Depiction Of A Tragic Hero In Hamlet

  • Category: English
  • Words: 2037
  • Grade: 93

                The Depiction of a Tragic Hero in
                 William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

I. Introduction
A. Definition of a tragic hero
B. Discussion on Hamlet
II. Hamlet's Personal Experiences
A. Family
1. Father's Death
2. Mother's Marriage
B. Others
1. Ophelia
2. Polonius
III. Hamlet's Dilemma
A. Meeting with the Ghost
B. Avenging His Father's Death
IV. Conclusion

Page 1

The definition of a hero in the dictionary is one who is praised by his good deeds. A "tragic hero" is one who suffers emotionally but performs a chosen deed. In some cases, heroes are honored because of their actions in a war or battle. In other ways they are dubbed heroes because they have saved another person's life. On the other hand, some take advantage of their status and use it for their own gain. A hero is recognized as a great person, and respected. A hero shows that there still are descent people in the world. Without heroes, there wouldn't be anyone to look up to and no one for kids to want to be like. There also wouldn't be any role models, and especially; no hope. Heroes are great people because they overcome conflicts on the outside as well as on the inside. Although they are adored by many, there are few adversaries of heroes. Some dislike them because they are jealous, or envious of them. Which goes to show, even the greatest person in the world has an enemy.

        In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Hamlet is depicted as the tragic hero. "It was a hero who, because of his sensitive, moral nature, suffers keenly from his task."(Jorgenson 47), this quote describes the very
Page 2

essence of a tragic hero. Hamlet is praised by many of the citizens of Denmark, yet Claudius and his advisor, Polonius, dislike him. His father, King Hamlet, mysteriously dies, and Hamlet is grief stricken. Meanwhile, his mother, Queen Gertrude, marries Hamlet's uncle, Claudius, a mere two months after the death of her husband. The ghost of King Hamlet sends Hamlet on a mission to avenge his father's murder by killing Claudius. The revenge issue is one that has been criticized by many as being dragged on,
"The story is, the single deed to be done, and until the last minute; the doubt that it actually will be." ( Barker 161). Hamlet is a play based on deception, incest, love, and above all; murder.

Our "tragic hero" Hamlet, is constantly confronted with severe emotional obstacles. To begin with, his father mysteriously dies, and two months after that, Gertrude marries Hamlet's uncle. To rub salt on the wound, Hamlet finds out that his uncle, Claudius, killed his father. "The fact that his uncle killed his father, doesn't help improve Hamlet's already fragile state."(Goddard 196). The murder sent Hamlet into a profound depressed, sad state. So profound that the only person that could have helped Hamlet
Page 3

proceeds on his duty to kill his father's murderers. out of his fathomless hole of a depression, the only one that could throw Hamlet an emotional rope; was his father.

The fact that his mother married his uncle in only two months, only depresses Hamlet even more. "Bear it not; let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury, and damned incest!"(1.5.83), states Hamlet of his mother's actions. Hamlet doesn't want the reputation of Denmark to be tainted, nor does he want his family's name for that matter. With the marriage of his mother to his uncle, there is little Hamlet can do without hurting his mother. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." (1.4.90).
Indeed, there is something rotten, and that is the depiction of love Gertrude's marriage projects. It says that love is when you kill your brother in order to become king, and then marry his widow. It says that it's acceptable to marry the brother of your dead husband in order to remain the queen. "The marriage displays the insecurity of Queen Gertrude." (Bradley 121). Thus is the reason behind the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude. Gertrude feels vulnerable without having power; so she marries Claudius in order to get
Page 4

that power she craves. She went ahead with the marriage not caring what kind of impact it would have on Hamlet.

        Another good example of a "tragic hero" in Hamlet, is the ill-fated Ophelia. The man that she loved; Hamlet throws her into depression. By accomplishing his duty of revenge, he had to make everyone think that he is mad. This plan also includes cutting everything off with his love Ophelia. In the famous scene, Hamlet denies his love for Ophelia although he's madly in love with her; "You should not have believed me"¦I loved you not!"(3.1.57). As the play goes on, Ophelia's emotional status deteriorates. She starts as a strong person who is very smart, but she is unable to live in a male dominated society. Ophelia's, like Gertrude's, identity comes from her male companion. "It seems as if she can't live without the guidance of a man." (Barker 163). Her father and her brother, both guided her in her relationship with Hamlet. She comes to Hamlet bearing gifts, but he tells her that she doesn't love her anymore, "I did love you"¦once." (3.1.49). With that, Hamlet causes Ophelia's depression, causing her to commit

Page 5

suicide. Although he denied his love, Hamlet professes it at Ophelia's funeral. A love that was deep in him, but surfaced much too late.

One of Hamlet's worst adversaries was Ophelia's father, Polonius. Although he tries to teach his children good morals, he doesn't follow his own advice. "This above all to thyne own self be true." (1.3.78). The advisor Polonius was anything but true to himself, often lying to get more power. He thought he was an honest, caring man. But in reality, he was a dishonest, deceiving criminal. Hamlet hated Polonius because he knew that Polonius knew the truth behind his father's death. Polonius was catching on to Hamlet's little antic disposition, " Though this be madness, yet there is method in't." (2.2.205). Knowing this, Polonius was killed trying to spy on Hamlet and his mother. Hamlet, thinking that Polonius was Claudius, stabbed the curtain killing Polonius. "His attempt at revenge led him to murder."(Bowness 209). Although Hamlet didn't mean to kill Polonius, he was glad to rid the earth of such a conspiring person. "The hero of one plot, Hamlet is in fact the villain of another." (Boyce 237). Polonius deserved to

Page 6

die for being such a back stabber. He was King Hamlet's advisor, but then sided with Claudius in the murder.

        Hamlet's meeting with the ghost high up on the watchtower, pulled him from his hole of depression. "Hamlet lived entirely for himself, until fronted with the apparition." (Turgonieff 117). Instead of being filled with sorrow, Hamlet is now engulfed in rage, "A villain kills my father, and for that, I, his only son, do this same villain see to heaven!" (3.1.74). The ghost tells Hamlet that he must avenge his father's death. With the message from the ghost, Hamlet concocts a plan to put on an antic disposition in order for everyone to think he's mad. Hamlet was so enraged, that he planned to kill
his mother also, but the ghost stopped him. "Leave her to heaven and those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her."(1.5.87). Hamlet now knows what he must do, although many say that he takes his time in doing so. "The mystery resides in Hamlet's complex behavior, most notably, his indecision and reluctance to act." (Magill 52). Hamlet

Page 7

Many say that Hamlet has too many inner battles, and is drawn away from his task. "Throughout the play, Shakespeare makes much suspense to the deed." (Barker 161). In the process of revenge, Hamlet questions whether his life is worth anything. He ponders the thought of suicide, and questions why he is killing. " To be or not to be"¦that is the question."(3.1.57). Hamlet asks himself if he should go through with his plan, or just end everything by just falling on his sword. Hamlet eventually returns to his task when he witnesses Prince Fortinbras arrive in Denmark in order to avenge his own father's death. Seeing how another is acting in the name of his father while he isn't, Hamlet realizes the meaning of the ghost's visit. "Hamlet summoned by the ghost of his father to avenge his foul murder, finds the time out of joint and is made desperate by the realization that he alas seems to have been chosen to set things right." (Leary 125). In the final scene, Claudius accidentally kills Gertrude, while Hamlet is poisoned by Laertes', poisoned, sword. Before he dies, Hamlet kills Laertes, and finally completes his task by killing Claudius. As he died, he told Horatio that the throne will be given to Fortinbras. To which Laertes replies, "Goodnight sweet prince, and flights of angels sing the to thy rest."
Page 8

(5.2.361). With that Hamlet dies, but not after he suffered profoundly for the revenge of his father's death.

        Another definition of a tragic hero, is one who overcomes emotional, and physical, conflicts to complete a chosen task. In a way, nearly all of the characters in Hamlet are, in fact, tragic heroes. Hamlet suffers dramatically from his inability to decide what is wrong and what is right. Ophelia is in anguish over the death of her father, and the loss of affections by the man she loved deeply. Claudius suffers unbelievably from greed, while Gertrude is a woman who suffers from greed of title. All in all, the depiction the "tragic hero" in Hamlet is one of many layers. It shows that the tragic hero is one who overcomes conflicts that are partly generated by them. Overcoming these conflicts, in some cases, means escaping them. All suffer profoundly, and it's in the greatness of their suffering that we recognize their heroism.


Works Cited

Barker, Matthew. "Hamlet" Shakespearean Criticism. Editor: Laurie Lanzen. Michigan: Gale Book Co. 1984.

Bowers, Alfred. "Hamlet" Shakespearean Criticism. Editor: Laurie Lanzen. Michigan: Gale Book Company, 1984.

Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. New York: Roundtable Press, 1990.

Greg, Alexander. "Hamlet" Shakespearean Criticism. Editor: Laurie Lanzen. Michigan: Gale Book Company, 1984.

Jones, Earnest. Hamlet and Oedipus. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1976.

Jorgenson, Paul A. William Shakespeare: The Tragedies. New York: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Leary, William G. Shakespeare Plain. New York: McGraw Hill Company, 1977.

Magill, Cynthia. "Hamlet" Shakespearean Criticism. Editor: Laurie Lanzen. Michigan: Gale Book Company, 1984.

Travesi, D.A. An Approach to Shakespeare. New York: Doubleday Company, 1956.

Turgenieff, Vincente. "Hamlet" Shakespearean Criticism. Editor: Laurie Lanzen. Michigan: Gale Book Company, 1984.

Wells, Stanley. Shakespeare: An Illustrated Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.


ad 4
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved