Moral Complexities and Theological Issues of Revenge in the Play Hamlet
The character of Hamlet is elevated above countless other similar tragic heroes because of Hamlet’s awareness of the moral complexities and theological issues involved in the revenge plot. Hamlet’s display of distraction is curious because his actions alone are not that of a madman, yet his private thoughts and musings suggest that he is insane. The source of this distraction may lie in his aboriginal addiction to thought and his inability to act decisively. (A Critical Analysis of Hamlet’s Madness, West Cordell)
Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is based on a 12th century tale by Saxo Grammaticus, which Shakespeare most certainly never saw, and is part of a spate of revenge dramas which were extremely popular around the turn of the seventeenth century; the missing link between Saxo and Shakespeare may be an earlier play about Hamlet (called by scholars the Ur- Hamlet), which may or may not have been written by the Ur-Revenger himself, Thomas Kyd, based in turn on Fran de Belleforest’s Histories tragiques (1570), a free translation of Saxo.
One of the greatest works of William Shakespeare, Hamlet portrays a young prince, marked by fate, to discover the reasons for his father’s death and while uncovering them give the world a view of a tragic soul never seen before. Hamlet’s father was the king and soon after his death, his uncle Claudius marries his mother, the queen, and takes the throne leading many suspicions to him. Hamlet is the perfect example of the tragic hero. He possesses all the characteristics of a hero. He is brave, daring, loyal and above all intelligent, Intelligent enough to fake insanity to get more information about his uncle and if indeed his father was murdered or not.
Not every play in which a hero dies is considered a tragedy. Shakespeare’s masterpiece had an aura about the whole play that made not only the hero a tragic character but the whole play proceeded to be one leaving the audience feeling pity for Hamlet as well as a feeling of subtle sadness in their heart about all the affairs that lead to his death.
What was carefully manifested into the play was the fact that the audience must have sympathy for the tragic hero, or it wouldn’t seem so tragic. From the beginning of the play, the audience is brought closer to the lead character leaving all others in a mystical background. Not only his role, but also the circumstances that he was in, made it all too natural for him to be sad and take the audience with him. His continuous grieves about his father’s death made him a loner and have a somewhat sarcastic nature, which could be seen as a constant shadow over his head.
The beginning of the play marks his words as a somewhat calmer and romantic person while his affair with Ophelia made it obvious that he was in love with her, a trait of an ordinary guy but as time passes, especially after his visits to the ghost of his father, he becomes more and more self-centered and sarcastic towards even his friends. Suspicion and sorrow were burnt in his eyes forever and that caused the atmosphere of every scene he was in to be in itself, a tragedy.
Some might say that the theme of Hamlet, that remains constant throughout the play was, appearance and reality or their interventions. Characters appear to be true and honest on the face but in reality they are infested with evil intentions and a horrid past. Many of the characters in the play hide behind a mask, a mask that hides their real face from even their closest relations and friends and all this hiding made it more and more difficult for Hamlet to find the truth. Then Metaphysics waived a thought’s delay It took the salt in the wound, the ‘point Envenom’d too’ to steel the prince of doubts. (Soyinka, Shuttle, p. 22, II. 12-14)
The strength of Shakespeare’s plays lies in the absorbing stories they tell, in their wealth of complex characters, and in the eloquent speech, vivid, forceful, and at the same time lyric, that the playwright puts on his characters’ lips. It has often been noted that Shakespeare’s characters are neither wholly good nor wholly evil, and that it is their flawed, inconsistent nature that makes them memorable.
Hamlet fascinates audiences with his ambivalence about revenge and the uncertainty over how much of his madness is feigned and how much genuine. Finally, the plays are distinguished by an unparalleled use of language. Shakespeare had a tremendous vocabulary and a corresponding sensitivity to nuance, as well as a singular aptitude for coining neologisms and punning. Hamlet wasted time “In a gallery of abstractions, dissecting tales / as ‘told by an idiot.” (Soyinka, Shuttle, p. 22, II. 6-7)
In Hamlet, just like many of Shakespeare’s plays that have a tragic touch to them, the playwright gives a descriptive yet subtle amount of melancholy in the air that grasps the audience from their hearts and pulls them right into the character. The real tragedy of Hamlet is sometimes said to be the insanity that he takes over him, which may lead him to the truth, but at the same time makes him live an artificial life that is hardly segmented from the reality and his youth is wasted in treacherous and unnecessary dilemmas. It may be said to be the horrid murder of a family that has not been treated fairly.
Although many people lose their lives as a result of their own self-centered wrong-doing, there are others whose death are a result of manipulation from the royalty. This is the case of Polonius’ family. The real tragedy of Hamlet can be labeled as that of Hamlet or his family but of Polonius’ family because their deaths were not the consequence of sinful actions of their own but rather by their innocent involvement in the schemes of Claudius and Hamlet. But no matter what is said or how it is put to be, the tragic incidents or the environment and even the characters of the Hamlet are one of the finest examples of tragedy combined with a ting of reality in English literature.
Even today, the modern dramatization of Hamlet or Othello can be seen as one of the finest works with hindered essences of sorrow and tragedy that has ever been written in literary history. The character of Hamlet still is one of the most vulnerable and intelligent of Shakespeare’s characters portraying an aura around him of unknown wisdom, apart from the fact that he is not a literary man, and words spoken through him have almost become immortal.