Explore Shakespeare's dramatic manipulation

Categories: Tragedy

Contemporary as well as modern audiences view Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', as a Revenge Tragedy. However Shakespeare has manipulated the genre to present a more complicated, more captivating play. Largely influenced by Roman playwrights, such as Seneca, the conventional Revenge Tragedy of Elizabethan times "served up a rich diet of madness, melancholy and revenge. " 'Hamlet' contains many elements of traditional Elizabethan Revenge Tragedies, yet the main differences lie in the number of parallel revenge plots, and in the presentation of the character of the main avenger, Hamlet.

Hamlet's character is interesting to an audience because of the way he goes about his revenge. Compared to Laertes and Fortinbras he is very hesitant, a thinker, not a warrior. His delay is mainly due to his perception of the ghost, whether it is really his father's spirit or an evil apparition. The important thing that Shakespeare is trying to portray is that Hamlet seeks certainty before he can take action. It is for this reason that there are many arguments as to what Shakespeare is presenting to his audience in 'Hamlet'.

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Is it a revenge tragedy which explores a man's character or is it a moral debate, addressing the issues of the Elizabethan period? The opening scene of the play is designed to present the ghost and arouse questions about its credibility. Whether it is an evil or good spirit, the ghost is the mechanism which triggers the need for Hamlet's revenge. Ghosts were conventional features of the genre and Elizabethans had a very different view of ghosts than modern audiences, almost everyone believed that ghosts existed in Elizabethan times.

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Hamlet's uncertainty about the identity and purpose of the ghost is highlighted in Act I scene iv, "Be thou spirit of health or goblin dammed Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell Be thy intents wicked or charitable... " In the Lawrence Olivier film of 'Hamlet' the mood of the opening scene is very traditional and would have been closest to that of an Elizabethan production. In the film the set is shown to be cold and in the dead of night, "'Tis now struck twelve. " The stage is therefore set for the ghostly 'apparition'.

The characters on stage are portrayed as nervous, and worried, as is evident from the short sharp lines and questions, "Long live the King! ", "Bernardo? " In the beginning of Act I Scene ii the King, Claudius, makes his first speech of the play with a celebratory atmosphere, in marked contrast to the frightening mood of the previous scene. In a powerful speech he is portrayed as a skilful diplomat and a clever orator. In this scene Laertes speaks to the King to ask permission to leave the country for France and in this way Shakespeare allows the audience to see the attitude of Laertes towards the King, one of sycophantic respect.

Indeed, the audience will later see that Laertes is much like his father in that respect. Importantly in this scene, Hamlet and Laertes are seen together on stage for the first time, enabling the audience to view the two main avengers in the play and compare and contrast their attitudes, appearances and behaviour. Laertes' first words are shown to be polite and deferential, "My dread lord Your leave and favour to return to France... " whereas Hamlet's first words are muttered, "A little more than kin, and less than kind!

" We can also see Hamlet's severe depression and his contempt for Claudius in his first soliloquy, "O God, God, How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world! " Later the audience sees his dislike of Claudius, "My father's brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules. " Shakespeare uses alliteration to show Hamlet's anger about the hasty marriage which is revealed in the hissing 's' sounds, "O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!

" In Elizabethan England many people would believe that to marry the brother of your dead husband would be incestuous, therefore the audience would sympathise with Hamlet's anger. When Hamlet and Horatio discuss the ghost, its nature and its purpose, Hamlet reaches the conclusion that there must be a tragic reason for a ghost to appear, which is what Elizabethan audiences would believe, whereas a modern audience would probably see the ghost as an image of Hamlet's troubled mind, "My father's spirit! In arms!

All is not well. I doubt some foul play. " The ghost's revelations later in the play confirm his "prophetic soul" and urge him on to revenge. Act I scene iii is designed to show Laertes' love for his sister and for his father, which prepares the audience for his violent impulses to revenge later in the play. The important point that Shakespeare addresses in this scene is that Laertes is concerned about the damage that could be done to his family's reputation if Hamlet treats Ophelia disrespectfully.

Laertes is afraid that if Hamlet and Ophelia have sex and Hamlet does not marry her, then his family's status will be bought into disrepute, "Perhaps he loves you now And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch The virtue of his will. But you must fear His greatness weighed, his will is not his own. " Elizabethan audiences would also believe that sex before marriage was morally wrong and therefore identify with Laertes' warning to Ophelia.

The same obsession with keeping his family's reputation can be seen when Laertes questions the unceremonious burial of Ophelia, "I tell thee, churlish priest A ministering angel shall my sister be When thou liest howling. " This leads the audience to wonder whether his unmeasured grief has less to do with the loss of his sister and more to do with the perceived attack on his family's reputation. Hamlet confronts the ghost in Act I scene v and discovers the truth behind his father's death.

This scene is significant because we can contrast Hamlet's reaction to finding out his father was murdered and compare it with Laertes' reaction to his father's murder. When the ghost tells Hamlet of the "unnatural murder" Hamlet's reaction to this development is, "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge. " This response is very similar to Laertes' in that it is both aggressive and it mentions the speed with which he will enact his revenge.

However it is incredibly ironic of Hamlet to say this as his delay in taking revenge is far longer then first foretold. The language Hamlet uses is extremely contradictory, he uses images of speed and hastiness contrasted with references to thought and meditation which are both slow, reasoned processes. To begin with then, the Elizabethan audience would believe that Hamlet was a traditional avenger because of his reaction to the news of his father's murder.

Act IV scene v shows Laertes' impetuosity and Shakespeare uses his character to show the audience the conventional Revenge Tragedy avenger. The Elizabethan, as well as modern, audiences can clearly see the comparison between the two men's reactions to the loss of their fathers. Although Hamlet was enraged by his discovery, Laertes is brutal and aggressive towards Claudius. Indeed in the Branagh production when Laertes attacks Claudius his viciousness is exposed, "How came he dead? I'll not be juggled with. To hell allegiance!

Vows to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation. " This speech shows the audience that Laertes doesn't care about the consequences of his action as long as he takes revenge, unlike Hamlet who fears spiritual retribution. Ophelia's entrance, which portrays her madness, allows Shakespeare to present Laertes with a further reason for revenge, and his reaction is one of desperation, "O heat, dry up my brains! Tears seven times salt Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye!

" This disturbing and revolting description depicts Laertes' anger, but some critics have pointed out that it is interesting that Laertes uses language which measures the depth of his love, while Hamlet's feelings, in contrast, are usually controlled and more private. Act III scene iii is where Shakespeare manipulates the revenge tragedy genre, as instead of unforeseen events getting in the way of the 'hero' taking revenge, the 'hero' makes his own delay as a result of his moral deliberation. Hamlet finds the King 'praying' and rather then take his chance to kill the Claudius, Hamlet hesitates.

In Elizabethan times if you were killed while you were praying it was believed that you were destined to go to heaven. Therefore as Hamlet wishes Claudius to be sent to hell, he does not kill him, "A villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven. " The irony in this decision is that Claudius in fact cannot pray, as the audience discover, "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below, Words without thoughts never to heaven go. " This decision not to kill Claudius could be simply seen as an excuse, while some critics believe that perhaps Hamlet is not a cold-blooded killer.

Perhaps this is why in act IV scene iv Shakespeare adds Fortinbras as an additional avenger because he, like Laertes, is vigorous, and gives the audience an adverse reflection upon Hamlet's apparent inactivity. Hamlet decides that because he has thought too much about the morality of murder, it has made him a coward, "Now, whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on th'event A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom And ever three parts coward...

" At the end of this scene Hamlet makes a crucial decision, considering the imminent death of "twenty thousand men" for a petty plot of land by Fortinbras' army, he decides that he will take revenge by allowing his thoughts to "be bloody, or be nothing worth! " The dual between Hamlet and Laertes, is another example of Shakespeare manipulating the genre. Laertes shows his human emotion and that he is delaying in his mind the act of revenge, "My lord, I'll hit him now... And yet it is almost against my conscience. " He begins to question the morality of his action but his sense of chivalric honour won't allow him to stop.

A further manipulation of the genre occurs when Laertes and Hamlet exchange forgiveness before their deaths, "Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet. " Laertes is shown to be a victim of Claudius' evil plotting, as is Hamlet. The Elizabethan audience would view this as unusual in this style of play and perhaps be shocked by this revelation, while a modern audience may see the tragedy of this reconciliation. In conclusion, I can say that throughout the play Shakespeare has exploited and manipulated the revenge tragedy genre to expose moral and social issues that were prominent at the time.

Hamlet's unconventional, self-inflicted delaying tactics show the Elizabethan audience the religious and moral consequences of revenge, while a modern audience, perhaps relying on the law to carry out its duty, would see Hamlet's conscious decision to delay as a strong-minded act. Hamlet is a character that seeks certainty, in that he wants to know the true identity of the ghost, and whether Claudius deserves to be killed for his crime. In fact, in the end, a contemporary as well as Elizabethan audience would be left contemplating whether or not Hamlet is thinking about his father when he kills Claudius.

Some critics argue that Hamlet is more enraged by the emergence of the plot to kill him by Claudius, and the death of his mother, caused by the same man, "Thy mother's poisoned. I can no more. The King, the King's to blame. " Others believe that Hamlet's reaction to Laertes' revelation shows that Hamlet never really becomes a contriving avenger. He kills the King, as he had killed Polonius, on the spur of the moment, "Then, venom, to thy work. " Francis Bacon, one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, suggested that revenge is "a kind of wild justice".

Certainly the dramatic and brutal deaths at the end of the play leave the audience, both contemporary and Elizabethan, philosophising and perhaps questioning their own actions and beliefs about the importance of family loyalty and reputation, and whether, in fact, revenge can ever be justified. Bibliography o Videos including; Almereyda, Branagh and Olivier versions. o Cambridge School Shakespeare-Revenge Tragedy essay. o 'The Questionable Shape of Hamlet' by James Hansford. o 'The Tragic Balance in Hamlet' by Phillip Edwards.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Explore Shakespeare's dramatic manipulation. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/explore-shakespeares-dramatic-manipulation-2450-new-essay

Explore Shakespeare's dramatic manipulation essay
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