Without a belief in the supernatural it is possible to form the view that Hamlet was actually mad, the vision of his fathers ghost an image in his own head “this is the very coinage of your brain”. The madness could have been brought on from a mixture of his fathers’ death, the incestuous marriage between his uncle and mother and furthered by Ophelia rejecting him. This theory has evidence within the play to support it. Hamlets main proof of Claudius’ guilt is his reaction to the play within a play. Yet Claudius was viewing a play that would bring into disrepute the image of royalty; naturally he would have been shocked.
Also his confession, which Hamlets stumbles in upon, could have been Claudius asking for forgiveness for marrying Hamlets mother rather than killing his father. Equally a parallel with Ophelia can be drawn. She goes mad in the play with two main factors driving it: the death of her father and Hamlet rejecting her. Both of these factors happen to Hamlet himself, so it is possible they have driven him to madness as well. However as Ernest Jones concludes, “The precise nature of his love is a little obscure” as “the extravagance of the language used… suggests a morbid frame of mind.
” Thus a picture can be drawn of, less of an honourable protagonist more a confused, uncertain one. This can be shown through Hamlets conscious and guilt free ability to send Rosencratz and Guildernstein to their certain death and his inability to make up his mind, what J. Dover Wilson referred to as “Hamlet’s Quibbling”. Had the guards not seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father it is quite possible the audience could come to the conclusion that it is indeed a figment of his own imagination, that Hamlet killed off his own father driven by oedipal jealousy.
In this, a different context the reasons for revenge can be re-examined. Hamlets only reason for revenge, if his father were not murdered, would be Claudius marrying his mother. Thus creating further connotations of Hamlet having an Oedipus complex, which Shakespeare quite possibly hints at throughout the play, Claudius states “The queen his mother lives almost by his looks”. This creates three different strands of revenge in the play: Hamlets jealousy, Laertes vengeance on his fathers murder and Young Fortinbras’ seeking to right a wrong on his nation.
Overall Hamlet works so well within the Jacobean Revenge Tragedy because as it was written towards the latter days of the genres popularity, Shakespeare was able to mix together the traditional and successful parts of the genre such as the device of the play within a play, the setting of a foreign court, the use of a ghost to start the story off, and the cloak of madness amongst others. Also he was able to dispense with factors, which hindered the story being told in a dramatic prose, such as the usual narration of the ghost. However Hamlet works so well outside the genre because the focus Shakespeare maintains on the story.
Unlike King Lear, Hamlet is kept to a narrow story with little room for subplots, the stories surround the main theme and connect with it. In doing this Shakespeare can not only allow the main revenge plot to flourish but also help keep audience attention on finer details, how the act of revenge spawns a cycle of death and craving for further revenge. This is where Hamlet succeeds, the plot is not so linear as to only concentrate on the effect revenge has on Hamlet but also those around him, and how his actions and determination lead to others with the same desire as he: the desire for revenge.
Shakespeare examines how religious theory can intervene with the naturalistic urges produces by pride and the ideas of blood ties. In Hamlet Shakespeare created a study of revenge, which can be read in numerous ways. In a modern context it can be seen as a study on sexuality and the violence, which can be produced from this. Also it can be read as a comment on the fallibility of religion, the bible teaches “eye for an eye” yet also teaches that vengeance is something only God can carry out. How can Hamlet be sure whether or not he should carry out the deed of killing his uncle if his religion fails to give a unified message?
To its contemporary audience it could have been seen as a statement on desire for revenge, that it can only lead to a bloody end -what comes around goes around”. However it could also have been read as a religious statement, that in following the ten commandments you are assured a place in heaven and that straying from this righteous path can only lead to damnation, no matter what the validity of your motives. “Revenge mine sayeth the lord” Word count: 2002.
Bibliography: Shakespeare: Hamlet, A Selection of Critical Essays – edited by John Jump The Cambridge Encyclopedia – edited by David Crystal Hamlet – edited by Harold Jenkins.