Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Ethic in Text and Film

This lesson seeks to sensitize students to the complex nature of revenge as it is portrayed in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Students learn how Shakespeare's play interprets Elizabethan attitudes toward revenge, as reflected in the structure of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy, one of the most popular forms of drama of that era.

Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as preparation for the complementary EDSITEment lesson, Hamlet Meets Chushingura: Traditions of the Revenge Tragedy. The second lesson builds on this lesson, paralleling this study with comparisons of Hamlet and the Elizabethan revenge ethic to the Japanese Bunraku/Kabuki play Kanadehon Chushingura and the Tokugawa revenge ethic.

Guiding Questions

What are the implications of honor, loyalty, and revenge in the Elizabethan culture as presented in Shakespeare's play Hamlet?

How do these implications resonate in modern times and in modern film?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to: Describe Elizabethan attitudes toward revenge from documents of the period

Recognize Elizabethan theatrical conventions and their impact on the play

Analyze the playwright's use of characters' language and actions to motivate the avengers in the play

Compare the text with modern film interpretation

Recognize the acts of revenge in the play as attempts to satisfy the characters' longing for justice but as destructive forces on the avengers and those whose lives are affected by them

Analyze Hamlet's desire to reduce his situation to a matter of right versus wrong and action versus inaction and evaluate the dangers of such a reduction