The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

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Every time one thinks about a tragedy, they think William Shakespeare. Indeed, the author is one of the greatest writers of drama who has ever lived. Some of his tragic stories include Othello; The Moore of Venice and Juliet and Romeo. In literature, tragedy follows a particular convention as proposed by Aristotle. According to the Aristotelian perspective, in a tragedy, a hero must have a tragic flaw. Going by the conventions introduced by Aristotle Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark can be classified as a tragedy and hamlet characterized as a tragic hero. The literature shows that Hamlet is flawed and it is these flaws that cause his demise and inability to act. The defect of Hamlet is illustrated throughout the play. Besides, Shakespearean studies indicate that tragedy concerns itself with a single individual who is often subjected to suffering and ultimately death. The play Hamlet is a tragedy since it meets the basic conventions of a tragedy such as being fatally flawed, possessing pressure from external forces and exploiting the nobility of the heroes.

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First, the central theme in the play is revenge. It opens when the ghost of old hamlet narrates to his son the cause of his death and urges him to avenge his death. He plots against his uncle who murdered his father. In the opening scene, we realize that the protagonist is morally corrupt, a typical convention of the Elizabethan tragedy. Furthermore, the setting of the genre illustrates that it is a tragedy considering the background is somewhat shady. The events of the play take place in the castle Elsinore and its environs to illustrate a sordid, depressing location characterized by violence, incest and a locality that s tormented by evil deeds. The protagonist tragic flaw is shown in the third scene of the third act. At this point, King Claudius’ guilt was well known to him and even confirmed that it was time for the king to die. However, when he got into the room, the king was praying, he failed to carry out his evil plot and put it off till the moment he finds the king in a vile situation like when drunk, asleep, or when fornicating in his bed (Shakespeare 103). The scene clearly illustrates that the protagonist fails to fulfill the duty bestowed upon him by the ghost when his morality gets in his way as illustrated by the monologue “A villain kills my father, and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven.’ The protagonist’s moral judgment can be termed as his fatal flaw since it gets into his way when attempting to avenge his father and even dissatisfies the ghost causing the spirit to reappear to remind him of his mandate “this visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.’ Later on, in the play, it is clear that his failure to kill the king when he had the opportunity led to his execution and the death of his mother. From the account, it is clear that Hamlet follows the conventions of a tragedy as he is shown to have a fatal flaw and to receive pressure from external forces as he admits thinks that, “The spirit that I have seen May be the devil, and the devil hath power T’ assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps, Out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such spirits, Abuses me to damn me.” (2.2.627-632) 

Secondly, the fact that Hamlet was hesitant to kill the uncle in cold blood illustrates that he had some excellent qualities that make him a hero. From the Aristotelian perspective, the tragic hero has to show good traits “first and foremost good.’ In the play, Hamlet shows traits of courage. For instance, in the scene that he went to England knowing very well that there was a bounty in his head. Secondly, he displays loyalty to his father, and this can be illustrated by how angry he was with his uncle and mother. Finally, we realize that the death of the protagonist was as a result of his flaw. To an extent also caused the end of his mother. In the last scene, during the duel with Laertes who was a pawn for the king conspires with the king to kill Hamlet using a sword laced with a deadly poison that also kills his mother. When the poisoned sword finally strikes hamlet, he acts out of impulse and also destroys the king. However, critics have argued that Hamlet killing the king was more about protecting himself that fulfilling his duty of avenging his father and therefore he still appears to be a failure. Nevertheless, it is essential to consider that the protagonist finally struck the king in as much as he had been resisting the urge to kill him. The closing scene is the peak of the tragedy considering many lives are lost. Comment by Author: It’s not fine to start a new paragraph under another title with “secondly” .

Third, Hamlet is initially a normal, young man who is just mourning his father’s death. With his friends, Horatio and Guildenstern and girlfriend, Ophelia and being the late king’s son and heir who attended college. This makes Hamlet an ideal tragic hero candidate. He sounds logical and rational at the beginning and is skeptical about his father’s ghost “where wilt thou lead me? Speak, I’ll go no further”. Though he is passionate about the ghost, he still questions the ghost’s claims validity (Rivier, 54). Hamlet portrays self-control when he doesn’t act rashly towards Claudius’ despite knowing he killed his father. But he finally falls off this virtue and gets corrupted. His corruption originates from other characters surround shim. For instance, he is sad about Claudius poisoning his father and also greatly distraught towards his mother’s marriage to the man who poisoned his father. Claudius insensitively urges Hamlet to avoid his “unmanly grief” (Rivier, 63). This manipulative attitude from Claudius almost drives Hamlet to suicide “his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” because he says his life is already meaningless.His corruption is added when he meets the ghost ‘if thou has nature in thee, bear it not. Let not royal bed of Denmark is a couch for luxury and damned incest’. The ghost instills active violence in his mind and destroys his nature of peace, thoughtfulness, and kindness. His friends also betray him by agreeing to spy on him ‘I am but mad north-north-west, when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw’ (Rivier, 35). Hamlet becomes violent and murders Polonius for listening to his conversation while urging his mother to divorce Claudius. He also becomes cruel towards Ophelia than towards his mother. Hamlets loss of character leads to the deaths of the whole royal family and friends.

In conclusion, based on the Aristotelian conventions, Hamlet is a tragedy considering the play illustrates all the characteristics of a tragic play as proposed by the conventions. To begin with, we realize that the protagonist in the play Hamlet has admirable qualities of bravery and loyalty. He traveled to England even when he was well aware of the risks involved since the king wanted him dead. However, his character is flawed considering he was hesitant to kill the king and fulfill his duty as a son. While the play might be interpreted as a revenge play, it is important to note that the various characterization of the play denote that it is a tragedy, the theme of revenge might, however, misguide the readers into believing that the play is revenge.

Work Cited

1.Rivier, Estelle, and Eric C. Brown. Shakespeare in Performance. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014

2.Shakespeare, William. The tragedy of Hamlet SR Winchell & Company, 1885.


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