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Hamlet as a different Avenger

As Shakespeare main concern was related to human psychological intricacies in Hamlet, so he pays comparatively less attention to this aspect of play i. e. Hamlet as revenge tragedy. So this play remains a conventional revenge play with all the paraphernalia of Elizabethan revenge tragedy that includes a male protagonist who must take revenge a deed committed with vice; he (protagonist) is instigated by the spirit of an associate; depiction of death and destruction and miseries and pathos of life; lunacy or contrived madness; and finally death of the protagonist.

Judged by these parameters, Hamlet remains an ordinary revenge play but it is not. Hamlet is no simple Revenge Tragedy. Shakespeare has woven complex threads of contrast of character and ideas on the efficacy and value of revenge into the play to elevate it above the common plays of the Revenge genre. It is the premise of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as of the traditional Hamlet legend, that a son should avenge the murder of his father. But Shakespeare’s concept of revenge is not straightforward. If the play imposes on its hero the duty of revenge, it does not follow that revenge has unqualified approval.

The question of revenge is caught up with issues of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Evil is implicit in the very task of revenge which nature imposes on Hamlet. Thus the theme of revenge, of being a villain, becomes part of the fundamental conflict in the play. Hamlet is a character of extraordinary complexity and depth. No simple formula can serve to solve his mystery. A different Hamlet might have killed his uncle Claudius on the strength of the Ghost’s accusation, ascended the throne, married Ophelia and lived happily ever after. But such a typical hero was not likely to be of interest to Shakespeare.

We can also say that in Hamlet, Shakespeare presents a murderer and avenger who is both ruthless. Like other tragic heroes of Shakespeare, he is also endowed with exceptional qualities like royal birth, gracefulness, intelligence and charming personality. He has a high intellectual quality as Ophelia observes: O what a noble mind is here overthrown! / The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword, / Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state, / The glass of fashion , and the mould of form,/ Th’ observed of all observers. [Act III, Scene I]

In spite of possessing all these high qualities which rank him above the other characters, the flaw in his character leads to his downfall and makes him a tragic hero. The tragic flaw in the character of Hamlet is that he thinks too much and feels too much. He is often disturbed by his own nature of ‘self analyses’. What is required of Hamlet is prompt action but he broods over the moral idealism which leads to procrastination. When he finds an opportunity to kill Claudius, he puts aside the thought of revenge because he cannot strike an enemy while he is at prayer.

Several causes account for his inaction . By nature he is prone to think rather than to act. He is a man of morals and his moral idealism receives a shock when his mother remarries Claudius after his father’s death. Chance too plays an important part in shaping his character. Chance places him in such a position in which he is incapable of doing anything. He becomes inconsistent and is no longer a person who reaches a conclusion only by reasoning. Like other tragic heroes, Hamlet has to face conflicts, both internal and external.

The internal conflict is between his moral scruples and the act of revenge which he is called upon to perform. Love of his father, the dishonor of his mother and the villainy of his uncle prompt him to take revenge while his nobility, his moral idealism, his principles and his religion revolt against such a brutal act. The result is that he is torn within himself and suffers from mental agony. Hamlet wants to take revenge against Claudius, the murderer of his father, usurper of his rights to the throne and the seducer of his mother.

In Hamlet Shakespeare presents an avenger who is both ruthless and reluctant . As an avenger he must act on behalf of outraged virtue, to restore a violated order, set right what is ‘out of joint’. But the act he is impelled to do, involves him in evil of the kind which he would punish. As the ruthless avenger, he incarnates evil in his own personwhich is inseparable from the good in human nature; as the reluctant avenger, he can symbolize the good’s abhorrence of it. As compared to Fortinbras and Laertes, Hamlet is slow in taking revenge because of his habit of thinking long and deep.

O, from this time forth/ My thoughts be bloody or be nothing [Act 4,Scene 4, lines 65-66] Hamlet has come to terms with the destiny of man. Ready for the death which completes life’s universal pattern, he is also reconciled to the pattern of life which death completes. He perceives that the universe is governed by some supreme, mysterious design. Revenge still has its ruthlessness, as witness what it does to Rosencrantz: but reluctance, now that he recognizes and submits to a universal order, is at an end.

He has accepted his place in this mortal world, and instead of recoiling from what life involves, he is willing to play his part. In Hamlet, we have a hero who in seeking to right a wrong, whose aspirations and achievements is matched by failures and offences, and in whom potentialities for good and evil hauntingly coexist. And this is what transforms the single-minded avenger into the complex representative of us all.

Reference

Muir, Kenneth. Hamlet. New York: Barron’s Educational Series. 1963.

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