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Heroes and Revenge in Hamlet and The Spanish Tragedy

Heroes and Revenge in Hamlet and The Spanish Tragedy

In Elizabethan drama, it was accepted that the villains of the piece would, because of their evil methods and aims, be revealed and punished – in other words, justice would be served. The problem, however, arises when the “heroes” of the piece use the same methods as the villains. I use the term hero warily, as the traditional hero of a revenge tragedy is one who would at first seem completely unsuited to a revenging role; Heironimo is portrayed as being too old, while Hamlet is seen as being too young. It can be generalised that the revenger starts off as being dissatisfied with the events have happened prior to the play, and it is an event within the play that catalyses his transformation from being merely a malcontent into a revenger. In Hamlet, it is the appearance of old Hamlet that convinces the young Hamlet that his suspicions about his uncle are correct:

Ghost … but know, thou noble youth,

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life

Now wears his crown.

Ham. O my prophetic soul! My uncle!

Hamlet 1 v 37-40

In The Spanish Tragedy, it is the letter from Bel Imperia that galvanises Heironimo into action:

Me hath my hapless brother hid from thee:

Revenge thyself on Balthazar and him,

For these were they that murderéd thy son.

Heironimo, revenge Horatio’s death,

And better fare than Bel Imperia doth.

What means this unexpected miracle?

The Spanish Tragedy 3 II 27-32

The difference between the two revengers is their willingness; Hamlet realised that there was “something rotten in the state of Denmark”, and even had his suspicions about who it might be, however he could not act as he lacked evidence. The evide…

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…es the villain from the hero. The villain decides to act in a machiavellian way to gain personal benefit, but the hero turns to this as a last resort to fulfil a promise that he or she has made to revenge someone. The difference therefore is a matter of honour. The hero becomes compromised, though is simultaneously redeemed by the decision to interact with a corrupt and vile society. The hero is confronted with the choice to act and be damned or to remain idle and be damned. The more difficult, and therefore more heroic option is to take revenge, as suicide is very much seen as taking the “soft” way out.

Works Cited

Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy. J.R. Mulryne, ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995.

The Deeper Meaning of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

The Deeper Meaning of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

I do not agree with the frequently repeated comment that Doctor Faustus is an anti-intellectualist play that preaches that curiosity is dangerous. It is all too easy to see Faustus as the scholar, seeking knowledge, and his desire for knowledge that leads to his downfall. To confine the play to something so narrow is to ignore the deeper meaning behind the play. I believe that this deeper meaning is more important than the superficial idea that curiosity is wrong. I believe that the deeper meaning behind the play is the idea that in loosing sight of the spiritual level of existence, we loos sight of God. In doing so, we can no longer see God’s mercy and love, and so ignore it. In ignoring it, we deny it, and for this are we damned.

It is fair to say that Faustus represents the quintessential renaissance man – it is his thirst for knowledge that drives him into his pact with Mephastophilis, indeed it is the Evil Angel that best summarises this:

Go forward, Faustus, in the famous art,

Wherein all nature’s treasury is contained:

Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,

Lord and commander of these elements.

Scene I, lines 74-77

It is the restless spirit of the renaissance that drives Faustus to seek knowledge. He has already attained what he can through more conventional means, his “bills (are) hung up as monuments”, and his “common talk found aphorisms”. Faustus compares himself to the most famous figures of the classical period; to Hippocrates, to Aristotle and to Galen. He sees himself as having come to the end of what he can learn through his human tools; he needs something that will allow him to move outside the realm of nature, somet…

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…deed, proverb has it that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Had Faustus not become so preoccupied with the indulgent of his physical pleasures (which he did to so great an extent that his reasoning and judgement began to atrophy and cloud), that he was blinded to the infinite mercy of God, he could have been saved, even at the last moment. Faustus is damned because he was too concerned with the mortal material world, and this concern blinded him to the immortal and immaterial world. He chose to forgo the infinite happiness of Heaven, so that he could indulge in transient happiness here on earth. This concern for material beauty (Helen) damned him eternally.

Works Cited:

Marlowe, Christopher. “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Eds. M.H. Abrams et. al. New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 1993.

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