In the play, Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare is described as a tragedy of revenge, through psychological origins of revenge, the styles of revenge during that period and the structure of Elizabethan revenge tragedies.
This article, “Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis: Tragic Alternatives: Eros and Superego Revenge in Hamlet.”, written by Joanna Montgomery Byes focuses on the psychological origins of revenge and in what part does the socialized and/or individual superego play in creating the revenge tragedy in Hamlet. It reminds us that revenge is a mechanism in the drama that presents the cultural significance within family relationship. In this article, it presents that idea in which the inward tragedy is represented to destroy the logic of the revenge form. Joanna suggests that revenge is popular in Shakespeare’s culture and still is because it is profoundly disturbing; the projection of revenge is “therapeutic”. The two concepts: defusion of the dual instincts of Eros and Death, and superego aggression, which is one aspect of the death instinct contribute to the fate of Hamlet.
The creation of the Ghost creates a father-son-mother confrontation as the Old Hamlet return from the dead to get revenge. Though the superego inside him seeks to punish this revengeful force. “Hamlet tries to become his father’s superego, but because he cannot act on it, his own superego takes revenge on him — tortures him, kills him eventually.” Hamlet becomes a victim of his own desire for punishment as his displacements fail. The conflict between ego and superego establishes the vigorous action of Hamlet on many levels. It is with Hamlet’s acceptance for as long as revenge is revealed for what it is: a dynamically hostile, hateful, destructive force, and, in Hamlet, an unbeatable enemy that the superego wins. Through Hamlet, Shakespeare invites our reflection, invites us to express our deepest desires and aggression as revenge.
This article would be a good source in writing an essay for the topic because it suggests the idea of revenge using psychology and how Hamlet, the character creates the tragedy of revenge. It creates the idea of ego and superego that takes down Hamlet due to revenge. At the beginning, Hamlet wanted to take revenge for the Ghost’s sake but as the play progresses Hamlet takes revenge for his own sake. (5,2, 63-70) That leads to his own death because his own superego takes revenge upon himself. It is Hamlet, his own idea towards life that kills him in the end. He has had a real glimpse into the essence of things. Hamlet believes whatever he does will change nothing. So when the command to kill Claudius was given Hamlet didn’t take revenge right away. In the article, it presents the idea that the fate of Hamlet is through the concept defusion of the dual instincts of Eros and Death, and superego aggression that dramatizes the revenge motif in Hamlet. It states that as long as the protagonist is able to displace their aggression onto others, they’ll survive. But if one does not have the power the bind the destructiveness and releases the cruelty and violence it will lead to violence.
As seen in Hamlet, the Ghost’s confrontation just fueled the desire of Hamlet to kill Claudius. To Hamlet, Claudius is just the man who, with ‘traitorous gifts’ (1,5, 43) that seduced ‘ his mother. And like Byles mentioned in the article, Shakespeare represents revenge as an inward tragic event that is dramatized and reinforce by family relationships which then destroys the tragic person. In this case it would be Hamlet. In the article it mentions that Hamlet is irretrievably trapped in a parental relationship involving murder, adultery and incest. “You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife, And, would it were not so, you are my mother.” (3, 4, 14-16) These lines represent how Hamlet is stuck into this family situation where he does not want to be in though he has accepted the fact. Therefore, Hamlet’s only way of releasing his vengeful aggression is through the cruelty to others and his “antic disposition”. With the evidence above, the body paragraph of how Hamlet(the character) creates the tragedy of revenge with psychology would be formed.
In the article, THE RELATIONS OF HAMLET TO CONTEMPARY REVENGE PLAYS written by Ashley H. Thorndike provides a comparison of revenge tragedy to the plays the Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet. This articles investigates the relations of Hamlet to demands of the stage and plays of revenge. It states that there is three evidence to be examined to proof which Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is a tragedy of revenge. Primarily, the dates of the plays must be examined to show that revenge tragedies were popular when Hamlet was first presented. As shown, between 1599 and 1694 it is evident that tragedies dealing with ghost and revenge were popular in the London theatres. It indicates that Hamlet owed its existence to the stage fashion for revenge tragedies. Secondly, in order to determine their leading characteristics they must examine the existence of the plays. Which is evident in the article that Shakespeare used plot, scenes and character traits is familiar with other revenge plays. Thirdly, Hamlet must be examined to determine to what extent and in what ways it was influenced by this contemporary type. As stated, other plays during that period also attempted to deal with the same theme. In conclusion, THE RELATIONS OF HAMLET TO CONTEMPARY REVENGE PLAYS clearly states the reasons of why Hamlet is a tragedy of revenge.
Through this article, it supports the topic of “Hamlet primarily is a tragedy of revenge”. It creates a comparison of two plays which is evident to be a revenge tragedy. When Hamlet was first presented, it is evident that it was popular in the London theatres due to the plot with ghosts and revenge. Then it suggested the idea that the plot or character traits is familiar with other revenge plays. In Hamlet, there are many characters that would represent revenge, that biggest one being Hamlet himself. But there is also Laretes and Fortinbras. All character has shown deep desire for revenge whether its for themselves or for their loved ones. For Fortinbras, he wants revenge for his father that died due to Old Hamlet. (1,1, 95-104) Fortinbras spends all 5 acts to gather an army and is ready for take back the land of Denmark for his father. In the end, he succeeded with barely any effort due to the tragedy of the family. For Laretes, his revenge is due to the death of Polonius. Laretes is a man full of action. When he realized his father and Ophelia’s death he swore to take revenge. He never took account to who killed his father and the reason behind it. (4,5, 64-65)
Lastly, for Hamlet, the revenge was primarily for Old Hamlet but it later became the revenge of his own. Another piece of evident given in the article is how ghosts and revenge were popular in the London theatres during that period Shakespeare presented Hamlet. In the play, the Ghost appears a few times and the most important appearance was when he was in encounter with Hamlet. The Ghost is the inciting force of Hamlet. (1,5, 32-40) Due to the Ghost’s encounter with Hamlet, it revealed the deeply conflicted emotions Hamlet had for Claudius which caused revenge. Like Thorndlike pointed out, revenge tragedies are often defined as whose leading motive is revenge and the main action deals with the progress of revenge. Thus leads to the death of the murderers and the death of the avenger. Which is similar to the point of Hamlet, after the Ghost and Hamlet’s confrontation the plot after dealt with the plot of revenge. The soliloquy of Hamlet at the end of act 2 scene 2 shows the plan Hamlet has in order to see if Claudius is guilty. Therefore the evidence given from the article would fit perfectly with how Hamlet is a tragedy of revenge.
The book, “Hamlet and the act of revenge” by Peter Mercer discusses the assumptions made towards Shakespeare’s play Hamlet about revenge. Peter Mercer makes the corrections that Hamlet’s dilemma is not concentrated towards revenge and the structure of Elizabethan revenge tragedies are problematic. Mercer says Shakespeare’s play does not arise from the structure of revenge itself but from joining it with the anxieties that revolve around a vision of human corruption. Also In the article, Peter explores that idea between revenge and satire. Revenge being the business of cunning plots and satire a public affair of confrontation and exposure. It states that the primary concern is with ‘discovering significant forms’ in Hamlet and other tragedies rather then studying the engagement with revenge as a problem of ethics. He then presents the idea The Spanish Tragedy, Antonio’s Revenge and Hamlet all shared a motive of blood revenge for murder and a counter plot mounted by the villain.
Though the Revenger’s Tragedies had no ghost nor madness it had a combination of revenge and satire much like Hamlet. The patterns of those three plays except the Revenger’s Tragedy consisted – the appearance of the ghost, the progress of the revenger and acting on revenge. In addition, Mercer mentions other critic’s point of view towards revenge tragedies. He then went onto the idea that Elizabethan revengers’ exist into a world where justice is a ‘value’ despite the absorption into the horror of their own thoughts. He says “Justice is indeed remembered, but it is not a present reality, not at least for the hero of revenge.” For Mercer, Hamlet isn’t just another revenge play. Hamlet, forces the revenge structure to the point where it creates its own form and metaphor that can be shown only through acting. This structure discovered by Elizabethan drama within the myth of revenge is still the highest relevance to the play where Hamlet is born from that structure.
With this last source, it would form the last body paragraph for the essay. It this body paragraph, the comparison of Elizabethan tragedies and Hamlet can be made. Mercer includes other critics that could add on to the research of why Hamlet primarily is a tragedy of revenge. The appearance of the ghost, the progress of the revenger and acting on revenge would be a perfect example of how all three plays The Spanish Tragedy, Antonio’s Revenge and Hamlet shared the same pattern of plot. In Hamlet, the first appearance of the ghost was very mysterious. He was seen by Horatio which then passed the information to Hamlet. This arose Hamlet’s curiosity and decided to meet the Ghost. After the confrontation with the Ghost Hamlet created a plan in which he revealed in his soliloquy by the end of act 2 scene 2. From act 1 to act 4 Hamlet is a man with thought but by the beginning of act 5 he is all action.
The progress of the revenger evolved as the plot rises. In act 5, Horatio says “If your mind dislike anything, obey it. I will forestall their repair hither and say you are not fit. ” But Hamlet responds let be. That shows Hamlet is a totally different person than he was from act 1 to 4 because its his turn to act on the revenge. Using other critic’s opinion towards Hamlet it would give more details and more depth to the character. A critic named Hector believed that Hamlet never showed consideration of the consequences of revenge.” I do not know Why yet I live to say “This thing’s to do,” Sith I have cause and will and strength and means To do ’t (4, 4, 43) According the Hector, the play seemed to transfer to focus to the tragedy of Ophelia where Hamlet looks like the murderer. He said this experience is wholly for the audience where Hamlet isn’t even there for the pitiful scenes due to his character. The fact that Ophelia nor the Queen has no true knowledge of the context of all this suffering makes this a tragedy of revenge. Therefore using the evidence given above, with the critics and Mercer’s opinion
Byles, Joanna Montgomery. “Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis: Tragic Alternatives: Eros and Superego Revenge in Hamlet.” PSYART: A Hyperlink
Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. (2005): n. page. Web. 5 Jan. 2013.
Thorndike, Ashley H. The Relations of Hamlet to Contemporary Revenge Plays. 2nd ed. 17. Modern Language Association, 1902. 125-220 . Print.
Mercer, Peter. Hamlet and the Act of Revenge. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1987 . 1-27. Print.