Hamlet and Macbeth Compared as Aristotelian Tragedies Essay

Hamlet and Macbeth Compared as Aristotelian Tragedies Essay

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Aristotle’s Poetics is often considered the blueprint to a successful tragedy; his outline has been used for hundreds of years. Aristotle defines a tragedy as “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude… in the form of an action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions” (House 82). Aristotle believed that the most important part of a strong tragedy was the plot, and from that, the other elements such as character, diction, etc. would emerge. Aristotle states, “the principle of tragedy – the soul, if you like – is the plot, and second to that the characters” (Whalley 27). Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet essentially mirror this definition. While it is true that both plays do not always follow every detail of Aristotle’s rules, they hold true in so many ways that the relation between the works and theory cannot be ignored.
Aristotle asserts that tragedy is “an imitation of an action that serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude” (House, 82) and continues by insisting, “the most tragic situations arise between friends or between blood-relations, that is between those in whom are found the affections and loyalties which characterize the good” (House, 84). Hamlet is the perfect example of this. The play opens, focuses, and ends almost entirely based upon the actions, or reactions, of Hamlet’s quest to avenge his father’s murder. To start, the Ghost of old Hamlet reveals the truth about his death to his son when he says, “But know, thou noble youth the serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown” (Hamlet I.v.38-30). It quickly dawns upon Hamlet that he would be able to avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle and taking the...


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...o sleepwalk and unintentionally reveals to her doctor and nurses why she and her husband are delving deeper into madness.
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth are both celebrated and popular tragedies that adhere to the majority of the guidelines set by Aristotle in Poetics. The multiple relations between the two masterpieces show that Shakespeare was indeed an extremely talented playwright who knew not only how to relate characters to the audience, but also how to spin a tale in such a way as to keep all those who watch engaged until the final scene.



Works Cited

House, Humphry. (1978). Aristotle’s Poetics: A Course in Eight Lectures. Great Britain: Greenwood Press.
The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans, et al. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.
Whalley, George. (1997). Aristotle’s Poetics. Canada: McGill-Queens University Press.

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