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Please give a possible thesis statement that reflects Hamlet as a tragic hero in...

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taylorruth | Salutatorian

Posted November 4, 2013 at 12:15 AM via web

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Please give a possible thesis statement that reflects Hamlet as a tragic hero in WIlliam Shakespeare's Hamlet.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 4, 2013 at 2:18 AM (Answer #1)

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William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tragedy, and that makes Hamlet a tragic hero; however, it is important to identify the characteristics common to Shakespeare's tragic heroes before writing your thesis statement. 

First of all, Hamlet suffers from a fatal flaw, a weakness in his character which eventually causes his downfall. Unlike the characters in an Aristotelian tragedy, Hamlet is aware of his flaw virtually from the beginning of the story, adding to the sense of tragedy. We know that Hamlet's character flaw is indecision, as we watch him waver and vacillate time after time about whether to take action or not. In one sense we admire Hamlet for this, as he clearly recognizes and values human life enough to be sure he is not killing the wrong person. In another sense, we ask ourselves exactly how much evidence he needs before he will finally take some action. It is a rather frustrating journey to see him so resolved at times and then back away from his resolution.

Second of all, Hamlet is in a position of power, as the son (and nephew and stepson) of a king, which again means his fall from nobility is more tragic than a fall from a lower social position would be. Though it means nothing to Hamlet, he has been named as Claudius's successor, establishing Hamlet's position as the Prince of Denmark.

Third, Like many of Shakespeare's tragic heroes, Hamlet succumbs to the pressures of other people, not all human, who help advance his downfall. In Hamlet, those characters would certainly be Claudius, Polonius, the Ghost and his so-called friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Each of these characters is determined, well intentioned or not, to deter Hamlet from his purpose. Polonius is a distraction both because of his infernal butting-in and because he is Ophelia's father; though he pays for that, he contributes to Hamlet's inactions and is in the wrong place when Hamlet finally does act. Hamlet's rather bumbling friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are another distraction; he is certainly willing to have them killed because of their cumbersome and traitorous meddling. Claudius is an obvious nemesis from the beginning; the Ghost certainly influences Hamlet.

Finally, Hamlet has opportunities to save himself but does not do so--or does not do so in time--which leads directly to his death. How often did Hamlet think he was ready to kill Claudius but then could not act, sometimes for good reason and sometimes just because of his flawed indecision. His fatalistic view is part of this point.

There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will. 

Your thesis must encapsulate your thinking (which will be reflected in the rest of your essay) about Hamlet as a tragic hero. You and I would probably agree on most of these basic issues regarding Hamlet as a tragic hero; however, what is up for debate between us is whether we find Hamlet's flaw admirable or weak (see first point above). Once you decide that for yourself, you can write your thesis.

Possible thesis sentences:

  • Hamlet is a tragic hero because he demonstrates a fatal flaw which leads directly to his death. (basic)
  • In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives us a character who knows his flaw but is unable to overcome it because of his own indecision as well as the interference of others. 
  • Hamlet is a tragic hero whom we both pity and admire as he falls from his high place due to his own inaction.

Write a thesis which matches how you feel and what you will write about Hamlet. 

Sources:

Lori Steinbach

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