The Hero, a Person of High Rank:
Hamlet As A Tragedy may be defined as a story or exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man occupying a high position or status. The hero must be a man holding a lofty position and commanding respect; and the suffering and misfortune must be of an exceptional or extraordinary kind so is to produce strong tragic feelings, especially of pity, awe, terror. Hamlet is primarily and chiefly the tragedy of Denmark. Hamlet was a well-known, honored, and well loved figure in the political life of Denmark at the time; it which the incidents of this play are supposed to have taken place. The play depicts the mental torment and torture which Hamlet endure as a result of what he rightly considers to be the shameful conduct of us mother in re-marrying within two months of the death of her first husband, and in marrying this time a man who is in every respect inferior to her first husband Hamlet’s distress over the conduct of his mother is clearly reflected in his very first soliloquy in which he says
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable.
Seem to me all the uses o! This world
In this soliloquy he contrasts his dead father with the present King “So excellent a King; that was to this, “Hyperion to a satyr. The conduct of his mother leads him to this generalization: “Frailty, thy name is woman!” Hamlet’s mental suffering is intensified by the revelation which the Ghost makes to him and by the task which the Ghost now imposes on him Unable to avenge the murder of his father promptly because of a temperamental inability,. Besides Hamlet and the King, others who die in this play are Polonius, Ophelia, the Queen, and Laertes.
So great is the mental suffering of Hamlet that, at times, he seems to have gone mad. Indeed, many critics are of the opinion that Hamlet actually goes mad However, having been told early in the play of Hamlet’s decision to put on an “antic disposition”, we know’ that Hamlet actually pretend to be mad and that he is not to be regarded as actually mad. But there can be no doubt of the genuine despondency that afflicts Hamlet throughout the play and that makes him bitter and cynical in his conversations with the various characters in the play excepting Horatio. Apart from the obnoxious conduct of his mother in having re-married hastily, and apart from the Ghost’s shocking revelation, what distresses Hamlet is .what he believes to be Ophelia’s betrayal of his love for her and of his trust in her (although here, of course, he is sadly mistaken and this mistake too is part of Hamlet as a tragedy).
The Element of Melodrama
In addition to the hero’s sufferings and death, there is always in Shakespeare’s tragedies an element of melodrama or sensationalism which contributes to the feeling of terror. In Hamlet, we have several sensational elements. There is, first of all, the appearance of the Ghost. When the play opens, the Ghost has already been seen twice by the guards. When Horatio, who was skeptical of the existence of ghosts, sees the apparition of the dead King of Denmark, he is shocked, as we are, and be trembles and looks pale, as we are likely to do if we witness a performance of the play. Indeed, the appearance of the Ghost is a blood-curdling sight. Hamlet too is shaken when he sees the Ghost and he is shaken even more to hear the circumstances in which his father met his death.
The next melodramatic event in the play is the murder of Polonius. Polonius has hidden himself behind an arras in order to overhear the conversation between Hamlet and his mother When the Queen is scared by the tone in which Hamlet speaks to her, she shouts for help and so does Polonius, whereupon Hamlet thinking perhaps that the King is hiding behind the arras, makes a pass with his sword through it and slays Polonius. The Queen is stricken by awe and grief and says to Hamlet; “Oh my, what hast thou done? Oh, what a rash and bloody deed is this?” This is a murder committed on the stage before the very eyes of the audience
Then the scene of Laertes’s revolt against the King has a melodramatic tinge Laetres, grieved by the murder of his father, rebels against the King and would have attacked the monarch if the latter had not been tactful enough to bring him under control Laertes in this scene (Act IV, Scene v) appears in a furious mood and makes angry speeches. He demands to know how his father was killed.
Another melodramatic situation is Laertes’s leaping into the grave that has newly been dug for the burial of Ophelia, followed by Hamlet’s leaping into it. Laertes is so grief-stricken by the tragic death of his sister that he would like to be buried in the grave along with her. Laertes’s action in leaping into the grave is certainly melodramatic. Hamlet, who too is grief-stricken by Ophelia’s death, feels provoked by Laertes’s action because he cannot believe that anybody else could have loved Ophelia as much as he (Hamlet) did. So he too leaps into the grave.
Facts You should know About Hamlet As A Tragedy
Finally, of course, there are the various murders which bring the play to a close. The Queen is the first one to die, having drunk some wine which had been poisoned. Then the King dies, having been stabbed by Hamlet and having, in addition, been forced to drink the poisoned wine. The next to die is Laertes who has stabbed by Hamlet with a rapier, the point of which had been dipped in poison. The last to die is the hero himself because he too had been wounded with the same rapier with which he afterwards wounded Laertes. These several deaths on the stage have obviously a melodramatic character.
A Defect in the Hero’s Character
The calamities and sufferings which lead to the final disaster in a Shakespearean tragedy are not merely sent from above, nor do they happen by accident; they result chiefly from the actions and character of those concerned. Not character alone, but character chiefly, is responsible for suffering and tragedy. The tragedy of Hamlet is due mainly to a defect in his own character. This imperfection is his inability for quick decisions.. Hamlet is by nature given to reflection and meditation. He thinks too much. Although, after the Ghost has revealed the fact of Claudius’s treachery, Hamlet determines to avenge his father’s murder, he goes on waiting till it occurs to him that he should verify the truth of what the Ghost has told him. And so he arranges a play which he calls “the mouse-trap. But even after he has made sure that the King is guilty, Hamlet does not proceed to take revenge. On the contrary, even when he gets an excellent opportunity to kill Claudius, he spares him on the ground that the King is at prayer, that, if killed now, he would go straight to heaven, and that this should not be allowed to happen.
The Element of Fate:
It has been pointed out above that although a defect of character is chiefly responsible for the tragic end of the hero, that defect is not solely or wholly responsible for it. Fate or destiny also plays a part in the tragic dramas of Shakespeare. Hamlet certainly produces a feeling in us that there is some mysterious power working in this universe and that this power upsets human hopes, plans, and calculations. The very appearance of the Ghost in this play is a situation for which fate is responsible. The fact of the late King having been murdered by Claudius is revealed to Hamlet not by any human being but by a spirit from other world. The appearance of the Ghost, therefore, arouses a sense of mystery and creates a feeling that fate is playing a deliberate part in human affairs. The Ghost imposes a task on Hamlet. The fact that Hamlet is required to perform that task when he is temperamentally and constitutionally incapable of it is nothing but a manifestation of fate.
Finding Hamlet irresolute, fate again intervenes, so that Hamlet again sees the Ghost, this time in his mother’s closet, and is told by it that it has come to “whet thy almost blunted purpose.” The sense of fate is further deepened in us by the incident of a pirate vessel attacking the ship by which Hamlet is proceeding to England under the command of the King. Here, fate intervenes in the form of a pure accident. The course of the story would have been different if fate had not manipulated this encounter between the two ships resulting in Hamlet’s return to Denmark.
The Element of Conflict
Conflict is the essence of a Shakespearean tragedy. This conflict is of two type : (a) outward conflict among the various characters, and (b) inner conflict in the mind of the hero. Both these types of conflict exist side by side in a Shakespearean tragedy. In Hamlet, the outward conflict takes place between Hamlet and Claudius. Hamlet seeks to avenge his father’s murder by putting an end to the life of Claudius, while Claudius seeks to get rid of Hamlet in order to ensure his own security and stability. Towards the end of the play an outward conflict also takes place between Hamlet and Laertes, because Laertes seeks to avenge his own father’s murder by killing Hamlet. The inner conflict takes place in the mind of Hamlet, and is revealed to us in Hamlet’s successive soliloquies. Almost every soliloquy of Hamlet expresses a mental debate. The most celebrated of these soliloquies is the one that begins:
‘To be or not to be—that is the question” which contains perhaps the most agonizing debate in Hamlet’s mind. This inner conflict also appears very poignantly in the soliloquy which begins:“How all occasions do inform against me!” In this soliloquy, Hamlet asks himself whether his failure to avenge his father’s murder is due to an element of cowardice in his nature. He feels greatly distressed by the thought that he has not lived up to his own notion of honor which demanded that he should put an end to the life of his father’s murderer.
The Greatness of the Hero and its Two-fold Effect:
The tragic heroes of Shakespeare arc built on a grand scale. A hero in a Shakespearean tragedy has either nobility of mind, or strength of character, or genius, or immense force which, in spite of his defect or flaw, excites our admiration and sympathy for him. Hamlet is a man of brilliance; he has a high sense of humor; his heart is full of devotion to his dead father; and he has a noble mind. These qualities win him our admiration and sympathy in spite of his lack of a capacity for quick action and his tendency to procrastination. The greatness of a hero in Shakespearean tragedy has two results: (a) since the hero is represented as noble and morally great, the effect of the tragedy is never depressing. We feel that man is not mean or wretched though he may be a victim of suffering and misfortune.
A Shakespearean tragedy does not, therefore, leave us cynical or desperate. (b) Such greatness perishing and getting destroyed fills us with a sense of waste. Both these results are to be seen in the case of Hamlet. Here the noble character of Hamlet creates in us a feeling of appreciation for the dignity and greatness of human nature. At the same time, a feeling of waste is aroused in us when we witness that the nobility and greatness of Hamlet come to nothing and when we realize what immense good he could have done to his country under different circumstances.
Development in the Hero’s Character Hamlet As A Tradegy
In a tragedy the hero normally comes to the realization of a truth of which he had been hitherto unaware. There is, as Aristotle says, “a change from ignorance to knowledge. But in Greek tragedy there is little more than the clearing up of a mistaken identity. Not so with the tragedies of Shakespeare’s maturity. In Hamlet and King Lear, for instance, there is a transformation in the character of the hero. Toward the close of the play, Lear is the opposite of what he had been at the beginning. He has been purged of his arrogance and pride; and the pomp and circumstance of kingship, to which he had attached great importance, are to him no more than an interesting spectacle. What matters now is the love of the daughter he had rejected in the first scene. When we first meet Hamlet, he is in a state of depression. The world to him is “an unwedded garden” from which he would willingly depart. And though we catch glimpses of his former self in his conversations with Horatio, his state of depression continues.
By the final scene, however, his composure has returned. He no longer appears in slovenly dress: he apologizes to Laertes, and he treats Claudius with courtesy up to the point at which Gertrude’s death discloses the King’s treachery and compels him to the act of vengeance.
All this is not simply a return to Hamlet’s former self. In the course of the action he has grown in stature and wisdom.. An over-reliance on reason and a belief in untrammeled free will are hall-marks of the Shakespearean villain: the heroes learn better. In the beginning of the final scene, Hamlet is still beset from without and within—“thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here about my heart; but it is no matter.”
This is not, as has been said, a fatalist’s surrender of his personal responsibility. It is the realization that man is not a totally free agent. With this realization Hamlet and face the fencing-match and the King’s intrigues without concern for self. What matters at the end of an important tragedy is not success or failure, but what a man is. Tragedy of the first order moves into the realm of the human spirit, and at the close we contemplate the nature of man. In this respect Shakespeare and the Greeks are the same, but they reach the end by widely divergent paths:
The Sense of a Moral order: –
The fact that in Shakespearean tragedy the hero is to a great extent himself responsible for his misfortunes has an important result. On the contrary, we get the feeling that there is a certain moral order in the universe. The suffering of the hero and the magnitude of the disaster that he meets are no doubt out of all proportion to the hero’s fault of character or the error that he commits ; but the fact remains that the catastrophe flows directly from that fault or error. Shakespearean tragedy does not just show “poetic justice”, because “poetic justice” in drama means pain or pleasure.