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|GR: Who sent you? and Jacobean revenge plays
Written by Laraine
(5/23/2003 2:42 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Lying ghosts, penned by Ana L
The big question is whether or not the ghost has been sent from hell to deceive Hamlet, and by that deception convince him to kill Claudius, and therefore damn Hamlet for all eternity for murder.
Jacobean revenge tragedies were a big hit during the era Hamlet was written, and they became even more popular afterwards. You can think of them as the scary movies or slasher movies of today, or perhaps even more those movies in which a person has a loved one killed and then goes on a rampage to get the bad guys who did it. The plays very often had ghosts telling tales from beyond the grave.
I don't intend to get into the religious aspects of right and wrong in discussing the play, but I have to bring them up here to discuss what the revenge tragedy was about.
The problem with a ghost telling you to revenge your father's murder is that the Christian church doesn't recognize murdering your relative as a good enough reason for killing someone. Revenge is supposed to be left to God and to the justice system. However, in the Jacobean revenge tragedy the protagonist cannot bring the murderer to justice for some reason--in Hamlet's case, there is no actual proof of what Claudius did, and even if Hamlet could find some sort of proof, you couldn't bring a king to court.
It was very common in such revenge tragedies for the hero to go mad--primarily because if you were crazy, you couldn't really be damned for having killed someone. This is a good part of the defense Hamlet sets up for himself with Laertes. In the final scene, he tells Laertes that it was Hamlet's madness that wronged him. Supposedly, he's apologizing for the scene at Ophelia's funeral, but he's also hoping to gain forgiveness for having killed Polonius in a fit of madness.
Whole books have been written about this topic. I found a cool website that has papers on the topic from a conference a few years ago. There a ton of good insights and information there.
|2001 conference on revenge tragedies|
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