Hamlet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Compare Hamlet and Macbeth in regard to structure. Seems to be easy, but I need clarification.

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Michael Stultz, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In addition to the above answer, I would add the following points:

1.  In general, both plays follow the 5-Act Structure, although Macbeth is much more aggressive (bloody) and less wordy (half as long):

Act I: Background mystery, suspense

Act II: Conflict

Act III: Turning Point

Act IV: Falling Action

Act V: Climax and Resolution

2.  Hamlet is structured as a revenge play, but with a hiatus in the middle.  Macbeth uses revenge to achieve its tragic fall, but it is not structured as a play primarily about revenge.  After Act I, Hamlet has a clear hero, Hamlet, and villain, Claudius.  In Macbeth, however, we have a hero turned villain in Act I.  Only later do we meet the hero of the play, Macduff.  Macduff will attempt to avenge his king and family's death.  So, whereas Hamlet is structured with a huge revenge delay between Acts II and V, Macduff's course of revenge is swift justice.

3. Both plays rely heavily on the supernatural and ghosts. In Hamlet, we have the appearances of the Ghost in Act I, demanding revenge.  In Macbeth, we have the Witches' enigmatic commentary on Macbeth's equivocal morality.  So, whereas Hamlet's use of the supernatural is very clear in its commands ("avenge me" and "leave her to heaven"), the supernatural language in Macbeth is meant to confuse and blur the lines between good and evil ("fair is foul" / "foul is fair").  Later, in Macbeth, Banquo appears to haunt his killer, Macbeth.  He is truly a revenge ghost, as he causes guilt and horror.  But in Hamlet, the Ghost is not a revenge ghost; he ironically appears to his own son, not to Claudius.  He, therefore, haunts by proxy, using Hamlet to do his dirty work for him.

4.  Both plays involve love interests of the tragic heroes committing suicide. In Hamlet, Hamlet is much the villain; he is responsible for causing Ophelia's madness: he berates her and kills her father.  In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's own guilt drives her to madness; Macbeth does not drive her to suicide.  Truly, women are victims of male pride, but Ophelia's death seems much more avoidable.

5.  Both plays use a low comic relief scene so as to alleviate the tragic tension. In Hamlet, it is the gravediggers scene, Act V.  In Macbeth, it is the porter scene, Act III.

6.  Hamlet begins "In Medias Res," or in the "Middle of the Action."  There is much more backstory, and the Ghost is a kind of prologue whose speech provides much flashback.  Macbeth begins before any unnatural murders have been committed.  The play is more linear in structure.


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[eNotes editors can only answer one question per posting. If you have additional questions that are not covered here, please post them separately.]

In terms of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth, the two plays have many structural similarities and differences.

Macbeth is a tragedy; our protagonist has a character flaw—vaulting ambition. He is a tragic hero, meeting all the requirement of Aristotle's guidelines. His death is brought on by his own actions: he is a good man who loses his soul to his greed to become—and remain—King. In the play, almost everyone close to him dies. Shakespeare uses the supernatural, and soliloquies and asides to provide the audience with the motivations and inner-workings of the mind of this hero-turned-tyrant. Macbeth ends up depending a great deal on his own skewed judgment, a solitary figure at the end, when he dies.

Hamlet is also a tragedy. Many aspects of this play with Macbeth are similar: Hamlet is a tragic hero, imbued with Aristotle's characteristics as such; and he has a tragic flaw, but in this case it is indecision. His death is brought about by allowing Claudius to continue to live through Hamlet's indecisiveness, which provides the King with ample opportunities to plan for Hamlet's murder. The supernatural, and asides and soliloquies provide the audience with insight into Hamlet's goals, and the indecisiveness with which he grapples at every turn. Whereas Macbeth is a tyrant, Hamlet is a good and loving son, trying to do the right thing by avenging his father's death. As with Macbeth, Hamlet loses almost everyone close to him, and is also a solitary figure when he dies at the end.

The audience is probably more sympathetic with Hamlet and his trials and losses, as his intentions are good, while Macbeth will do anything, including "sell his soul" to be King of Scotland.

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mystique6438 | Student

Thank you both so much for your insights on both of these plays. it has helped me so much to understand the structure of the play easier, so I can go into the exam with confidence. Thank you