Hamlet as Revenge Tragedy

The most common distinction between a tragedy and a comedy is the arc of plot development. Generally speaking, a comedy moves from a world of disorder into a world in which everything is put back together again. A tragedy, on the other hand, typically begins with everything as it should be before unraveling into chaos (Cahn 1). Consider that at the beginning of straight tragedies such as King Lear or Macbeth the world is in a state of order, but quickly deteriorates into death and madness. A subgenre of the tragedy is the revenge tragedy which differs somewhat in that the universe by definition has already been upset right from the beginning. Revenge, of course, requires that the protagonist of this tragedy engage in a series of actions designed to rebalance the order in the universe (Frye 68). The normal course of events in a revenge tragedy follow the line of plot development in which the revenger must carry out the actions that bring order back to a world of disorder.

William Shakespeare's Hamlet comfortably fits into the genre of the revenge tragedy as it opens with the melancholy Dane in the depths of human misery, at the center of a topsy-turvy world where his uncle is now his father (Gardner 218). And yet, at the...

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