Free Hamlet Essays: The Perspective of Aristotle on Hamlet
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Custom Written Essays - The Perspective of Aristotle on Hamlet
One of the foremost Elizabethan tragedies is Hamlet by William Shakespeare and one of the earliest critics of tragedy is Aristotle. One way to measure Shakespeare's work is to appraise it using the methods of classical critics and thereby to see how if it would have retained its meaning. Hamlet is one of the most recognizable and most often quoted tragedies in the all of English literature. Aristotle, is concerned with the proper presentation of tragic plays and poetry. Aristotle defines tragedy as:
"...a representation of an action that is worth serious attention,
complete in itself, and of some amplitude; in language enriched by a
variety of artistic devices appropriate to the several parts of the
play; presented in the form of action, not narration; by means of pity
and fear bringing about the purgation of such emotion. (Aristotle 38 - 9)
Shakespeare uses character, plot and setting to create a mood of disgust and a theme of
proper revenge, as opposed to fear and pity, hence Aristotle would have disapproved of
Hamlet. It is the above mentioned elements; character, plot and setting, used in a non-
Aristotelian way, that makes Hamlet work as a one of the English language's most renown
By proper revenge we refer to the Elizabethan view that revenge must be sought in certain cases, for the world to continue properly. This is the main plot of Hamlet. In Poetics, Aristotle defines for us, the element of plot and shows us how he believes it must be put together. He also believes in various unities which he states are necessary for a proper tragedy. Aristotle believes in what he calls "Unity of plot" (Aristotle 42 - 3). This "Unity" leaves no room for subplots, which are crucial to the theme of Hamlet. Without the subplot of Laertes' revenge and the subplot of Fortinbras' revenge, we are left with a lugubrious play where the ending, although necessary, is pointless. The three sub-plots together as a unit, allow us to understand what Shakespeare thought of revenge.
Another of the ways Aristotle defines plot in tragedy as "The noble actions and the doings of noble persons"(Aristotle 35). By this definition, Hamlet should be a noble person, who does only noble things.