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Issues of DeathMortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy$
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Michael Neill

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780198183860

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198183860.001.0001

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Accommodating the Dead: Hamlet and the Ends of Revenge

Accommodating the Dead: Hamlet and the Ends of Revenge

(p.243) 7 Accommodating the Dead: Hamlet and the Ends of Revenge
Issues of Death

Michael Neill

Oxford University Press

Death assumes a variety of guises in Hamlet. Robert Watson argues that Hamlet, like all revenge tragedies, embodies a fantasy of overcoming death, its perennially compelling power deriving from ‘the idea that revenge can symbolically restore us to life by defeating the agency of our death, conveniently localised in a villain’. Hamlet is a play that dramatises its hero's resistance to the entrapment of this all-too-familiar narrative – a resistance which is also William Shakespeare's, since the plot was among his givens, something with and against which he had to work. Ironically enough, however, Hamlet has become so much the best-known example of revenge tragedy, whose premisses it explores and questions, that it is difficult to recognize how significantly it reshaped the genre to which it belonged.

Keywords:   death, Hamlet, Robert Watson, revenge tragedy, hero, resistance, entrapment, William Shakespeare

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