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Becoming Hero in William Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

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Becoming Hero in William Shakespeare's Hamlet


The hero; the most dominant of archetypes throughout time and culture, is represented in the following description of the basic unit of the monomyth by the mythic scholar Joseph Campbell, “ A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." It is in this light that we moderns as well as our ancestors have given life and formation to our universal struggles. By representing the greater tribe, community, country, etc… each story has within it, a character who leads and who undertakes that primordial journey toward a destination that will ultimately restore vitality or provide that elixir to her people, which is so needed. However complex, our world has brought forth several thousand variations on the hero itself, with as many problems and hopes as a people might have, so too does the heroic character of a culture embody them. Yet, as complicated and nuanced and non-traditional a society’s representative hero might be, the character of Hamlet seems to be the most unique in that more than creating an anti-hero who still provides in some way for his people, albeit in a way that bucks societies’ cultural norms, Shakespeare has created his story around a man who destroys rather than builds and a hero who subverts the archetype so much, that the basic tenants of heroic description must be altered in order to recognize him at all for what he seems to be.

In the traditions of the hero archetype, the journey of the hero follows a path that can be symbolized by the markers of d...


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...es, directed towards him, at which he is powerless to defend. At the burial scene, where Hamlet has unwittingly encountered death, first with the accidental discovery of Yorick, and then with the accidental discovery of Ophelia, he is forced into a plot not of his own doing. By returning from England with thoughts of action and of blood on his mind, he has been placed in the direct pathway of the revenge of Laertes for the death of his father. Used by Claudius, Laertes is imbued with his own hatred as well as the intellectual powers of the King. By juxtaposing Hamlet and Laertes over the grave of Ophelia, Shakespeare has created a scene where Hamlet has lost sight of his true mission again, this time to prove his skills of articulation and of false mourning for his tormented lover, “Forty thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum."


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