Tradgedy in Hamlet
English and Literature
Submitted By eggsandcheese
The Tragedy of Hamlet
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a great example of what a tragedy really is can be found. Throughout the play we see struggles, betrayals and many deaths. Hamlet definitely fits the genre of a tragedy in various ways. The play gives its audience a heart touching experience that makes the audience feel empathy for the characters. In order to have a true tragedy, there must be a tragic hero, along with a tragic flaw, and a catharsis. Below, one can learn what a tragedy is and how Hamlet fits this genre. In order to call Hamlet a tragedy one must know the meaning of tragedy. The Oxford English dictionary defines a tragedy as a serious play with an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character. Every tragedy should have a tragic hero. The tragic hero is often the protagonist in a play. The great philosopher Aristotle defines a tragic hero as a man of noble stature who is admired by society but flawed.
The flaw in the hero is a key component to the play. It is often what makes or breaks the character. Many times the flaw in the character is what causes the turmoil. It is safe to say that every tragedy has a tragic hero and every tragic hero has a flaw. The imperfection in the character enables the audience to see eye to eye with the character. The audience is able to see that everybody has their imperfections. Just as our flaws can sometimes lead us into trouble, we can see how the protagonist has to face the same issues. Another key component that every tragedy should have is a catharsis. Catharsis comes from a Greek word meaning purification or cleansing. A catharsis is the emotional climax of the play. It can be said that this is the lesson that the audience can take away from the play. A catharsis is what the audience feels for the protagonist. It must bring out the emotions of the audience. Often times the catharsis keeps the audience anxious and at the edge of their seats where as other times the catharsis can be the relief that they were looking for. Also the audience must feel sympathetic towards the protagonist. If the audience is not able to feel sympathy then there is nothing tragic about the story. The audience must be captured and feel as though they are also hurt by what is happening. Hamlet definitely fits the genre of a tragedy. It fulfills all the components that make up a tragedy. The tragic hero is Hamlet. Throughout the play he is our protagonist who wants to get revenge for the death of his father. He is a man of noble stature because he is the prince of Denmark. The society definitely looks up to him for he will one day rule the land. Like every tragic hero, Hamlet does have his flaws. His main flaw was his extreme pride. In act III scene iii we see a prime example of Hamlet’s excessive pride. When Claudius was praying, Hamlet was going to kill him but then stopped. Hamlet did not want to kill him because he said that if he kills Claudius at the time that he is repenting, he will have the chance to go to heaven. Hamlet clearly did not want that. Hamlet wanted Claudius to suffer, even after his death. A minor flaw that Hamlet had was that he did not know how to make decisions. He always was not sure and doubted himself. Hamlet also did not know how to solve his problems. We can see how indecisive he is through is famous soliloquy “To be, or not to be: that is the question….” (Hamlet Act III, scene i 58–90). Another reason why Hamlet fits the genre of a tragedy is because it has a catharsis. Throughout the play the audience felt various emotions for Hamlet. One can feel pity for him because of the death of his father. Also one can feel scared for him because he killed someone. The main catharsis is at the very end of the play when Hamlet is in the swordfight. Hamlet must duel with Laertes. During the battle Gertrude is killed, Claudius is killed, Laertes is killed, and Hamlet himself is killed. The audience’s emotions at this point must be going out of control. Feeling of fear, anger and pity probably run through the minds of the audience. But at the end when the dead body of Hamlet is carried out in honor and respect, the audience feels relief because Hamlet did leave as a victor. The audience was also able to feel sympathetic toward Hamlet. They sympathized with him because he had lost his father and the women he loved. They also sympathized with him because his mother married his uncle and also for the fact that his uncle/father plotted to kill him. Both the protagonist and the audience learn from the mistakes of characters. Aristotle stated that "A man doesn't become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall." All these factors also prove true in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth is the tragic hero in the play. His tragic flaw was that he was power hungry and wanted to have everything. The catharsis is when the audience feels pity for Macbeth when he is taken beheaded and is overtaken by the English forces. We feel great sympathy for Macbeth when we see how he crumbles at the word of Lady Macbeth’s death.
In conclusion it is clear that William Shakespeare’s Hamlet does fit the genre of a tragedy. We can see how tragic stories need a tragic hero, a tragic flaw and a catharsis. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has all three of these components making it a tragic play. The audience was able to feel sympathy for the hero. The feeling of sympathy is what makes this play a tragic one. One can see that other plays such as Macbeth also have the same components that make up a tragic play.