The Tragedy of Hamlet

Arguably the best piece of writing ever done by William Shakespeare, Hamlet the is the classic example of a tragedy. In all tragedies the hero suffers, and usually dies at the end. Othello stabs himself, Romeo and Juliet commit suicide, Brutis falls on his sword, and like them Hamlet dies by getting cut with a poison tipped sword. But that is not all that is needed to consider a play a tragedy, and sometimes a hero doesn’t even need to die.


Not every play in which a Hero dies is considered a tragedy. There are more elements needed to label a play one. Probably the most important element is an amount of free will. In every tragedy, the characters must displays some. If every action is controlled by a hero’s destiny, then the hero’s death can’t be avoided, and in a tragedy the sad part is that it could. Hamlet’s death could have been avoided many times. Hamlet had many opportunities to kill Claudius, but did not take advantage of them. He also had the option of making his claim public, but instead he chose not too. A tragic hero doesn’t need to be good. For example, MacBeth was evil, yet he was a tragic hero, because he had free will. He also had only one flaw, and that was pride. He had many good traits such as bravery, but his one bad trait made him evil. Also a tragic hero doesn’t have to die. While in all Shakespearean tragedies, the hero dies, in others he may live but suffer “Moral Destruction”.
In Oedipus Rex, the proud yet morally blind king plucks out his eyes, and has to spend his remaining days as a wandering, sightless beggar, guided at every painful step by his daughter, Antigone. A misconception about tragedies is that nothing good comes out of them, but it is actually the opposite. In Romeo and Juliet, although both die, they end the feud between the Capulets and the Montegues. Also, Romeo and Juliet can be together in heaven. In Hamlet, although Hamlet dies, it is almost for the best. How could he have any pleasure during the rest of his life, with his parents and Ophelia dead. Also, although Hamlet dies, he is able to kill Claudius and get rid of the evil ruling the throne.

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Every tragic play must have a tragic hero. The tragic hero must possess many good traits, as well as one flaw, which eventually leads to his downfall. A tragic hero must be brave and noble. In Othello, Othello had one fatal flaw, he was too great. Othello was too brave, too noble, and especially too proud to allow himself to be led back to Venice in chains. A tragic hero must not back down from his position. He also has to have free will, in order to stand up for what he believes in. Finally, the audience must have some sympathy for the tragic hero. In MacBeth, although MacBeth commits many murders, one almost feels sorry for him and his fate.
Hamlet is the perfect example of the tragic hero. Hamlet has all the good traits needed to be a tragic hero. He is brave and daring. One example of this is that when he went to England, he was taking a big risk. If his plan didn’t work, he would have been executed He also is also loyal. His loyalty to his father, was the reason he was so angry at Claudius and his Mother. Another trait was that he was intelligent. He was able to think up the idea of faking insanity, in order to get more information about Claudius. But Hamlet like all other tragic hero’s had a flaw. He couldn’t get around to doing anything, because he couldn’t move on. He was a full grown adult, yet he still attended school in England, because he couldn’t move on. Also, it took him a long time to stop grieving about his father, because he didn’t want to move past that part of his life. And after he finally did, Hamlet couldn’t get around to killing Claudius. He kept pretending he was insane even after he was sure that Claudius killed his father. The final example of Hamlet’s inability to get around to do anything was that he was dating Ophelia for a long time, but never got around to marrying her. The audience was able to feel sympathy for Hamlet too. He had just lost his father, and his mother remarried so quickly that according to him they could have used the leftover food from the funeral in the wedding reception. Also, the audience could feel that Hamlet loved his parents and this sudden change was hurting him.


In any tragedy there is a tragic hero, and he must possess certain characteristics in order to be one. He must have many good traits such as loyalty and bravery, but one bad one such as pride. Also the audience must have sympathy for the hero. A tragic hero also must have free will or his fate would be decided for him, and his death could be avoided. Finally, the audience must have sympathy for the tragic hero, or it wouldn’t seem so tragic. Hamlet is a perfect example of a tragic hero. He was brave, loyal, and intelligent, but he couldn’t move on past one thing, which led to his death. He had a choice of how he would deal with Claudius, and like other tragic hero’s made a decision. Also, the audience was able to feel sympathy for the position Hamlet was in. These attributes made Hamlet the perfect example of a tragic hero.

The Tragedy Of Hamlet

The Tragedy of Hamlet Annonymous Disillusionment. Depression. Despair. These are the burning emotions churning in young Hamlet’s soul as he attempts to come to terms with his father’s death and his mother’s incestuous, illicit marriage. While Hamlet tries to pick up the pieces of his shattered idealism, he consciously embarks on a quest to seek the truth hidden in Elsinore; this, in stark contrast to Claudius’ fervent attempts to obscure the truth of murder. Deception versus truth; illusion versus reality. In the play, Prince Hamlet is constantly having to differentiate amongst them.

However, there is always an exception to the rule, and in this case, the exception lies in Act 2, Scene 2, where an ‘honest’ conversation (sans the gilded trappings of deceit) takes place between Hamlet and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern. Via the use of prose and figurative language, Shakespeare utilizes the passage to illustrate Hamlet’s view of the cosmos and mankind. Throughout the play, the themes of illusion and mendaciousness have been carefully developed. The entire royal Danish court is ensnared in a web of espionage, betrayal, and lies. Not a single man speaks his mind, nor addresses his purpose clearly.

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As Polonius puts it so perfectly: ‘And thus do we of wisdom and of reach^ By indirections find directions out’ Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 71-3 The many falsehoods and deceptions uttered in Hamlet are expressed through eloquent, formal, poetic language (iambic pentameter), tantamount to an art form. If deceit is a painted, ornate subject then, its foil of truth is simple and unvarnished. Accordingly, when the pretenses of illusion are discarded in Act 2, Scene 2, the language is written in direct prose. Addressing Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet pleads with them to deliver up honest speech about the intent of their arrival: ‘[offer up] Anything but to th’ purpose.’ Act 2, Scene 2, Line 300 In a gesture of extreme significance, in a quote complementary to Polonius’ aforementioned one, Hamlet demands: ‘Be even and direct with me whether you were sent for or no.’ Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 310-11 Being the bumbling fools they are, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern disclose their intentions and purposes to Hamlet, revealing the King and Queen’s instructions. Thus does truth prevail in this passage. For this reason, the whole passage is devoid of the ‘artful’ poetic devices that are used in the better portion of the play.

The recurring motif of corruption also appears in the passage. Due to the wicked internal proceedings in the state of Denmark (e.g. murder, incest), Shakespeare implies that the whole state is ‘soiled’, which in turn has a direct negative consequence in the grand universal scheme of things. Imagery of warped and distasteful plants, in place of the traditional ‘aesthetically correct’ beautiful flowers in a garden, serves to further reinforce the degeneration theme: ”Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.’ Act 1, Scene 2 Essentially, all of life, and all that was good and beautiful in life (e.g.

the garden) is sullied. Hamlet, the disillusioned idealist, continues with the motif when he disheartenedly declares: ‘the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory^’ -Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 321-2 [the air] ‘why, it appeareth nothing to me but a fouled and pestilent congregation of vapors.’ -Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 325-6 The above lines represent Hamlet’s cosmic view on the planet. He finds the world to be empty and lifeless, dirty and diseased, and his particular place in it to be desolate and lonely. Indeed, he feels so isolated and entrapped in his native land that he says: [the world is a prison] ‘A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ th’ worst.’ -Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 264-6 This view of the world exemplifies the micro/macro concept, where Denmark is the ‘micro’ manifestation of a prison for our hero. The taint of ‘micro’ Denmark leads to repercussions that in turn affect the whole universal order, leading to the consequence of the world itself becoming the ‘macro’ manifestation of a prison in Hamlet’s eyes.

Further along in the same paragraph, Hamlet offers up his opinion on man, extolling his virtues and excellent qualities (‘what a piece of work is man^’). Yet, it is tremendously ironic, that the ideal type of man Hamlet is describing is nowhere to be found in the play. Hamlet himself is indecisive, unable to take action, Claudius is a slave to his lusts and passions, Polonius is a simpering, servile old fool, and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are mindless ninnies. Quite simply, no ‘true man’ as Hamlet describes him exists in the play. As a result of this dismal realization, and because of his inability to adapt to the ‘unnatural state of things in Denmark’, Hamlet has lost the love for life he once had.

This loss of enthusiasm also stems from the fact that he intrinsically knows there is more wickedness brewing under the superficial illusionary surface of calm that Claudius is trying to promote. As a culmination of all these factors, Hamlet loses all faith in man: ‘And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’ Scene 2, Act 2, Lines 332-3 Drawing on Biblical allusions, Hamlet redefines the position of man as simply ‘that which came from dust’. From this stance, it is inferred that solely God is Truth. Man, coming from the lowly earth, cannot be depended upon to deliver pure and true thoughts, as his source of origin itself is impure and unclean. If one establishes this rationality for mankind’s nature, then all the characters in the play can be accounted for.

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