Elizabethan Revenge in Hamlet



Hamlet is a play written by William Shakespeare that very

closely follows the dramatic conventions of revenge in Elizabethan

theater. All revenge tragedies originally stemmed from the Greeks, who

wrote and performed the first plays. After the Greeks came Seneca who

was very influential to all Elizabethan tragedy writers. Seneca who

was Roman, basically set all of the ideas and the norms for all

revenge play writers in the Renaissance era including William

Shakespeare. The two most famous English revenge tragedies written in

the Elizabethan era were Hamlet, written by Shakespeare and The

Spanish Tragedy, written by Thomas Kyd. These two plays used mostly

all of the Elizabethan conventions for revenge tragedies in their

plays. Hamlet especially incorporated all revenge conventions in one

way or another, which truly made Hamlet a typical revenge play.

?Shakespeare?s Hamlet is one of many heroes of the Elizabethan and

Jacobean stage who finds himself grievously wronged by a powerful

figure, with no recourse to the law, and with a crime against his

family to avenge.?



Seneca was among the greatest authors of classical tragedies

and there was not one educated Elizabethan who was unaware of him or

his plays. There were certain stylistic and different strategically

thought out devices that Elizabethan playwrights including Shakespeare

learned and used from Seneca?s great tragedies. The five act

structure, the appearance of some kind of ghost, the one line

exchanges known as stichomythia, and Seneca?s use of long rhetorical

speeches were all later used in tragedies by Elizabethan playwrights.

Some of Seneca?s ideas were originally taken from the Greeks when the

Romans conquered Greece, and with it they took home many Greek

theatrical ideas. Some of Seneca?s stories that originated from the

Greeks like Agamemnon and Thyestes which dealt with bloody family

histories and revenge captivated the Elizabethans. Seneca?s stories

weren?t really written for performance purposes, so if English

playwrights liked his ideas, they had to figure out a way to make the

story theatrically workable, relevant and exciting to the Elizabethan

audience who were very demanding. Seneca?s influence formed part of a

developing tradition of tragedies whose plots hinge on political

power, forbidden sexuality, family honor and private revenge. ?There

was no author who exercised a wider or deeper influence upon the

Elizabethan mind or upon the Elizabethan form of tragedy than did

Seneca.? For the dramatists of Renaissance Italy, France and England,

classical tragedy meant only the ten Latin plays of Seneca and not

Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles. ?Hamlet is certainly not much like

any play of Seneca?s one can name, but Seneca is undoubtedly one of

the effective ingredients in the emotional charge of Hamlet. Hamlet

without Seneca is inconceivable.?



During the time of Elizabethan theater, plays about tragedy

and revenge were very common and a regular convention seemed to be

formed on what aspects should be put into a typical revenge tragedy.

In all revenge tragedies first and foremost, a crime is committed and

for various reasons laws and justice cannot punish the crime so the

individual who is the main character, goes through with the revenge in

spite of everything. The main character then usually had a period of

doubt , where he tries to decide whether or not to go through with the

revenge, which usually involves tough and complex planning. Other

features that were typical were the appearance of a ghost, to get the

revenger to go through with the deed. The revenger also usually had a

very close relationship with the audience through soliloquies and

asides. The original crime that will eventually be avenged is nearly

always sexual or violent or both. The crime has been committed against

a family member of the revenger. ? The revenger places himself outside

the normal moral order of things, and often becomes more isolated as

the play progresses-an isolation which at its most extreme becomes

madness.? The revenge must be the cause of a catastrophe and the

beginning of the revenge must start immediately after the crisis.

After the ghost persuades the revenger to commit his deed, a

hesitation first occurs and then a delay by the avenger before killing

the murderer, and his actual or acted out madness. The revenge must be

taken out by the revenger or his trusted accomplices. The revenger and

his accomplices may also die at the moment of success or even during

the course of revenge.