William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright of the English language, wrote a total of 37 plays in his lifetime, Hamlet being the most famous. Hamlet was written around 1599 and follows Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, who is faced with many hardships throughout the play; eventually Hamlet’s life comes to a tragic end. The play Hamlet can be defined as a tragedy in every sense of the word: there is a great downfall in fortune for all characters involved and although Hamlet does manage to gain what he originally sought (his revenge) by the end of the play Hamlet ends up dying.
However, although his death can be seen as inevitable it also seems inevitable because Shakespeare wrote Hamlet as a Tragic Hero . What exactly does being a Tragic Hero entail? Ever since Aristotle wrote about it in his Poetics , this has been the subject of great debate. Hamlet does, however, contain most of the necessary characteristics to be considered a Tragic Hero , which will be discussed later on. The first characteristic is that Hamlet’s initial situation is lacking in some way; this starts off Hamlet’s character flaw .
Hamlet is obviously very intelligent but lacks action (he delays taking revenge for his father’s death). Hamlet goes against traditional gender roles as he shows no interest in women or courting them (unlike his friend Horatio who has romantic feelings for Ophelia). He often displays mental instability and irrationality (for example what he says about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when they are sent to by Claudius ). Hamlet is also very pensive and even melancholic. Hamlet’s character flaw leads to the second characteristic that he must have, an error of judgement .
Hamlet is too indecisive which leads him to make a lot of errors in judgement. Hamlet has to kill his father’s ghost because it demands Hamlet revenge for his death but Hamlet kills Polonius instead, not Claudius as he should have done. Hamlet also says that his lack of action (not killing Claudius like the ghost demanded) was sensible because he meant to discover whether or not Claudius was guilty by asking him for a trial before actually attempting to murder him again; however, Hamlet ends up making this mistake anyway when he asks Gertrude if she has any knowledge of Claudius’ guilt.
Hamlet’s final error in judgement is when he chooses to act for Polonius’ death, thinking it will lead him straight to Claudius but this leads Hamlet into what can be seen as his greatest mistake: fighting Laertes . Hamlet originally fights Laertes because Hamlet thinks that Laertes killed Ophelia (which is true) but Hamlet ends up killing himself by drinking the poisoned drink which has been prepared by Claudius and Gertrude. The third characteristic that Hamlet must possess in order to be considered a Tragic Hero (although not absolutely essential) is hamartia .
Hamartia literally means ‘to the mark’ and this applies to Hamlet as Hamlet’s character flaw leads him directly to his own death. Hamlet’s hamartia is that he cannot come to a decision and therefore ends up taking far too long to do anything which means Hamlet always falls victim to unforeseeable accidents, such as when Polonius dies. Hamlet impales himself with the poisoned sword Laertes has brought (which Hamlet believes contains water rather than poison).
The sword Hamlet takes from Laertes is poisoned because Claudius intended for it to be used against Hamlet but it does not kill him immediately; instead, the poison spreads due to Hamlets foiled attempt at taking revenge on Claudius. The final characteristic that must be present in order for Hamlet to be considered a Tragic Hero is the tragic flaw in Hamlet’s character . Hamlet’s hamartia is his indecisiveness and typical Hamlet-like melancholy and insanity.
This all means Hamlet must also suffer; this can be seen when Hamlet destroys Ophelia’s relationship with Laertes (after Ophelia reveals that she has been courting Laertes) by telling her that he no longer cares for her. Hamlet tells Ophelia, his one true love , to go forth into the world and to ‘get thee [Ophelia] to a nunnery [a place where unmarried women were sent], go’ because Hamlets believes he cannot fall in love again after the death of his father ( Hamlet ‘s hamartia is evident here because Hamlet does not want to fall in love but Hamlet falls in love with Ophelia anyway).
Hamlets also suffers great losses when his mother marries Hamlets uncle only two months after the death of King Hamlet. Hamlet loses both his parents almost simultaneously when he believes that Claudius killed both Hamlets father and Ophelias brother, Laertes who Hamlets discovers is in fact alive. At this point in the play, Hamlets character flaws have led him into all of these terrible situations which have even lead Hamlet to kill himself .
However, it could be argued that upon reaching the above conclusion one real that although Hamlets character flaws led Hamlet to kill himself, Hamlets life was not necessarily tragic because Hamlet did what he had always planned on doing: killing Claudius. Hamlet’s plan throughout the entire play is to get revenge for his father and Hamlet finally succeeds when he kills Claudius before dying himself.
Hamlet dies a hero and therefore does not meet the Greek definition of a Tragic Hero: someone who must die but also be pitiable and without hamartia (without a character flaw). Discuss hamlet as a tragic hero – Hamlet is a tragic hero because he possesses the three characteristics of a tragic hero: hamartia, death and suffering. Hamlets hamartia is his indecisiveness which leads Hamlet to take far too long making decisions which always ends up with Hamlet falling victim to unforeseeable accidents.
Hamlets death can be seen as both good and bad; Hamlet dies before sundown (good) but Hamlet kills himself (also bad). Hamlets suffering is evident through all of the terrible situations that happen throughout the play; for example, when Hamlet destroys Ophelias relationship with Laertes after finding out that Ophelia has been courting Laertes (Ophelia reveals this after Hamlet tells Hamlet that he no longer cares for her). – Hamlet is a Tragic hero because Hamlets hamartia (his indecisiveness) leads him to his death.
Hamlets suffering can be seen through all of the terrible situations that happen throughout the play. Hamlets decision to kill Claudius before killing himself also means Hamlets death is both good and bad; Hamlet dies before sundown (good) but Hamlet kills himself (also bad). It could be argued that whether Hamlets life was tragic dying after achieving his goal; killing Claudius, depends on what one believes about Hamlets motivation for killing Claudius.
Hamlets motivation is not to avenge his father but Hamlets motivation is instead Hamlet’s insanity and need for revenge after Hamlets discovers that Claudius killed Hamlets father. Therefore, whether Hamlets life was tragic depends on how one defines Hamlet’s desire to kill Claudius; if Hamlet genuinely wants to kill Claudius out of vengeance then Hamlets life is tragic but if Hamlet only desires to kill Claudius because he loves Ophelia then Hamlets life would probably not be considered tragic (because the tragedy begins when Hamlet finds out his father was murdered).