A Comparison of Hamlet and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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A Comparison of Hamlet and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

A Comparison of the Character Hamlet, of Shakespeare's Hamlet, and McMurphy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

It is suggested that in modern literature, the true element of tragedy

is not captured because the protagonist is often of the same social status as

the audience, and therefor, his downfall is not tragic. This opinion, I find,

takes little consideration of the times in which we live. Indeed, most modern

plays and literature are not about monarchs and the main character is often

equal to the common person; this, however, does not mean the plot is any less

miserable nor the outcome any less wretched. The first work I have chosen

proves this fact. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a first novel by Ken Kesey

published in 1962, is a contemporary tragedy describing the downfall of a

rigidly administered ward in a mental institution led by the rebellion of a new

admission. The work I have chosen to compare this novel to is the classic play

by William Shakespeare, Hamlet. There is an intimate relationship between

these to works beyond that they are both tragedies; the protagonist in each

lacks conventional hero qualities. Both Hamlet and R.P. McMurphy in One Flew

Over the Cuckoo's Nest, can be defined as anti-heroes making these two pieces

comparable for study.

To examine the aspect of anti-heroes in tragedy, and how this relates to

the characters of R.P.McMurphy and Hamlet, an analysis of the motivation of each

is necessary. Motivation is the source of all action, and only in this area

these two characters similar to a traditional protagonist. As the character

himself evolves through the course of the plot, so do their motives. Hamlet and

McMurphy begin at different points with different purposes, but soon meet with a

common incentive. For Hamlet, this initial impulse is derived from his

embitterment towards his mother for remarrying so soon after his father's death

and for selecting her late husband's brother Claudius, as her second partner.

In a witty statement to his closest friend Horatio, he expresses his

indignation; "The funeral baked meats/ Did coldly furnish forth the marriage

tables." Entirely unrelated, is McMurphy's need to be "top man".

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