A Grade English Literature Critical Essay: 'Revenge is a confession of pain'

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‘Revenge is a confession of pain’ – Latin Proverb.

In the view of this statement compare and contrast the extent to which the playwrights demonstrate the idea that revenge arises from the pain of the aggressor.

In the view of this statement and in relation to ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ it is important to define what pain actually is. Pain relates to grief in terms of Hamlet grieving for his father’s death. It also relates to suffering and injury – be that of the mind or body. There are instances in ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ where the motivation for revenge may arise from the emotional pain of the aggressor; there are however acts of revenge shared in these plays that cannot be explained as a confession of pain but rather as a result of self-preservation and duty. Somroo explains that ‘The motive of revenge is a primitive emotion to be found in natural man, though it is a dangerous emotion.’ Somroo explains that revenge is primitive therefore it can be explained as an impulsive emotion born of pain or suffering. This shows that suffering and revenge are closely linked; the idea that revenge is born out of pain has excited audiences throughout history as a theme of revenge tragedies. In this genre of play both Webster and Shakespeare use the theme of revenge to show that it has consequences for every character that is unfortunate enough to be involved as it often results in multiple and an almost comical amount of dead bodies. Shakespeare more than Webster has used the character of Hamlet to explore a motivation for revenge deep within the character in their pain and affection for the cause of revenge.

There are ways in which both Shakespeare and Webster demonstrate that revenge is born out of the pain of the aggressor - especially in the case of the malcontents of the plays. The characters of Bosola from ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ and Prince Hamlet from ‘Hamlet’ are shown to be afflicted with what appears to be genuine pain which ultimately leads to revenge. Hamlet is portrayed to be grieving heavily for his father’s death shown in Act 1 Scene 2 as he is ‘dressed in black’ and expresses to his mother ‘…all forms, moods, shows grief / That can denote me truly’. The choice of words used by the Prince such as saying that grief wholly ‘denotes’ him suggests that Hamlet is suffering emotionally from the loss of his father and is defined by his pain. The appearance of the Ghost in Act 1 Scene 5 only confirms the validity of Hamlet’s grief and heightens the suffering he is experiencing turning it to rage and revenge after informing him that his father was murdered. Hamlet’s love for and premature loss of his father induces him to take revenge fuelled by his pain; it is somewhat acting as a catalyst, and acts as a release for Hamlet to express his pain. For example,


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