Summary: Hamlet as a Hero of a Revenge Drama

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Although Shakespeare wrote Hamlet at a time when the belief in God was still prevalent, Hamlet stands between two worldsㅡthe worlds of the medieval human and the modern humanㅡas he slowly deviates toward a secular vision. As Hamlet shifts toward the modern, which sets him apart from other Elizabethan/Jacobean characters. He evaluates about the events that have occurred, and beyond that, ponders upon more fundamental questions, such as why one is alive, why the world is corrupt, and what happens after death. At the time when Shakespeare was writing, most playwrights presented their characters with only one static personality trait. A character could be questioning, ambitious, lustful, or depressed, but not all of these traits at the same time, unlike Hamlet. Shakespeare is also seen to shift toward modern by creating characters with depth and dimension who think about their actions instead of just responding to dialogue. The ability for the audience to see both the characters' interaction and their thoughts allows them to relate for centuries after the play is written. Despite the apparent benefits of being modern, it is this tendency of Hamlet that resulted in his tragic ending.

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A typical hero of a revenge drama would best be represented like Laertes and Fortinbras. Hamlet murdered Laertes’ father and because of the “social norm”, he has to avenge his father's death by killing Hamlet. Laertes is a medieval character and just does what is generally taught to do and does not raise any questions. Hamlet, on the other hand, suffers from grief and disaffection when asked to avenge his father's death. He questions the society he lives in and what has been taught. He says he wants revenge, but because he wants justice for his father’s murder he rejects the brutal violence of a revenge culture. This is clearly seen when Fortinbras, brought an army to Denmark to avenge his father's death, but Hamlet views Fortinbras to have gone out of control simply to achieve revenge. Hamlet's problems and preoccupations are universal because many wonder why one is born if he or she is simply going to die, why evil and injustices exist, and how one should make moral decisions.

The modern thinking that Hamlet embodies portrays his delusional and psychological depth because he is constantly pondering and over-analyzing his problems which makes him the epitome of modern thinking. Overthinking this results in problems and ultimately to one’s demise. This is clearly seen when the Ghost of Hamlet Sr. told Hamlet “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown”. Hamlet does not immediately take revenge on Claudius. He questions whether the Ghost of Hamlet Sr. was telling the truth or not. To confirm these allegations, Hamlet hosts a play, known as the mousetrap where the mouse depicts Claudius, which reenacts how Hamlet Sr. died. Depending on the reaction of Claudius, this would either confirm or deny the allegations. In short, Claudius asks to “give some light. Away”, in other words, he asks to turn on the lights and leave the play because the play was like poison to his ears. However, Claudius figures out that Hamlet is now trying to get revenge for his father’s death. Claudius now becomes cautious and tries to get Hamlet killed. While the play ends with Hamlet murdering Claudius, Hamlet dies within minutes thereafter by Laertes, thus never really 'enjoying' his revenge. The fundamental question that Hamlet is pondering upon is why the world is corrupt, but an even more overarching question that Hamlet focuses on is why is one alive.

In Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, 'to be or not to be', he refers to death as 'the undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns'  which was one of the main reasons why Hamlet did not trust the ghost because he did not know if “the spirit that he saw / may be the devil”. This soliloquy questions whether if it is worth living while suffering or dying into the unknown. It is a tragedy because it displays Hamlet’s state of constant depression. Hamlet understands that death conquers everything, overpowering the unknown that frightens most people. The play ends with the death of most of the major characters, symbolizing that death has once again conquered all: the murderer, the innocent, the traitors, the strong and the weak.  

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