Hamlet as Tragic Hero Essay
1361 Words6 Pages
Hamlet, the titled character of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare’s most prominent play, is arguably the most complex, relatable, and deep character created by Shakespeare. His actions and thoughts throughout the play show the audience how fully developed and unpredictable he is with his mixed personalities. What Hamlet goes through in the play defines the adventures encountered by a tragic hero. In this timeless tragedy, despite Hamlet’s great nobility and knowledge, he has a tragic flaw that ultimately leads to his ironic death. The conception of this character dates back to as early as the 13th century. The first story that Hamlet’s tale can be traced back to is Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum (“History of the Danes”).…show more content…
The character’s stature plays an important role as well. In that, the nobler the person is, the greater the fall at the climax of the play, thus evoking strong emotions from the audience. In this revenge tragedy, which is a play in which the plot typically centers on a spectacular attempt to avenge the murder of a family member, Hamlet’s call to adventure is when the ghost, whom he believes to be the ghost of his recently deceased father, beseeches Hamlet that he avenge his death (Charters and Charters 1251). At first looking at the ghost, he questions the authority of him and contemplates that the apparition is just the devil tempting him: Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable
Thou com’st in such a questionable shape (I. iv. 39-43)
This is the first time the audience becomes aware of Hamlet’s ability to be a great thinker and philosopher. However, from this moment on, Hamlet is divulged into a downward spiral of an obsession of death and tragedy. This onus that he must set things right that his conscience forces him to carry during the play is the inception of his hamartia. Hamlet’s obsession of avenging his father’s death causes him to not always think clearly. At times Hamlet is suffering from analysis paralysis
Is Hamlet a tragic hero? In many senses, Hamlet is the quintessential tragic hero. Not only does he begin with the noblest motivations (to punish his father’s murderer) but by the end, his situation is do dire that the only plausible final act should be his death. Like the classical tragic hero, Hamlet does not survive to see the full outcome of his actions and more importantly, this is because he possesses a tragic flaw. While there are a number of flaws inherent to his character, it is Hamlet’s intense identification with and understanding of the power of words and language that ultimately bring about his requisite tragic ending. Hamlet’s deep connection with language and words causes him to base his perceptions of reality on his interpretation and understanding of words and he allows himself to become overwrought with creating meaning. As this thesis statement for Hamlet suggests, eventually, his own words and philosophical internal banter are his end since being a highly verbose and introspective man, this is both one of his greatest gifts as well as his tragic flaw.Hamlet fits several into several of the defining traits of a tragic hero in literature, particularly in terms of how he possesses a tragic flaw. The fact that Hamlet’s best trait is also his downfall (his tragic flaw, in other words) makes him a prime candidate for a tragic hero and in fact, makes him one of the most tragic figures in the works of Shakespeare in general. More specifically, what makes Hamlet even more of a tragic hero is that his actions and tragic flaw is not his fault. He is an introspective character and in a normal situation, this might not be a problem. However, being part of the royal family makes him prone to negative and stressful situations and thus his engagement with words to level in which he is almost crippled is absolutely tragic, even if it is not because of anything he had overtly done. For Hamlet, the power of language and words are the key to both the driving action of the play as well its outcome as all characters have somehow been affected by poisoned words. In many senses, each character’s sense of reality has been created and shaped because of their relationship to language and words, often to tragic ends and for this reason, it becomes clear that his fascination with language is part of his tragic flaw as a character. The reader of this play by Shakespeare is offered some degree of foreshadowing when the ghost of Hamlet’s father states, in one of the important quotes from Hamletthat Claudius has poisoned “the whole ear of Denmark" with his words. Although the reader is not aware of it yet, words will drive the action of the play. For instance, it is not necessarily Hamlet’s actions toward Ophelia that are part of what drives her to suicide, but his words. He, like other men in the play, scolds her like a child, telling her she should enter a nunnery instead of becoming a “breeder of sinners" (III.i.122-123). While he may have simply ignored her or shunned her in a more physical manner, instead he uses the power of words to act as daggers.
Unlike many of the other characters in the play, Hamlet understands fully his skill with words and language and he uses this, above all, to achieve his ends. His exchanges with Ophelia are just one example of his use of language to lead toward a desired result. For example, it is not simply his reaction to his mother that drives that their relationship, but his skillful use of words and language. At one point, Hamlet recognizes his power with words and tells the audience, as if recognizing this to be his tragic flaw “I will speak daggers to her, but use none" (III.ii.366). The idea that words are equal with daggers is a central idea in this text and it is also noticeable how Hamlet’s belief in the power of language makes others believe it as well, especially those who are full of words, but who speak only hollow vapid sentences such as Polonius or Claudius, who actually makes the statement while praying that “my words fly up, my thoughts remain below" (II.iii.96). The idea expressed here is that he is always speaking but is not using language to his benefit—even when it is in supplication to God. The characters in Hamlet by Shakespeare who are not as adept at weaving reality through language are not as sharp as Hamlet and as the play continues, one notices that the power of words is truly equivalent to that of the dagger.