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The Legality of Hamlet’s Modern Revenge

Authors
남승원
Issue Date
Oct-2021
Publisher
한국셰익스피어학회
Citation
Shakespeare Review, v.57, no.3, pp.489 - 510
Journal Title
Shakespeare Review
Volume
57
Number
3
Start Page
489
End Page
510
URI
https://yscholarhub.yonsei.ac.kr/handle/2021.sw.yonsei/5361
ISSN
1226-2668
Abstract
This paper tackles the long-standing enigma regarding Hamlet’s “delay” and concludes that Hamlet hesitates to act because he fears he might leave behind “a wounded name” for killing the King to avenge his father, which may be morally righteous but is legally a homicide and a treason. Deviating from the previous studies of the play which see Hamlet’s hesitance to murder the King as a product of a repressed Oedipal urge or conflicted morals, this paper argues that Hamlet’s “delay” is a subconsciously constructed strategy to carry out a modern revenge that favors legal persecution with viable witnesses over the violence of a private blood-revenge. Hence, this paper points to Hamlet’s securing of the King’s letter to the English king—an irrefutable, physical evidence that may be used against the King—as a significant turning point in his revenge journey. Having safely entrusted the letter to Horatio, Hamlet ignores his sense of foreboding and proceeds to a fencing match with Laertes at which he not only kills the King at last but also meets his own tragic death. A Danish prince who is also a university student at Wittenberg, the birthplace of Protestant Reformation, Hamlet straddles the borders between the royal customs, traditions, and responsibilities, and the Renaissance ideals of the thinking individual as encapsulated in the philosophy of Descartes. His concern with how the act of revenge would affect his own reputation, coupled with his dying request to Horatio to live and tell his story, reflects the Renaissance man’s desperate attempt to reconcile the morality of a personal revenge with the legality of a public one.
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