A New Type of Revenge Hero

Hamlet challenges the conventions of revenge tragedy by deviating from them.

- Sydney Bolt, 1985

The typical Elizabethan theatre-goer attending the first production of Hamlet in 1604 would have had clear expectations. The conventions of Elizabethan revenge tragedy, initially dating back to the Roman poet Senecahad, had already been well-established. Later, Thomas Kyd established the "Kydian Formula", a framework comprising all of the elements of a typical revenge tragedy, when he published The Spanish Tragedy in 1586. The event that fuels the plot of Kyd's play is a murder, committed by a future King, who is thus placed beyond the reach of the law. The victim's ghost, returning from Purgatory to instruct his son to avenge his death, functions as a Chorus over the course of the play. His son pretends to be mad and presents a dumb-show in court so that he may be assured of the murderer's blame. This play, full of melodrama and rhetoric, ends with the death of almost all of the characters, including the murderer, the son, and the son's accomplice. In Hamlet, Shakespeare adheres to all of Kyd's salient elements. I would, therefore, challenge Bolt's declaration that Shakespeare deviates from the...

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