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No Tragic Flaw in Hamlet
It was my observation after reading Hamlet, that the play and its main character are not typical examples of tragedy and contain a questionable "tragic flaw" in the tragic hero. I chose this topic because Hamlet is a tragedy, but one that is very different from classical tragedies such as Medea. I also found quite a lot of controversial debate over the play and its leading character. While reading through my notes, I found that, according to Aristotle, "the tragic hero will most effectively evoke both our pity and terror if he is neither thoroughly good nor evil but a mixture of both; and also that the tragic effect will be stronger if the hero is better than we are in the sense that he is of higher than ordinary moral worth. Such a man is exhibited as suffering a change in fortune from happiness to misery because of a mistaken act, to which he is led by his hamartia ("error of judgment") or his tragic flaw." It is important that this be clear, because I plan to demonstrate how Shakespeare makes Hamlet an atypical tragedy to begin with, and how controversial an issue Hamlet's tragic flaw is.
Shakespeare's Hamlet is an atypical play to begin with, because the play's format doesn't conform to traditional Aristotelian concepts of the 3 unities. Shakespeare does not conform to unity of time, place, or action. Hamlet contains a "play within a play," sub-plots, and its action is not set in one day, but several. According to Aristotle, the play should be one day long. There are also a number of comedic moments. Humor, as Aristotle would have it, would reduce the impact of tragedy. Unlike Medea and Oedipus, which contain virtually no humor whatsoever, the play Hamlet has several comedic moments. The last difference I could find is the stature of the character. In the older plays such as Oedipus, the heroes are primarily kings. Hamlet on the other hand is a prince; his stature is starting out smaller than normal.
While reading Hamlet, I came to the conclusion that even though this is a tragedy, the hero's supposed flaw is not like those in classical tragedies. To the best of my knowledge, the flaw that I could pick out that best fit Hamlet was sloth . . . as well as the critics themselves.
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It is also easy to see that Hamlet is rash at times. Wouldn't being rash override laziness? Does Hamlet not kill Polonius in his mother's bedchamber, dispatches Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, board a pirate ship, and in the end kill Claudius? These are all actions, and in my opinion renounce any laziness one could mistake for being thoughtful. In fact, one critic writes that to delay reflects Hamlet's moral fiber: "Hamlet is meant to be a fine and noble sould, and why should he not hesitate and delay? Not in every man who does that is there a vital defect . . . . There is a defect in the drama, of course, but it is only as our technique is superimposed upon the drama that this is turned into a tragic defect in the hero . . . " (Stoll 19). This is no tragic flaw, to delay . . . only normal human reason. . . .
The other characters can't find a flaw in Hamlet; we can't find a flaw in Hamlet. One has to be invented for us. . . .
A Glossary of Literary Terms. 1988.
Smith, Dr. Leigh. Lecture. UHCL.
Stoll, Elmer. Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study. NY: Gordian Press, 1968.
Weitz, Morris. Hamlet and the Philosophy of Literary Criticism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1964.