English Language and Literature (HL)
February 20, 2016
Determining the Most Successful Avenger in Hamlet
Hamlet written by William Shakespeare achieves the apotheosis of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy genre in the English Renaissance Theater. The Elizabethan revenge tragedy genre, primarily influenced by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, consists representative characteristics that Hamlet parallels with (Valera). This revenge play incorporates three vengeances due to patricides: Hamlet against Claudius, Laertes against Hamlet, and Fortinbras against Denmark. Hamlet’s delay in revenge, as an Elizabethan revenge tragedy attribute, significantly differs him from Laertes and Fortinbras. This crucial convention is also the result of every other Elizabethan revenge tragedy characteristics (Koumakpai). Although all three avengers obtain the same objective, their success should be based on how well they fit in the Elizabethan revenge tragedy genre. Ergo, Hamlet is the most successful avenger because his delay in revenge subsumes all conventions from the Elizabethan revenge tragedy.
Hamlet’s conscience causes his initial delay in revenge. When the ghost commands Hamlet to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murther” (1.5.25), as an Elizabethan revenge tragedy convention, Hamlet questions the ghost’s credibility. Hamlet’s dubiousness, another convention of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy, makes him recognize that the ghost “may be a dev’l” (2.2.591). Instead of blindly killing Claudius because a ghost tells him so, Hamlet first confirms that revenge is necessary. Therefore, Hamlet delays the actual revenge by camouflaging his motive with “an antic disposition” (1.5.49) and presenting “The Mouse-trap” (3.2.233).
Shakespeare continues Hamlet’s delay in revenge even when Hamlet is certain of Claudius’s crime after watching the play within the play. Hamlet could have “do (ne) it pat, now [Claudius] is praying” (3.3.73-74), but Hamlet selfishly desires to kill Claudius in...