Audience Vicarious Desire for Revenge: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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Bryan Boccelli


Revenge tragedy rose to prominence during the mid-16th century and blossomed over the course of the next few of decades. Audiences of the era returned to watch revenge tragedies almost religiously—a genre which had previously been seen as lesser and improper took on new and unchartered territory. Throughout the period, playwrights toyed with the conventions of the revenge tragedy genre, and it steadily rose in notoriety and popularity among spectators. One playwright and his most well-known play, however, truly exemplified and used these conventions to the fullest extent. William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet used varied layers of audiences both on and off the stage, which allowed for spectators to create and interpret the ideas that were being acted out on stage in their own mind. Spectators vicariously lived out vengeful desires by watching revenge tragedies spectators without having to face the consequences associated with these actions. Within each audience member exists a moral compass, one that Shakespeare acknowledged and manipulated so as to make each spectator draw ethical and moral boundaries. Through this, audiences gained more agency within the theater, and their tastes and ideals began to shape the way playwrights wrote during the period.

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