ‘poet of emotion’.

Chapter Four “To thine own self be true”: What Shakespeare Says about Sending Our Children Off to College

What does “To thine own self be true” actually mean? Be yourself? Don’t change who you are? Follow your own convictions? Don’t lie to yourself? This chapter argues that, if we understand meaning as intent, then “To thine own self be true” means, paradoxically, that “the self” does not exist. Or, more accurately, Shakespeare’s Hamlet implies that “the self” exists only as a rhetorical, philosophical, and psychological construct that we use to make sense of our experiences and actions in the world, not as anything real. If this is so, then this passage may offer us a way of thinking about Shakespeare as not just a playwright but also a moral philosopher, one who did his ethics in drama.

Chapter Five In Defense of Polonius

Your wife dies. You raise two children by yourself. You build a great career to provide for your family. You send your son off to college in another country, though you know he’s not ready. Now the prince wants to marry your daughter—that’s not easy to navigate. Then—get this—while you’re trying to save the queen’s life, the prince murders you. Your death destroys your kids. They die tragically. And what do you get for your efforts? Centuries of Shakespeare scholars dumping on you. If we see Polonius not through the eyes of his enemy, Prince Hamlet—the point of view Shakespeare’s play asks audiences to adopt—but in analogy to the common challenges of twenty-first-century parenting, Polonius is a single father struggling with work-life balance who sadly choses his career over his daughter’s well-being.

Chapter Six Sigma Alpha Elsinore: The Culture of Drunkenness in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Claudius likes to party—a bit too much. He frequently binge drinks, is arguably an alcoholic, but not an aberration. Hamlet says Denmark is internationally known for heavy drinking. That’s what Shakespeare would have heard in the sixteenth century. By the seventeenth, English writers feared Denmark had taught their nation its drinking habits. Synthesizing criticism on alcoholism as an individual problem in Shakespeare’s texts and times with scholarship on national drinking habits in the early-modern age, this essay asks what the tragedy of alcoholism looks like when located not on the level of the individual, but on the level of a culture, as Shakespeare depicted in Hamlet. One window into these early-modern cultures of drunkenness is sociological studies of American college fraternities, especially the social-learning theories that explain how one person—one culture—teaches another its habits. For Claudius’s alcoholism is both culturally learned and culturally significant. And, as in fraternities, alcoholism in Hamlet is bound up with wealth, privilege, toxic masculinity, and tragedy. Thus, alcohol imagistically reappears in the vial of “cursed hebona,” Ophelia’s liquid death, and the poisoned cup in the final scene—moments that stand out in recent performances and adaptations with alcoholic Claudiuses and Gertrudes.

Chapter Seven Tragic Foundationalism

This chapter puts the modern philosopher Alain Badiou’s theory of foundationalism into dialogue with the early-modern playwright William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet . Doing so allows us to identify a new candidate for Hamlet’s traditionally hard-to-define hamartia – i.e., his “tragic mistake” – but it also allows us to consider the possibility of foundationalism as hamartia. Tragic foundationalism is the notion that fidelity to a single and substantive truth at the expense of an openness to evidence, reason, and change is an acute mistake which can lead to miscalculations of fact and virtue that create conflict and can end up in catastrophic destruction and the downfall of otherwise strong and noble people.

Chapter Eight “As a stranger give it welcome”: Shakespeare’s Advice for First-Year College Students

Encountering a new idea can be like meeting a strange person for the first time. Similarly, we dismiss new ideas before we get to know them. There is an answer to the problem of the human antipathy to strangeness in a somewhat strange place: a single line usually overlooked in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet . If the ghost is “wondrous strange,” Hamlet says, invoking the ancient ethics of hospitality, “Therefore as a stranger give it welcome.” In this word, strange, and the social conventions attached to it, is both the instinctual, animalistic fear and aggression toward what is new and different (the problem) and a cultivated, humane response in hospitality and curiosity (the solution). Intellectual xenia is the answer to intellectual xenophobia.

Chapter Nine Parallels in Hamlet

Hamlet is more parallely than other texts. Fortinbras, Hamlet, and Laertes have their fathers murdered, then seek revenge. Brothers King Hamlet and King Claudius mirror brothers Old Norway and Old Fortinbras. Hamlet and Ophelia both lose their fathers, go mad, but there’s a method in their madness, and become suicidal. King Hamlet and Polonius are both domineering fathers. Hamlet and Polonius are both scholars, actors, verbose, pedantic, detectives using indirection, spying upon others, “by indirections find directions out." King Hamlet and King Claudius are both kings who are killed. Claudius using Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet mirrors Polonius using Reynaldo to spy on Laertes. Reynaldo and Hamlet both pretend to be something other than what they are in order to spy on and detect foes. Young Fortinbras and Prince Hamlet both have their forward momentum “arrest[ed].” Pyrrhus and Hamlet are son seeking revenge but paused a “neutral to his will.” The main plot of Hamlet reappears in the play-within-the-play. The Act I duel between King Hamlet and Old Fortinbras echoes in the Act V duel between Hamlet and Laertes. Claudius and Hamlet are both king killers. Sheesh—why are there so many dang parallels in Hamlet ? Is there some detectable reason why the story of Hamlet would call for the literary device of parallelism?

Chapter Ten Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Why Hamlet Has Two Childhood Friends, Not Just One

Why have two of Hamlet’s childhood friends rather than just one? Do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have individuated personalities? First of all, by increasing the number of friends who visit Hamlet, Shakespeare creates an atmosphere of being outnumbered, of multiple enemies encroaching upon Hamlet, of Hamlet feeling that the world is against him. Second, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not interchangeable, as commonly thought. Shakespeare gave each an individuated personality. Guildenstern is friendlier with Hamlet, and their friendship collapses, while Rosencrantz is more distant and devious—a frenemy.

Chapter Eleven Shakespeare on the Classics, Shakespeare as a Classic: A Reading of Aeneas’s Tale to Dido

Of all the stories Shakespeare might have chosen, why have Hamlet ask the players to recite Aeneas’ tale to Dido of Pyrrhus’s slaughter of Priam? In this story, which comes not from Homer’s Iliad but from Virgil’s Aeneid and had already been adapted for the Elizabethan stage in Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragedy of Dido, Pyrrhus – more commonly known as Neoptolemus, the son of the famous Greek warrior Achilles – savagely slays Priam, the king of the Trojans and the father of Paris, who killed Pyrrhus’s father, Achilles, who killed Paris’s brother, Hector, who killed Achilles’s comrade, Patroclus. Clearly, the theme of revenge at work in this story would have appealed to Shakespeare as he was writing what would become the greatest revenge tragedy of all time. Moreover, Aeneas’s tale to Dido supplied Shakespeare with all of the connections he sought to make at this crucial point in his play and his career – connections between himself and Marlowe, between the start of Hamlet and the end, between Prince Hamlet and King Claudius, between epic poetry and tragic drama, and between the classical literature Shakespeare was still reading hundreds of years later and his own potential as a classic who might (and would) be read hundreds of years into the future.

Chapter Twelve How Theater Works, according to Hamlet

According to Hamlet, people who are guilty of a crime will, when seeing that crime represented on stage, “proclaim [their] malefactions”—but that simply isn’t how theater works. Guilty people sit though shows that depict their crimes all the time without being prompted to public confession. Why did Shakespeare—a remarkably observant student of theater—write this demonstrably false theory of drama into his protagonist? And why did Shakespeare then write the plot of the play to affirm that obviously inaccurate vision of theater? For Claudius is indeed stirred to confession by the play-within-the-play. Perhaps Hamlet’s theory of people proclaiming malefactions upon seeing their crimes represented onstage is not as outlandish as it first appears. Perhaps four centuries of obsession with Hamlet is the English-speaking world proclaiming its malefactions upon seeing them represented dramatically.

Chapter Thirteen “To be, or not to be”: Shakespeare Against Philosophy

This chapter hazards a new reading of the most famous passage in Western literature: “To be, or not to be” from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet . With this line, Hamlet poses his personal struggle, a question of life and death, as a metaphysical problem, as a question of existence and nothingness. However, “To be, or not to be” is not what it seems to be. It seems to be a representation of tragic angst, yet a consideration of the context of the speech reveals that “To be, or not to be” is actually a satire of philosophy and Shakespeare’s representation of the theatricality of everyday life. In this chapter, a close reading of the context and meaning of this passage leads into an attempt to formulate a Shakespearean image of philosophy.

Chapter Fourteen Contagious Suicide in and Around Hamlet

As in society today, suicide is contagious in Hamlet , at least in the example of Ophelia, the only death by suicide in the play, because she only becomes suicidal after hearing Hamlet talk about his own suicidal thoughts in “To be, or not to be.” Just as there are media guidelines for reporting on suicide, there are better and worse ways of handling Hamlet . Careful suicide coverage can change public misperceptions and reduce suicide contagion. Is the same true for careful literary criticism and classroom discussion of suicide texts? How can teachers and literary critics reduce suicide contagion and increase help-seeking behavior?

Chapter Fifteen Is Hamlet a Sexist Text? Overt Misogyny vs. Unconscious Bias

Students and fans of Shakespeare’s Hamlet persistently ask a question scholars and critics of the play have not yet definitively answered: is it a sexist text? The author of this text has been described as everything from a male chauvinist pig to a trailblazing proto-feminist, but recent work on the science behind discrimination and prejudice offers a new, better vocabulary in the notion of unconscious bias. More pervasive and slippery than explicit bigotry, unconscious bias involves the subtle, often unintentional words and actions which indicate the presence of biases we may not be aware of, ones we may even fight against. The Shakespeare who wrote Hamlet exhibited an unconscious bias against women, I argue, even as he sought to critique the mistreatment of women in a patriarchal society. The evidence for this unconscious bias is not to be found in the misogynistic statements made by the characters in the play. It exists, instead, in the demonstrable preference Shakespeare showed for men over women when deciding where to deploy his literary talents. Thus, Shakespeare's Hamlet is a powerful literary example – one which speaks to, say, the modern corporation – showing that deliberate efforts for egalitarianism do not insulate one from the effects of structural inequalities that both stem from and create unconscious bias.

Chapter Sixteen Style and Purpose in Acting and Writing

Purpose and style are connected in academic writing. To answer the question of style ( How should we write academic papers? ) we must first answer the question of purpose ( Why do we write academic papers? ). We can answer these questions, I suggest, by turning to an unexpected style guide that’s more than 400 years old: the famous passage on “the purpose of playing” in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet . In both acting and writing, a high style often accompanies an expressive purpose attempting to impress an elite audience yet actually alienating intellectual people, while a low style and mimetic purpose effectively engage an intellectual audience.

Chapter Seventeen 13 Ways of Looking at a Ghost

Why doesn’t Gertrude see the Ghost of King Hamlet in Act III, even though Horatio, Bernardo, Francisco, Marcellus, and Prince Hamlet all saw it in Act I? It’s a bit embarrassing that Shakespeare scholars don’t have a widely agreed-upon consensus that explains this really basic question that puzzles a lot of people who read or see Hamlet .

Chapter Eighteen The Tragedy of Love in Hamlet

The word “love” appears 84 times in Shakespeare’s Hamlet . “Father” only appears 73 times, “play” 60, “think” 55, “mother” 46, “mad” 44, “soul” 40, “God" 39, “death” 38, “life” 34, “nothing” 28, “son” 26, “honor” 21, “spirit” 19, “kill” 18, “revenge” 14, and “action” 12. Love isn’t the first theme that comes to mind when we think of Hamlet , but is surprisingly prominent. But love is tragic in Hamlet . The bloody catastrophe at the end of that play is principally driven not by hatred or a longing for revenge, but by love.

Chapter Nineteen Ophelia’s Songs: Moral Agency, Manipulation, and the Metaphor of Music in Hamlet

This chapter reads Ophelia’s songs in Act IV of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the context of the meaning of music established elsewhere in the play. While the songs are usually seen as a marker of Ophelia’s madness (as a result of the death of her father) or freedom (from the constraints of patriarchy), they come – when read in light of the metaphor of music as manipulation – to symbolize her role as a pawn in Hamlet’s efforts to deceive his family. Thus, music was Shakespeare’s platform for connecting Ophelia’s story to one of the central questions in Hamlet : Do we have control over our own actions (like the musician), or are we controlled by others (like the instrument)?

Chapter Twenty A Quantitative Study of Prose and Verse in Hamlet

Why does Hamlet have so much prose? Did Shakespeare deliberately shift from verse to prose to signal something to his audiences? How would actors have handled the shifts from verse to prose? Would audiences have detected shifts from verse to prose? Is there an overarching principle that governs Shakespeare’s decision to use prose—a coherent principle that says, “If X, then use prose?”

Chapter Twenty-One The Fortunes of Fate in Hamlet : Divine Providence and Social Determinism

In Hamlet , fate is attacked from both sides: “fortune” presents a world of random happenstance, “will” a theory of efficacious human action. On this backdrop, this essay considers—irrespective of what the characters say and believe—what the structure and imagery Shakespeare wrote into Hamlet say about the possibility that some version of fate is at work in the play. I contend the world of Hamlet is governed by neither fate nor fortune, nor even the Christianized version of fate called “providence.” Yet there is a modern, secular, disenchanted form of fate at work in Hamlet—what is sometimes called “social determinism”—which calls into question the freedom of the individual will. As such, Shakespeare’s Hamlet both commented on the transformation of pagan fate into Christian providence that happened in the centuries leading up to the play, and anticipated the further transformation of fate from a theological to a sociological idea, which occurred in the centuries following Hamlet .

Chapter Twenty-Two The Working Class in Hamlet

There’s a lot for working-class folks to hate about Hamlet —not just because it’s old, dusty, difficult to understand, crammed down our throats in school, and filled with frills, tights, and those weird lace neck thingies that are just socially awkward to think about. Peak Renaissance weirdness. Claustrophobicly cloistered inside the castle of Elsinore, quaintly angsty over royal family problems, Hamlet feels like the literary epitome of elitism. “Lawless resolutes” is how the Wittenberg scholar Horatio describes the soldiers who join Fortinbras’s army in exchange “for food.” The Prince Hamlet who has never worked a day in his life denigrates Polonius as a “fishmonger”: quite the insult for a royal advisor to be called a working man. And King Claudius complains of the simplicity of "the distracted multitude.” But, in Hamlet , Shakespeare juxtaposed the nobles’ denigrations of the working class as readily available metaphors for all-things-awful with the rather valuable behavior of working-class characters themselves. When allowed to represent themselves, the working class in Hamlet are characterized as makers of things—of material goods and services like ships, graves, and plays, but also of ethical and political virtues like security, education, justice, and democracy. Meanwhile, Elsinore has a bad case of affluenza, the make-believe disease invented by an American lawyer who argued that his client's social privilege was so great that it created an obliviousness to law. While social elites rot society through the twin corrosives of political corruption and scholarly detachment, the working class keeps the machine running. They build the ships, plays, and graves society needs to function, and monitor the nuts-and-bolts of the ideals—like education and justice—that we aspire to uphold.

Chapter Twenty-Three The Honor Code at Harvard and in Hamlet

Students at Harvard College are asked, when they first join the school and several times during their years there, to affirm their awareness of and commitment to the school’s honor code. But instead of “the foundation of our community” that it is at Harvard, honor is tragic in Hamlet —a source of anxiety, blunder, and catastrophe. As this chapter shows, looking at Hamlet from our place at Harvard can bring us to see what a tangled knot honor can be, and we can start to theorize the difference between heroic and tragic honor.

Chapter Twenty-Four The Meaning of Death in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

By connecting the ways characters live their lives in Hamlet to the ways they die – on-stage or off, poisoned or stabbed, etc. – Shakespeare symbolized hamartia in catastrophe. In advancing this argument, this chapter develops two supporting ideas. First, the dissemination of tragic necessity: Shakespeare distributed the Aristotelian notion of tragic necessity – a causal relationship between a character’s hamartia (fault or error) and the catastrophe at the end of the play – from the protagonist to the other characters, such that, in Hamlet , those who are guilty must die, and those who die are guilty. Second, the spectacularity of death: there exists in Hamlet a positive correlation between the severity of a character’s hamartia (error or flaw) and the “spectacularity” of his or her death – that is, the extent to which it is presented as a visible and visceral spectacle on-stage.

Chapter Twenty-Five Tragic Excess in Hamlet

In Hamlet , Shakespeare paralleled the situations of Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras (the father of each is killed, and each then seeks revenge) to promote the virtue of moderation: Hamlet moves too slowly, Laertes too swiftly – and they both die at the end of the play – but Fortinbras represents a golden mean which marries the slowness of Hamlet with the swiftness of Laertes. As argued in this essay, Shakespeare endorsed the virtue of balance by allowing Fortinbras to be one of the very few survivors of the play. In other words, excess is tragic in Hamlet .

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Revenge in Hamlet by Shakespeare

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Plays , Books , Writers

Hamlet , Hamlet Revenge , William Shakespeare

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Introduction, the hamlet's revenge, the revenge of fortinbras, the revenge of laertes.

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English Summary

Explain the Theme of Revenge in Hamlet

Back to: Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Table of Contents

Introduction

Revenge is an action taken in return for an injury. In “The Tragedy of Hamlet”, Shakespeare deeply explores the theme of revenge. In the play, before the ghost reveals itself to those sentinels, Hamlet seems inactive. The knowledge of betrayal fills him with actions. The same goes for Laertes and Fortinbras.

These three characters are developed under their insuppressible urge for vengeance. Hamlet is a philosophical observer who in the beginning is crushed by the fact that after the death of his father, his mother is married to his uncle now but he is yet to be revengeful.

Only when the ghost reveals the betrayal which resulted in the death of Hamlet’s father and asks to “ revenge his foul and most unnatural murder ”, Hamlet gains a completely new way to channel his earlier disgust and mourning. In front of the ghost he swears that “ the time is out of joint ” but he “ was born to set it right! ”.

Through the character of hamlet, the theme of revenge can be studied philosophically. Betrayal precedes revenge. Hamlet alongside the death of his father also avenges for the betrayal by his two friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when he forges the very letter to the King of England in which Claudius had ordered the execution of Hamlet.

Hamlet shows us the moral thoughts and principles of existence which goes behind the choices he makes. Hamlet fights within. In him, revenge is first exercised in words. Inaction drains him. He cries out, “ what an a-ss am I!… prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, must like a wh-ore, unpack my heart with words and fall a-cursing like a very drab .”

Laertes and Hamlet

Laertes is against Hamlet since he knew about his affairs with his sister Ophelia. He is introduced in the play already with certain spite against Hamlet. Before leaving for France, he asks Ophelia to doubt Hamlet’s will. During his stay in France, Polonius mistaken for Claudius is stabbed by Hamlet and dies.

Laertes is enraged by this news. Under Claudius’ provocation, he swears revenge which is doubled after knowing that Ophelia has drowned herself. His way to seek revenge is an active way when Hamlet’s revenge is first worked out in his thoughts.

Fortinbras since the beginning of the play is determined to get the lands back from the kingdom of Denmark. He wants to avenge what Hamlet’s father did when he was the king. In a cunning way, he gets his army closer to the capital.

Different Dimensions of Revenge

Through his smooth victory in the end, Shakespeare might be showing us the smoothest way of revenge. Collectively, the theme of revenge is explored in its many dimensions.

Claudius manages to get Laertes and Hamlet in a fencing match but the fate worked differently and Gertrude is killed by mistake when she sips wine supposedly poisoned for Hamlet. Laertes dies in the fight but he amends with Hamlet right before dying.

Revengefulness can also have a consoling end. But it is Hamlet in whom revenge works out in an entirely different way. He can’t simply kill Claudius without questioning the morals of the time and place i.e. he didn’t kill Claudius when he saw him in a praying position. Revenge and its various implications is one of the prime thematic concerns of the whole play.

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Exploring Revenge in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Essays and Research Papers with Strong Thesis Statements

Exploring Revenge in Shakespeare's Hamlet: Essays and Research Papers with Strong Thesis Statements

Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, is a play that revolves around the theme of revenge. In this work, revenge is not only about taking a life; it goes beyond that. It explores the intricate and complex relationships between characters and the consequences of their actions. Hamlet himself, driven by the need to avenge his father’s death, is torn between the desire to kill someone and the inability to do so. This makes for a gripping and intense story that delves into the depths of human emotions and the mental toll revenge can take on an individual.

When it comes to writing essays and research papers on Hamlet, having a strong thesis statement is absolutely crucial. It sets the direction for the entire work and gives readers a clear idea of what to expect. A well-crafted thesis statement can make all the difference in making your essay or research paper stand out among others in the genre. That’s why it’s important to spend time outlining your ideas and thinking about the themes you want to discuss.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of revenge in Hamlet is the way it affects the characters, particularly Hamlet himself. His actions, or lack thereof, are constantly questioned and analyzed. Does he truly want to avenge his father’s death, or is he simply using revenge as an excuse for his own inaction? The ghost of his father, who commands him to seek revenge, adds another layer to this complex theme. Hamlet’s struggles with his own morality and his mental state come into play, and it is through his journey that we see the true power and consequences of revenge.

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In exploring revenge in Hamlet, it is also important to discuss the role of other characters, such as Ophelia and Gertrude. How do their actions and experiences shape the overall narrative of revenge? Are they also seeking retribution in their own ways? These topics can be explored in detail in essays and research papers, providing a deeper understanding of the complexities of revenge in this Shakespearean masterpiece.

So, whether you’re delving into the psychological aspects of revenge or outlining the various themes and motifs in Hamlet, there are endless directions you can take when it comes to exploring revenge in this play. By crafting a strong thesis statement and conducting thorough research, you will be able to compose essays and research papers that not only provide a detailed analysis of revenge in Hamlet, but also contribute to the ongoing discussion and appreciation of Shakespeare’s work.

Revenge and Its Exploration in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

  • Madness: Revenge often pushes characters to the brink of insanity, blurring the boundaries between reality and illusion. Hamlet himself feigns madness to deceive others, while Ophelia, driven to madness by her father’s death and Hamlet’s rejection, loses touch with her sanity. The exploration of madness adds depth to the characters and allows us to question the fine line between sanity and madness.
  • Language: Language itself becomes a tool of revenge in Hamlet. Characters use words to manipulate others, deceive them, and express their deepest desires for revenge. Hamlet’s famous soliloquies, filled with poetic and introspective language, highlight the internal struggle he faces in seeking revenge for his father’s death.
  • Justice vs. Revenge: The play raises thought-provoking questions about whether revenge can ever truly bring justice. While seeking revenge may seem like the right course of action, it often leads to a cycle of violence and bloodshed. Hamlet’s own contemplation on the morality of revenge forces the audience to question the justification of his actions.

The Concept of Revenge in Hamlet

One of the most important aspects to understand when studying the concept of revenge in Hamlet is the motif of the father-son relationship. Hamlet’s need for revenge is triggered by the ghost of his father, who implores him to seek vengeance for his unjust death. This motivates Hamlet’s actions throughout the play and shapes the direction of the plot.

Within the different papers and essays, there are various thesis statements that focus on revenge as a central theme in Hamlet. Some thesis statements may argue that revenge is a destructive force that ultimately leads to the downfall and deaths of the characters involved. Others may explore the theme of revenge in relation to justice and morality, questioning the righteousness of seeking vengeance.

Hamlet’s actions and decisions are also critically analyzed within these essays and papers. Some argue that Hamlet’s hesitations and delays in seeking revenge are a result of his cautious nature and his desire for absolute certainty before taking action. Others suggest that Hamlet’s decisions are driven by his psychological turmoil and his struggle with madness.

It is important to note that revenge takes different forms in Hamlet. While Hamlet seeks revenge for his father’s murder, other characters such as Laertes and Fortinbras also seek revenge for their own respective losses. The play showcases the complexities and consequences of seeking vengeance, and the varying degrees to which it consumes and affects different individuals.

When reading various papers and essays on this theme, it becomes clear that revenge is a significant and powerful force within the world of Hamlet. It is a theme that the audience can relate to, as the desire for revenge is a fundamental part of human nature. The detailed analysis and exploration of revenge in Hamlet provides readers with a deeper understanding of the play and its characters.

Analyzing the Theme of Revenge in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet’s inability to take immediate action reflects his deep sense of grief and confusion. He struggles to find the right path to follow and questions whether it is even possible to avenge his father’s death without becoming a killer himself. His mental anguish is further complicated by his close relationships with friends and family, making him question the validity of his revenge.

In this paper, the thesis statement outlining the detailed research and essays on the theme of revenge in Shakespeare’s Hamlet will discuss the genre of the play, the different ways in which revenge is expressed, and the consequences of seeking revenge.

One of the most prominent examples of revenge in the play is Hamlet’s desire to seek vengeance on his uncle, Claudius, for killing his father. This desire drives the entire plot of the play and influences the actions of other characters. Hamlet’s obsession with revenge consumes him and ultimately leads to his downfall.

Another aspect of revenge that is explored in the play is the theme of madness. Hamlet’s erratic behavior and feigned madness highlight the psychological toll revenge can have on an individual. The line between sanity and insanity becomes blurred as Hamlet struggles to carry out his revenge while maintaining his mental stability.

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The theme of revenge is not limited to Hamlet alone. Other characters in the play also seek revenge, such as Laertes, who seeks vengeance for the murder of his father, Polonius. This parallel between Hamlet and Laertes emphasizes the destructive nature of revenge and its ability to corrupt individuals.

While revenge is a central theme in Hamlet , Shakespeare uses it to explore deeper themes about the human condition, such as grief, guilt, and the morality of one’s actions. The play raises questions about the consequences of revenge and whether it is ultimately worth the cost.

Essays on Revenge in Hamlet with Strong Thesis Statements

The role of revenge in hamlet.

One of the central themes in Hamlet is the idea of revenge. The play explores how the desire for vengeance can consume a person, ultimately leading to their downfall. Hamlet’s quest for revenge against his father’s killer is what drives the entire plot. However, his constant indecision and overthinking prevent him from taking swift action, which ultimately leads to his own demise.

The Consequences of Revenge

Hamlet’s hesitation and inability to take revenge not only affects him but also those around him. Characters such as Ophelia and Gertrude also suffer the consequences of revenge. Ophelia’s father is killed by Hamlet’s hand, and this event sends her into madness and ultimately leads to her death. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, is caught in the crossfire of revenge when Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, and this tragedy leads to her tragic end as well.

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It is important to critically analyze the theme of revenge in Hamlet, as it sheds light on the consequences of not being able to act decisively. Shakespeare’s play serves as a cautionary tale, demonstrating the dangers of allowing revenge to consume one’s thoughts and actions.

Research Papers and Essays on Revenge in Hamlet

If you’re writing a research paper or essay on revenge in Hamlet, it is crucial to have a strong thesis statement that guides your writing. A thesis statement can help focus your research and provide a clear direction for your paper. For example:

Thesis statement: In Hamlet, the theme of revenge is portrayed through the deaths of the most detailed and complex characters, highlighting the destructive nature of revenge in Shakespeare’s plays.

This thesis statement not only highlights the theme of revenge but also emphasizes the impact it has on the characters in the play. By focusing on the deaths of these characters, the paper can delve into the intricacies of revenge and its consequences.

When outlining your research and drafting your paper, be sure to provide detailed examples from the text to support your thesis statement. Analyze the language, actions, and motivations of the characters to strengthen your arguments.

In-Depth Research Papers on Revenge in Hamlet

Hamlet’s revenge is perhaps the most well-known in the play. As the protagonist, Hamlet is driven by the need to avenge his father’s murder, which he believes was carried out by his uncle, Claudius. Hamlet’s revenge takes a more complex direction as he feigns madness to deceive those around him, making it difficult to discern between his true intentions and his actions.

Another character whose actions are motivated by revenge is Ophelia. She is driven to madness after the murder of her father, Polonius, and the subsequent betrayal by Hamlet. Her mental state further strengthens the motif of revenge within the story.

Gertrude’s role in the revenge theme is also significant. As Hamlet’s mother and Claudius’s wife, her actions and decisions affect the course of the revenge plot. Her relationship with both Hamlet and Claudius becomes a source of conflict and revenge.

In the past, many research papers have been written on the theme of revenge in Hamlet. Some have focused on the psychological aspect, analyzing the mental state of the characters and the effects of revenge on their psyche. Others have explored the connection between revenge and madness, discussing whether revenge is a catalyst for madness or if madness is a tool for revenge.

When outlining an essay or research paper on revenge in Hamlet, it’s important to have a strong thesis statement. Your thesis statement should clearly state your stance on the topic and guide the direction of your paper. For example, a thesis statement could be: “The theme of revenge in Hamlet is portrayed through the characters’ actions, the language used, and the consequences it brings.”

Hamlet’s Thesis Statement on Revenge

Hamlet’s thesis statement on revenge can be summarized as follows: While revenge may provide a temporary sense of justice, it ultimately leads to tragic consequences for both the avenger and those around them.

The Theme of Revenge in Hamlet

Hamlet’s actions and their consequences.

Hamlet’s indecisiveness and contemplative nature often prevent him from taking immediate action. He is constantly analyzing and overthinking his every move, which delays his revenge and allows the situation to escalate further. As a result, his hesitation causes the deaths of Polonius, Ophelia, and ultimately himself.

Furthermore, revenge not only affects Hamlet’s mental well-being but also that of his friends and loved ones. Ophelia’s descent into madness and eventual death is a direct result of Hamlet’s actions. Similarly, his strained relationship with his mother, Gertrude, becomes increasingly volatile as the story unfolds.

Hamlet’s thesis statement on revenge forces readers to critically analyze the concept of revenge and its consequences. It challenges us to question whether revenge is ever truly justified and whether the cost of seeking vengeance is worth the toll it takes on ourselves and those around us.

What is the main theme of Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

The main theme of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is revenge and its consequences.

Does revenge play a significant role in the plot of Hamlet?

Yes, revenge plays a significant role in the plot of Hamlet. The entire play revolves around Hamlet seeking revenge for the murder of his father.

How does the theme of revenge manifest in Hamlet?

The theme of revenge is manifested in Hamlet through the actions and motives of the characters. Hamlet himself seeks revenge for his father’s murder, while other characters, such as Laertes and Fortinbras, also seek revenge for their own reasons.

What are some examples of revenge in Hamlet?

Some examples of revenge in Hamlet include Hamlet’s plan to avenge his father’s murder by pretending to be mad, his eventual killing of Claudius, and Laertes seeking revenge for his father’s death by plotting to kill Hamlet.

What is the overall message about revenge in Hamlet?

The overall message about revenge in Hamlet is that it leads to destruction and tragedy. While Hamlet ultimately achieves his revenge, everyone involved in his plan, including himself, suffers the consequences.

What is the main theme of the play Hamlet?

The main theme of the play Hamlet is revenge. The protagonist, Hamlet, seeks revenge for his father’s murder, and this desire for revenge drives the entire plot of the play.

How does Hamlet’s quest for revenge affect him mentally?

Hamlet’s quest for revenge has a profound impact on his mental state. Throughout the play, he becomes increasingly consumed by his desire for revenge, which causes him to question his own sanity. This is reflected in his erratic behavior, his obsession with death and the afterlife, and his frequent soliloquies discussing his inner turmoil.

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Great Examples of Hamlet Thesis Statements

hamlet revenge thesis

Do you need to write a paper on Hamlet? Are you confused and don’t know how to come up with a thesis statement? Read this article and get some more insight into the ways how to write a successful thesis on this popular piece of art!

Hamlet is one of the most famous tragedies created by William Shakespeare. This classic play is extremely important for the English literature. Most students have written an essay on this tragedy at least once during their studies. It is an essential part of their requirements to complete a degree. If you do a profound research, your thesis on Hamlet can break some new grounds and exert an impact on your readers.

One can find a number of topics covered in Hamlet. The most important ones are duality, revenge, and confusion. Meanwhile, the central theme of the tragedy is mourning. All of the themes are eternal: people faced these issues in the times of Shakespeare and we still encounter them in the present days. Therefore, it is not as hard as it may seem to choose a thesis on Hamlet. If you are creative enough, you can come up with an original and interesting thesis statement. All you need to do is to study the tragedy thoroughly to get your opinion regarding it.

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Your Hamlet thesis statement can be related to any of the major topics of the play, including mourning, duality, revenge, and others. Further in this article, you will find several good examples of thesis statements on Hamlet. You can use them as a guide to understand the point and create your own thesis statement.

Thesis Statement Samples

  • Example 1:The Theme of Revenge in Hamlet “Hamlet is a sorrowful hero who is madly looking for vengeance for his beloved father’s demise, murders everyone who stands on his way, and eventually manages to take revenge by killing King Claudius, the man who murdered his father.”
  • Example 2:The Theme of Tragedy in Hamlet

“Hamlet’s melancholy, blemish, bogus madness and inability to take action on his desire to seek vengeance for his father’s killing – it all result into his unavoidable but tragic collapse.”

  • Example 3:The Theme of Hunger for Power in Hamlet

“William Shakespeare, in his famous tragedy Hamlet, tells about Claudius – an antagonist and an egocentric man who is seeking power by all means. He murders his brother and marries Queen Gertrude, his brother’s widow to attain the power he desires so much.”

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What do you think about these thesis statements? Hopefully, they will help you understand how a good thesis on Hamlet should look like and come up with your own excellent statement! If you are creative and original, you will succeed with your paper.

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Essays on Hamlet Revenge

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An Analysis of The Theme of Revenge in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Hamlet: revenge as the major force that drives the play, the theme of hamlet's revenge in the 'tragedy of hamlet, prince of denmark', the tragedy of hamlet: revenge, madness and mortality, let us write you an essay from scratch.

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An Overview of The Foreshadowing Ghost in Hamlet, a Play by William Shakespeare

The outcomes of hamlet's hesitation to take a revenge, political themes in shakespeare's hamlet, the past ultimately determines the future, get a personalized essay in under 3 hours.

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The Impact of Retaliation Against Soliloquies as Illustrated by William Shakespeare in Hamlet

Statements opposing vengeance in william shakespeare's hamlet, justice and revenge in shakespeare's hamlet, relevant topics.

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Revenge is Mad Hard: Fat Ham and the Question of Cultural Reclamation

Revenge is Mad Hard:  Fat Ham  and the Question of Cultural Reclamation

Since its digital debut in April of 2021, subsequent Pulitzer win, off-Broadway run, Broadway run, and recent flurry of regional productions,  Fat Ham  has taken North America by storm. In re-framing the story of  Hamlet  from within a Black, southern family barbeque, playwright James Ijames has opened the door for questions about cultural authority, the exchange of cultural capital, mediation, storytelling and adaptation methods, the need for increased representation in canonical stories, the methods through which marginalized voices might reclaim cultural capital, and more.

This essay collection will explore these timely questions. We seek short, thesis-driven essays that consider  Fat Ham ’s early life (from its Spring 2021 digital debut at the Wilma, to its present regional run). Essays may address a broad range of topics including, but not limited to:  Fat Ham  as a performance phenomenon, adaptation/appropriation, language, Black storytelling, queerness, mediation, cultural capital, canon, contemporary Shakespeare studies, etc. 

To submit, please send a   250-word abstract and your bio to the editors by March 1. Because the topic of this collection is timely, we will be working on a collapsed timeline. We hope that authors will consider this when submitting. Chapters will be 5,000 - 6,000 words in length, with first drafts due by June 1. The editors welcome any questions or queries authors might have; please contact us:  [email protected]  ,  [email protected]

Valerie Clayman Pye  is an Associate Professor of Theatre and Chair of the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Arts Management at Long Island University, Post. Valerie’s research focuses on actor training pedagogy, Shakespeare’s Globe, Shakespeare tourism, and on practice-as-research (PaR). Her book,  Unearthing Shakespeare: Embodied Performance and the Globe  (Routledge) considers how the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s theatre contributes to actor training and the performances of Shakespeare’s plays. She is the co-editor of  Objectives, Obstacles, and Tactics in Practice: Perspectives on Activating the Actor  (with Hillary Haft Bucs), and  Shakespeare and Tourism  (with Robert Ormsby). Her essays have appeared in  Shakespeare, Teaching Shakespeare, PARtake: The Journal of Performance as Research, New England Theatre Journal, Theatre Topics,  and several essay collections. Her latest book is  Innovation & Digital Theatremaking: Rethinking Theatre with ‘The Show Must Go Online’  (with co-author Robert Myles) (Routledge 2023).  

Danielle Rosvally  is an assistant professor of theatre at the University at Buffalo. Her forthcoming monograph ( Theatres of Value: Buying and Selling Shakespeare in Nineteenth-Century New York City,  State University of New York Press, 2024) considers the commodification and economization of Shakespeare’s work in America’s nineteenth century. Danielle's interest in the digital has fueled past work on database methodologies in humanist text, social media, and the personification of Shakespeare by performers/users. Her next project,  Yassified Shakespeare  (co-authored with Trevor Boffone), is a multimedia exploration of how iterations of Shakespearean performance and Shakespeare’s cultural capital critically intersect with drag and drag aesthetics. She is a dramaturge, actor, director, and fight director.

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‘Munich Medea: Happy Family’ Review: A Friendship Crushed by the Past

Themes of incest and sexual abuse of minors loom large in this strikingly becalmed play named after a legendarily vengeful Greek mother.

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Two women, one seated and the other standing, are pictured on a spare stage, with a man stands on a platform 10 feet above the stage.

By Rhoda Feng

“Munich Medea: Happy Family” carries the wrong trigger warning. Rather than cautioning us that Corinne Jaber’s debut play “addresses, but does not depict, sexual assault,” it should warn us that its tropes will be ploddingly predictable to just about anyone who has seen the #MeToo movement play out in recent years.

On opposite sides of a sparsely furnished split-level stage, two women, Caroline and Alice, tell us about the dissolution of their childhood friendship after they were sexually abused by the same man. While the script seems to be pitched somewhere between a memory play and an exorcism, what unfolds onstage, under the director Lee Sunday Evans’s light touch, is as dry and sober as a deposition — with its mentions of consent (uttered 10 times in the play’s 75 minutes), forensic descriptions of rape and clockwork-like moments of catharsis. For a play named after a legendarily vengeful Greek mother, “Munich Medea” (a co-production of PlayCo and WP Theater) is a strikingly domesticated and becalmed production.

This is not to say that mothers come off entirely well in this play. At one point, Caroline (a granite-faced Crystal Finn) — looking back on the abuse that her father (a louche Kurt Rhoads) inflicted on her best friend, Alice (Heather Raffo) — reflects that “none of this would’ve happened” without her mother’s consent, “which she gave, always, willingly and silently.” Her mother never materializes in the play. That the mother is effectively silenced could be a way for her daughter to exact poetic revenge, by silencing the person who wove a conspiracy of silence around her husband’s crimes. But the play is not wily enough to ambush the accomplice in her own trap.

Alice’s own mother, a refugee from East Germany, is also conspicuously absent. A more sympathetic character, she’s described as a “virtuous, well-behaved Protestant” who once confronted Caroline’s father, asking him to leave her daughter alone, to no avail. As played by Rhoads, the father (he is given no proper name) is a silver-tongued theater actor who spends much of the play in his dressing room, elevated about 10 feet above the floor. Lines from Friedrich Schiller rain down on us from his lair, and even in old age, he has no trouble quoting Georg Büchner and Rainer Maria Rilke from memory. As with Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous pedophile, Humbert Humbert, the father in “Munich Medea” seems to believe that aesthetic ingenuity more than makes up for ethical lapses.

Even the fanciest rhetorician, however, would have trouble disguising the fact that the themes of incest and sexual abuse of minors have been explored in fresher ways in other plays, like Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive” and John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable .” Jaber’s play treads the same ground but fails to turn over new stones of insight.

Munich Medea: Happy Family Through Feb. 25 at WP Theater, Manhattan; wptheater.org . Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes.

This review is supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in the work of cultural critics from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

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COMMENTS

  1. The Struggles of Remembrance: Christianity and Revenge in William

    Finally I argue that Hamlet exacts his revenge through a particular performance that operates exclusively within his Christian worldview. Ultimately, as I conclude in the third chapter, through the character of Hamlet, Shakespeare also makes the best dramatic use of ... In this thesis, I submit that most of Hamlet's soliloquies

  2. Hamlet: Literary Context Essay

    Wuthering Heights. Hamlet turns revenge tragedy on its head by taking away the usual obstacles to the hero's vengeance. In a typical revenge tragedy like The Spanish Tragedy, the hero faces two obstacles: to find out who the murderers are, and then to get himself into a position where he can kill them.

  3. The Role of Revenge in "Hamlet"

    Updated on September 22, 2018 What is arguably Shakespeare 's greatest play, "Hamlet," is often understood to be a revenge tragedy, but it is quite an odd one at that. It is a play driven by a protagonist who spends most of the play contemplating revenge rather than exacting it.

  4. PDF Revenge and Vengeance in Shakespeare's Hamlet: A Study of Hamlet's

    Shakespeare‟s Hamletwas enriched the domain of revenge play during the Elizabethan era, and was first published in 1603.As a revenge play Hamlet did follow every steps of acceptable elements to classify it as a credible revenge play quite certainly.

  5. Revenge and Justice in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

    Published: Mar 18, 2021. Plato defined justice as "the preservation of what is right". In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the dilemma of justice, especially in connection with retribution, takes center stage. The play's characters see justice as a balance that must be preserved, and they utilize vengeance to preserve it.

  6. Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme in Hamlet

    As the play unfolds and Hamlet (in keeping with his country's spoken and unspoken) rules) seeks revenge for his father's murder, he begins to realize just how complicated vengeance, justice, and honor all truly are.

  7. Themes of Revenge in Hamlet

    Hamlet is a revenge play. At this time, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, this was a very common genre. It had certain conventions: a villain commits a murder; the son of the murdered man insists revenge; he carries out his duty and pledge, but in so doing destroys himself. In Hamlet, the entire action of the play is centered on the task assigned by ...

  8. An Analysis of the Theme of Revenge in the Play Hamlet by William

    As King Hamlet put revenge into the hands of someone else, Shakespeare uses Laertes to show provoked revenge. The story of Laertes being that of distrust towards Hamlet and care for his sister Ophelia, who Hamlet is romantically involved with. Laertes says to Ophelia "Fear it Ophelia … out of the shot of danger and desire" (1.3.37-40).

  9. What is the role and dramatic function of revenge in Hamlet

    Laertes is willing to do whatever it takes to gain his revenge on his father's murder, even "cut his throat i' th' church" (IV.7), meaning that unlike Hamlet, Laertes is more than willing to damn ...

  10. Characters and Themes of Revenge in Hamlet

    The major theme of the play is a tragedy as the quest for revenge resulted in numerous deaths of innocent people. The writer focused on the problems of prince Hamlet who is portrayed as an elegant instead of the evil deeds of his uncle, king of Denmark. In the beginning of the play, the ghost of Hamlet's father appears to him and tells him ...

  11. 146 Hamlet Essay Titles, Examples, & Thesis Ideas

    146 Hamlet Essay Topics & Thesis Ideas Updated: Nov 30th, 2023 20 min We know how long students search for interesting Hamlet essay topics. In this post, you will find a list of the most debating Hamlet essay titles and thesis ideas. We've also developed a guide on how to write a Hamlet paper and included some helpful Hamlet essay examples.

  12. Justice And Revenge In Hamlet Essay

    Revenge is often seen as an act that is motivated by anger and hatred. Hamlet is no different as he wants to revenge his father's murder. However, Hamlet is also motivated by a sense of justice as he believes that Claudius deserves to be punished for his crimes. Hamlet's inner struggle culminates in him committing murder, which can be seen ...

  13. Essays on Hamlet

    Hamlet is more parallely than other texts. Fortinbras, Hamlet, and Laertes have their fathers murdered, then seek revenge. Brothers King Hamlet and King Claudius mirror brothers Old Norway and Old Fortinbras. Hamlet and Ophelia both lose their fathers, go mad, but there's a method in their madness, and become suicidal.

  14. Revenge in Hamlet By Shakespeare

    AI-Written & Human-Edited Essay for only $7 per page! AI-Powered Writing Expert Editing Included Any subject Try AI Essay Now The Hamlet's Revenge There are three revenge plots which are related in the most mesmerizing manners, all the three characters seek revenge for their slain fathers.

  15. Theme of Revenge in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    In "The Tragedy of Hamlet", Shakespeare deeply explores the theme of revenge. In the play, before the ghost reveals itself to those sentinels, Hamlet seems inactive. The knowledge of betrayal fills him with actions. The same goes for Laertes and Fortinbras. These three characters are developed under their insuppressible urge for vengeance.

  16. Hamlet: Revenge and Justice: [Essay Example], 924 words

    Hamlet's revenge is ultimately carried out through a series of events, including the deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius. Through these actions, Hamlet successfully avenges his father's murder, highlighting the consequences of revenge and the corrupting nature of power. ... Get custom essays. We use cookies to personalyze your ...

  17. Hamlet Revenge Essay

    Revenge in Hamlet most tragic story lines of Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet is definitely one of them. In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Fortinbras, Hamlet and Laertes each demonstrate the ways revenge leads to tragedy when they are unable to cope with the loss of a loved one.

  18. "Thesis statement on revenge in the hamlet story" Essays ...

    3 Pages Good Essays Read More Hamlet Revenge Revenge inside the play . The theme of revenge is demonstrated throughout the entire play and it acts as an integral character. Revenge is seen as a motive for many effects. Hamlet seeks revenge on Claudius to avenge his father's death.

  19. Exploring Revenge in Shakespeare's Hamlet: Essays and Research Papers

    Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, is a play that revolves around the theme of revenge. In this work, revenge is not only about taking a life; it goes beyond that. It explores the intricate and complex relationships between characters and the consequences of their actions.

  20. Hamlet Revenge Essays & Research Papers

    Hamlet Revenge: Task, Problems And Delays. Hamlet Revenge Hamlet. In Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare introduces us to Hamlet who is the son of the late king of Denmark. Hamlet has been given the task of carrying out revenge for his father's death by the ghost of his late father. Those guilty of sin should not go free.

  21. Revenge in Hamlet By Shakespeare Free Essay Example

    Hamlet is very overwhelmed by the ghost and seeks to take the revenge of the King Hamlet from his uncle, Claudius. The prince of Norway is very frustrated after the murder of his father by Hamlet, the king of Denmark, and ready to take the revenge of his father. Get quality help now. KarrieWrites. Verified writer.

  22. Great Examples of Hamlet Thesis Statements

    Thesis Statement Samples. Example 1:The Theme of Revenge in Hamlet. "Hamlet is a sorrowful hero who is madly looking for vengeance for his beloved father's demise, murders everyone who stands on his way, and eventually manages to take revenge by killing King Claudius, the man who murdered his father.". Example 2:The Theme of Tragedy in ...

  23. Essays on Hamlet Revenge

    Essays on Hamlet Revenge. Essay examples. Essay topics. Revenge is a central theme in Shakespeare's most popular play, Hamlet, however it is very different from how it is depicted in other works of the same period - Hamlet does not seem to want this revenge and it is served to Claudius only in the end, ...

  24. cfp

    Revenge is Mad Hard: Fat Ham and the Question of Cultural Reclamation Since its digital debut in April of 2021, subsequent Pulitzer win, off-Broadway run, Broadway run, and recent flurry of regional productions, Fat Ham has taken North America by storm.In re-framing the story of Hamlet from within a Black, southern family barbeque, playwright James Ijames has opened the door for questions ...

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    In "Munich Medea: Happy Family," Crystal Finn, left, and Heather Raffo play best friends who were sexually abused by the same man, played by Kurt Rhoads, top.