Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, is a well-known play written in the late Elizabethan period. The play conforms to the literary format of a revenge tragedy-indeed, it is widely considered to be a reworking of an ancient tale, versions of which had been in circulation throughout the Byzantine, Greek and Roman eras. However, at the same time, the play exceeds the limitations of the revenge tragedy formula and induces its audience to consider profound questions about the significance of life and the nature of being human. One such consideration is the morality of taking life, something that Hamlet, the protagonist, must do in order to obtain revenge for the murder of his Father, King Hamlet, by his Uncle, Claudius.
In Saxo and Beleforest's earlier version of the tale, Hamlet took revenge far earlier than as told by Shakespeare. In considering Hamlet's delay in despatching vengeance, particularly when he had an opportunity to do so earlier on in the play, one of the factors that need to be acknowledged is the time period in which the play was first performed.
Elizabethan society was, at the time, caught up in the conflict between the supremacy of reason and freedom of will advocated by the Renaissance, which was taking particular effect during the time that the play was performed and written. However, this was in direct conflict with the still lingering Elizabethan penchant for presenting moral dilemmas in plays because of the preoccupation with the issue of offending God. This conflict can be seen in Hamlet several times during the play, most notably when he reveals his desperate and despairing state of mind in his first soliloquy:
'...that the Everlasting had not set his canon 'gainst self slaughter' [2.2]
There is also the unavoidable fact that Shakespeare needed to construct a plot that...