Although the word “revenge” has single meaning but it has various manifestation and is used in various connotations. For example, Shakespeare alone has used it in different undertones in his plays Hamlet and Othello. In Hamlet, it depicts the wrath of prince who is taking revenge of his murdered father whereas in Othello, it reveals itself in the debauchery of Emilia. When I ventured through most of the resources, I further analyzed that revenge is a part of human nature to take revenge and moral, religious and ethical values only impedes its way for a short time and to a certain extent.
My search for resources related to the word “revenge” was interesting and exploring. The novel way to explore the reality of a single word inculcated a spirit in me to look for a thing from different angles. Some of the research method for locating resources was new to me and I was using them for the first time e.g. Magnolia.Xerox. Furthermore, as the resources were diverse, so the major hurdle in my way was to start the search anew after searching a whole database of articles to meet the requirements of the research. There was another dilemma that contributed toward evolving my search habits. Sometime after reading a whole article, I realized that it is not related to word “revenge”, so I had to restart my search afresh. But this habit roused my inquisitive nature and after sometime it was not a problem for me.
The first source I used was Oxford Dictionary that provided a full definition1 of the word with its etymology. Oxford Dictionary illustrates that “revenge” can used as a verb and as a noun. Additionally Oxford Dictionary provides various definition of the word revenge but I only noted the most comprehensive definition. The etymology further describes the nature and origin of this word. Oxford Dictionary further provides a timeline when this word was first used in English. So this research exercise helped me to locate comprehensive and concise meaning of the word. I further consulted Oxford American English Thesaurus to locate the synonyms for “revenge”. It not only provided one word substitutes for the word revenge2 but further supplied some idiomatic phrases that can used as a alternative for “revenge”. This information enabled me to understand the verbal equivalences of revenge.
The third resource was the religious interpretation of “revenge”. I took a passage from Bible (Ezekiel 25:15). It says that a malicious and spiteful heart is the habitat of revenge. While providing an example of “Philistines” took the revenge with a spiteful heart that was a product of old hatred. This verse of Bible denotes that revenge is not something innate or instinctive but it results from a malevolent heart. It suggests that higher faculties of humans i.e. mental and psychological, has nothing to do with revenge. It is a strong infatuation that originates from heart and in it fervor, human lost its rationality.
As a next I step, I searched through various tragedies of Shakespeare. Although in two of his tragedies i.e. Hamlet and Othello, I found the word “revenge” used many times by many characters but I selected Hamlet as this play is labeled as “revenge tragedy”. The passage I selected is from Act I scene V when Shakespeare introduces revenge as a theme in the play. In the first 45 lines, Shakespeare has used the word “revenge” thrice.
Following Ghost’s instructions, Hamlet goes after him where he (ghost) discloses the murder of his father and pursues him to take revenge. Ghost tells him that “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life/ Now wears his crown.” i.e. Claudius, the present king and Hamlet’s present father. After the disclosure of his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder” and being instigated by the vows of his father’s ghost, Hamlet decides to take revenge. The remaining story narrates the destructive nature of his passion that encircles everyone around him. Revenge engulfs the whole state of Denmark, every relation and Hamlet’s every capability and it ends with the death of Hamlet.
This passage about the revenge clearly manifest that revenge is not solely an internal phenomenon i.e. it is not only the outcome of complex psychological process. But revenge is a passion that has external dimension too. It comes into play with the constant and strong prompting of some exterior elements. The strong instigation of ghost compelled him to swear to revenge. As the Oxford Dictionary definitions illustrates that revenge is not an action in itself but it is a reaction generated by a “wrong or injury suffered”, so Hamlet’s revenge was a reaction to his father’s treacherous murder.
He had no personal enmity with Claudius. Another thing that is considered necessary for revenge is rage. After rage in Hamlet makes him utter “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift/ As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge.” Ghost assumes that now Hamlet is “art” for revenge. So fury and rage is necessary to take revenge. An innocent and humble nature is incapable of taking revenge unless he is seduced by strong vows and thought of revenge.
This passage from Hamlet has unfolded many new concepts associated with revenge and has capacitated me to understand that sometime “revenge” can be justified on various grounds as Hamlet was reasonably justified to take the revenge of his father’s murder. The famous English essayist, Sir Francis Bacon held the same view as he says in one of his quotations that “Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to the more ought law to weed it out.” So this quotation also justifies revenge and points out toward the wild nature of human being that craves for a justice of its own. He considers it a vital part of human nature that is prone to it instead of eradicating it.
The next resource that I have searched for revenge is an informatory article from Encyclopedia Britannica. It is “Revenge Tragedy” that describes evolution of this genre of literature. It further describes various elements of a successful revenge tragedy. It was amazing to read that a whole genre of literature is devoted to various facets of “revenge”. It further explains that how this revenge tragedy complements with the suppressed feeling of audiences who make it a great success. The next is a magazine article that manifests the political nature of revenge. It describes the revenge of former Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein. This articles show that after being captured, his revenge still afflicts the marine forces and Iraqi people through various means. Although he himself is not taking revenge but his close associates take his revenge.
In his article “Lysias III and Athenian Beliefs about Revenge”, W.V. Harris (1997) locates the Athenian beliefs about revenge through various primary sources. The authoers proves conflicting views about the Athenian conciousness about revenge. But he is of the view that Athenian had develped resentment about the revenge but he also shows that certain people of the society were indulged in taking revenge after finding no judicial or legal solace. He further describes an intersting fact that “for the most part, fourth century Athenian were supposed to seek revenge for extreme provocation not with weapons(…) but with lawsuits”. This clearly suggest thast they had have legalized their revenge by the use of their status and state machinery.
The last resource is a beautiful poem Revenge” by Letitia Elizabeth Landon that portrays the feeling of a lover who is betrayed his love and is revenged by her constant ignorance. This poem expresses the pathos and miseries of the avenged person. It describes that his life is useless and he only lives to pick the thorns of an unattained love and unfulfilled desires. This poem is of importance as it narrates the feelings of a person who is a victim of revenge. It presents a total contrast to the feelings of avenger. Furthermore the victim is in love with the avenger. It taught me a different aspect of revenge.
Overall research exercise to interpret and understand the word “revenge” is fruitful as it induces a craving to hunt for new material about a known or little known concept or phenomenon. I not only judged the concept of “revenge” from different perspective but I also leant the motive and reason that act as impetus to this deadly passion. Initially I was a little frustrated how and from where I should take start. But after taking the first step, it was quite easy to follow the guideline and accomplish the task.
Harris, W.V. Lysias III and Athenian Beliefs about Revenge. The Classical Quarterly, New Series, 47. 2. (1997): 363-366
Klein, Joe. “Saddam’s Revenge.” Time Magazine. Sunday, Sep. 18, 2005
Partington, Angela. The Oxford dictionary of quotations. New York : Oxford University Press, 1992.
“Revenge tragedy.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica
“Revenge.” Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.
“Revenge”. Oxford American English Thesaurus.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 2001.
The Poetical Works of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, ed. William B. Scott. London: George Routledge and Sons. 1873. p. 326 (facs. edn.: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles, 1990
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. (Penguin Classic Edition). Penguin. New York. 2003