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 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 honour and private revenge. 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.
During the time of Elizabethan theatre, 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. This is clearly seen in Hamlet as the ghost of Hamlets father appears and persuades Hamlet to kill his uncle.
It should not be assumed that revenge plays parallel the moral expectations of the Elizabethan audience. Church, State and the regular morals of people in that age did not accept revenge, instead they thought that revenge would simply not under any circumstances be tolerated no matter what the original deed was. The revenger by taking law into his own hands was in turn completely going against the total political authority of the state. In Hamlet, Shakespeare follows regular convention for a large part of the play. In the beginning, Shakespeare sets up the scene, having a ghost on a dark night.
Everyone is working and something strange is happening in Denmark. It is as if Shakespeare is saying that some kind of foul play has been committed. This sets up for the major theme in the play which is of course revenge. The ghost appears to talk to Hamlet. It is quite obvious that the play had a gruesome, violent death and the sexual aspect of the play was clearly introduced when Claudius married Hamlet’s mother Gertrude. The ghost tells Hamlet that he has been given the role of the person who will take revenge upon Claudius. Hamlet must now think of how to take revenge on Claudius, although he doesn’t know what to do about it.
He ponders his thoughts for a long period of time, expecting to do the deed immediately, but instead he drags it on until the end of the play. Although what was important to note was that all tragic heroes of plays at that time delayed their actual revenge until the end of the play. In most revenge plays, the revenger was often anonymous and well disguised, stalking the enemy about to be killed, but Hamlet started a battle of wits with Claudius by acting mad and calling it his “antic disposition”, although the whole thing was a ploy to get closer to Claudius to be able to avenge his father’s death more easily.
The tactic was a disadvantage in that it drew all attention upon himself. More importantly though it was an advantage that his “antic disposition”, isolated him from the rest of the court because of the people not paying attention to what he thought or did because of his craziness. One important part of all revenge plays is that after the revenge is finally decided upon, the tragic hero delays the actual revenge until the end of the play. Hamlet’s delay of killing Claudius takes on three distinct stages.
Firstly he had to prove that the ghost was actually telling the truth, and he did this by staging the play “The Mousetrap” at court. When Claudius stormed out in rage, Hamlet knew that he was guilty. The second stage was when Hamlet could have killed Claudius while he was confessing to god. If Hamlet had done it here then Claudius would have gone to heaven because he confessed while Hamlet’s father was in purgatory because he did not get the opportunity to confess. So Hamlet therefore decided not to murder Claudius at this point in the play.
The third delay was the fact that he got side tracked. He accidentally killed Polonius which created a whole new problem with the fact that Laertes now wanted Hamlet dead. After he commit this murder he was also sent off and unable to see the king for another few weeks until he could finally do the job. “What makes Hamlet stand out from many other revenge plays of the period is not that it rejects the conventions of its genre but that it both enacts and analyses them. ” It can be easily understood that Hamlet very closely follows the regular conventions for all Elizabethan tragedies.
First Hamlet is faced with the fact that he has to avenge the murder of his father and since there is no fair justice available, he must take the law into his own hands. The ghost of his father appears to guide Hamlet to Claudius and inform Hamlet of the evil that Claudius has committed. Then Hamlet constantly delays his revenge and always finds a way to put it off until he finally does it. Hamlet at the same time continues to keep a close relationship with the audience with his seven main soliloquies including the famous, “To be, or not to be… The play also consists of a mad scene where Ophelia has gone mad because her father Polonius had been killed and because Hamlet was sent off to England. The sexual aspect of the play was brought in when Claudius married Gertrude after he had dreadfully killed Old Hamlet and taken his throne. Hamlet is definitely a great example of a typical revenge tragedy of the Elizabethan theatre era. Shakespeare did very well making it follow every convention required to classify it as a revenge play quite perfectly.
Revenge although thought to be unlawful and against the Church was absolutely adored by all Elizabethan people. The Elizabethan audience always insisted on seeing eventual justice, and one who stained his hands with blood had to pay the penalty. That no revenger, no matter how just, ever wholly escapes the penalty for shedding blood, even in error. ” This was also a very important point that was also dealt with brilliantly by Shakespeare in finding a way to kill Hamlet justly even though he was required to kill Claudius. Hamlet was written with the mighty pen of Shakespeare who once again shows people that he can conjure up any play and make it one of the greatest of all time.