Revenge Tragedy in 'Hamlet'

"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 were already well established, drawn initially from the Senacan model of revenge tragedy, which combined bloody and treacherous actions with sententious moralising, and later developed by Thomas Kyd, who established the 'Kydian Formula.' This framework, comprising all the typical elements of an Elizabethan revenge tragedy, appeared in 'The Spanish Tragedy' and begins with a murder, committed by a subsequent King, who is thus beyond the reach of the law. The victim's ghost, returning from Purgatory to command his son to avenge his death, functions as a Chorus in the course of the play. His revenging son pretends to be mad and presents a dumb-show in court in order that he may be confident of the murderer's blame. The play, full of melodrama and rhetoric, ends with the death of almost all the characters, including the murderer, revenger, and revenger's accomplice. In 'Hamlet,' Shakespeare ensures that he adheres to...

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