Elizabethan Revenge in Hamlet

Hamlet is a play written by William Shakespeare that very
closely follows the dramatic conventions of revenge in Elizabethan
theater. All revenge tragedies originally stemmed from the Greeks, who
wrote and performed the first plays. After the Greeks came Seneca who
was very influential to all Elizabethan tragedy writers. Seneca who
was Roman, basically set all of the ideas and the norms for all
revenge play writers in the Renaissance era including William

Shakespeare. The two most famous English revenge tragedies written in
the Elizabethan era were Hamlet, written by Shakespeare and The

Spanish Tragedy, written by Thomas Kyd. These two plays used mostly
all of the Elizabethan conventions for revenge tragedies in their
plays. Hamlet especially incorporated all revenge conventions in one
way or another, which truly made Hamlet a typical revenge play.

"Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of many heroes of the Elizabethan and

Jacobean stage who finds himself grievously wronged by a powerful
figure, with no recourse to the law, and with a crime against his
family to avenge."

Seneca was among the greatest authors of classical tragedies
and there was not one educated Elizabethan who was unaware of him or
his plays. There were certain stylistic and different strategically
thought out devices that Elizabethan playwrights including Shakespeare
learned and used from Seneca’s great tragedies. The five act
structure, the appearance of some kind of ghost, the one line
exchanges known as stichomythia, and Seneca’s use of long rhetorical
speeches were all later used in tragedies by Elizabethan playwrights.

Some of Seneca’s ideas were originally taken from the Greeks when the

Romans conquered Greece, and with it they took home many Greek
theatrical ideas. Some of Seneca’s stories that originated from the

Greeks like Agamemnon and Thyestes which dealt with bloody family
histories and revenge captivated the Elizabethans. Seneca’s stories
weren’t really written for performance purposes, so if English
playwrights liked his ideas, they had to figure out a way to make the
story theatrically workable, relevant and exciting to the Elizabethan
audience who were very demanding. Seneca’s influence formed part of a
developing tradition of tragedies whose plots hinge on political
power, forbidden sexuality, family honor and private revenge. "There
was no author who exercised a wider or deeper influence upon the

Elizabethan mind or upon the Elizabethan form of tragedy than did

Seneca." For the dramatists of Renaissance Italy, France and England,
classical tragedy meant only the ten Latin plays of Seneca and not

Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles. "Hamlet is certainly not much like
any play of Seneca’s one can name, but Seneca is undoubtedly one of
the effective ingredients in the emotional charge of Hamlet. Hamlet
without Seneca is inconceivable."

During the time of Elizabethan theater, plays about tragedy
and revenge were very common and a regular convention seemed to be
formed on what aspects should be put into a typical revenge tragedy.

In all revenge tragedies first and foremost, a crime is committed and
for various reasons laws and justice cannot punish the crime so the
individual who is the main character, goes through with the revenge in
spite of everything. The main character then usually had a period of
doubt , where he tries to decide whether or not to go through with the
revenge, which usually involves tough and complex planning. Other
features that were typical were the appearance of a ghost, to get the
revenger to go through with the deed. The revenger also usually had a
very close relationship with the audience through soliloquies and
asides. The original crime that will eventually be avenged is nearly
always sexual or violent or both. The crime has been committed against
a family member of the revenger. " The revenger places himself outside
the normal moral order of things, and often becomes more isolated as
the play progresses-an isolation which at its most extreme becomes
madness." The revenge must be the cause of a catastrophe and the
beginning of the revenge must start immediately after the crisis.

After the ghost persuades the revenger to commit his deed, a
hesitation first occurs and then a delay by the avenger before killing
the murderer, and his actual or acted out madness. The revenge must be
taken out by the revenger or his trusted accomplices. The revenger and
his accomplices may also die at the moment of success or even during
the course of revenge.

It should not be assumed that revenge plays parallel the moral
expectations of the Elizabethan audience. Church, State and the
regular morals of people in that age did not accept revenge, instead
they thought that revenge would simply not under any