Hamlet as a Tragic Hero


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Hamlet as a Tragic Hero

 

 

        William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright of the English language,

wrote a total of 37 plays in his lifetime, all of which can be categorized under

tragedy, comedy, or history.  The Tragedy of Hamlet, Shakespeare's most popular

and greatest tragedy, displays his genius as a playwright, as literary critics

and academic commentators have found an unusual number of themes and literary

techniques present in Hamlet.  Hamlet concerns the murder of the king of Denmark

and the murdered king's son's quest for revenge.  Its main character, Hamlet,

possesses a tragic flaw which obstructs his desire for revenge and ultimately

brings about his death.  This tragic flaw makes him a tragic hero, a character

who is destroyed because of a major weakness, as his death at the end could

possibly have been avoided were it not for his tragic flaw.  Hamlet's flaw of

irresolution, the uncertainty on how to act or proceed, is shown when Hamlet

sees a play and the passion the actors had, after Hamlet's third soliloquy, in

Hamlet's fourth soliloquy,  and in Hamlet's indecisive pursuit in avenging his

father's death.

 

        First, Hamlet's flaw of irresolution is shown when he sees a play and

the passion one particular actor had. A group of players has arrived and Hamlet

arranges a personal viewing of The Murder of Gonzago with a small portion of his

own lines inserted.  Hamlet then observes one portion of the play in which one

of the players put on a great display of emotion.  Hamlet, besieged by guilt and

self-contempt,  remarks in his second soliloquy of Hamlet of the emotion this

player showed despite the fact that the player had nothing to be emotional about.

Hamlet observed that he himself had all the reason in the world to react with

great emotion and sorrow, yet he failed to show any that could compare with the

act of the player.  Hamlet calls himself a "rogue and peasant slave" and a "dull

and muddy-mettled rascal" who, like a "John-a-dreams", can take no action.

Hamlet continues his fiery speech by degrading himself and resoluting to take

some sort of action to revenge his father's death.

 

     Next, Hamlet's flaw of irresolution is shown after his third soliloquy, the

famed "To be or not to be…" lines.  Hamlet directly identifies his own tragic

flaw, remarking of his own inability to act. Hamlet, unsure whether or not the

his uncle Claudius was responsible for his father's murder, schemes to have The

Murder of Gonzago presented to the royal court, with a few minor changes, so its

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contents would closely resemble the circumstances behind the murder. Reflecting

on his own guilt, he talks of death, referring to it as the undiscovered country,

and then continues by riddling his own feelings.  He declares "conscience does

make cowards of us all" and that the natural ruddy complexion of one intent, or

resolute, on an action is "sicklied" over with the "pale cast of thought".  This

makes an individual second guess his own actions and often times take no action

at all, due to his own irresolution.  These statements not only applied to what

had occurred up to that point but also foreshadowed what was to occur.

 

     Next, Hamlet's flaw of irresolution is shown during his fourth soliloquy.

Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, and his army have passed by Hamlet and his

escorts.  Hamlet sees the action Fortinbras was taking in fighting and then

examines Fortinbras's efforts and bravery in an attempt to rekindle his own

desire for revenge against Claudius for his father's death.  Hamlet remarks how

everything around him attempts to "spur my dull revenge", yet he takes no action.

He notices how he thinks "too precisely on an event" and that he has "cause,

and will, and strength, and means" to get revenge and how the evidence pointing

to Claudius as his father's killer is as evident as earth itself.  Hamlet

finally decides "my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!"  He has finally

decided he must take action against Claudius in some form or fashion.

 

     Last, Hamlet's indecisive pursuit in avenging his father's death is shown

as evidence of his tragic flaw.  Hamlet encounters numerous opportunities to

kill Claudius, yet he always comes up with some excuse preventing action.  After

first hearing of the crime from his father's ghost, Hamlet immediately sets out

to take action.  Hamlet then began to think that perhaps his father's ghost was

conjured by the devil in an attempt to make Hamlet become irrational and kill

Claudius, who might happen to be innocent, which would forever damn his soul.

Hamlet then schemes to determine Claudius's guilt through the play.   Claudius

views the play and becomes very uncomfortable with the situation to the point of

stopping the play and leaving.  This confirms Claudius's guilt to Hamlet, and

Hamlet again sets out to avenge his father's death.  Hamlet then catches

Claudius in prayer, a rare time he will find Claudius alone.  Hamlet, again,

begins to think how Claudius will have had his sins forgiven and that he wants

to damn Claudius's soul.  Hamlet resolves to wait and kill Claudius at another

time.  Claudius, through all of this, realizes Hamlet knows of his crime and

plots to have Hamlet killed by first sending him to England and then having him

murdered.  Hamlet escapes this ploy and Claudius plots again to have Hamlet

killed in a fencing match.  At the fencing match, Hamlet is wounded by a

poisoned strike with the foil.  Hamlet, in a dying act, kills Claudius by making

him drink poison. Hamlet's flaw of irresolution essentially destroyed him, as

his failure to act in previous situations led to his own death.

 

     Hamlet's irresolution is obvious in his actions after viewing the emotion

of the actors, after his third soliloquy, in his fourth soliloquy, and in his

indecisive pursuit of revenge for his father's death.  Hamlet was able to avenge

his father's death, but his own death due to his irresolution labels him as a

tragic hero.  The Tragedy of Hamlet masterfully shows how the inability to act,

however noble the intentions, can be detrimental to character.

 

 

 


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