illustrated portrait of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare

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Compare the end of Hamlet with Macbeth. How do both the title characters die? Are there any similarities in their deaths?

The final scenes of both Hamlet and Macbeth contain a great deal of bloodshed. After his violent death, Hamlet is honored by his successor, while Macbeth, upon his death, is disparaged and condemned. Both die at the tip of a sword, though their circumstances and legacies differ.

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Both plays end with a tremendous amount of violence, including the deaths of the two protagonists. Hamlet dies alongside Laertes, the son of Polonius (who was killed by Hamlet) and brother of Ophelia (who went mad, in part, because of Hamlet); Claudius, Hamlet's stepfather and uncle, the man who killed Hamlet's father; and Gertrude, Hamlet's mother and Claudius's wife. The stage is literally littered with bodies. Macbeth also dies in his home, in the midst of an armed conflict between Scots forces (which he controls) and English forces (who are assisting Malcolm, the rightful king). Many die.

Both Hamlet and Macbeth themselves die as a result of the injuries they sustain while sword fighting. Hamlet believes that he is simply engaging in a duel with a competitor for sport, but Laertes tips his weapon with a poison that will kill Hamlet if he but scratches the prince with its blade. Macbeth is challenged by Macduff, the Thane of Fife (whose wife and children he had murdered), and Macduff successfully bests Macbeth during this fight. In the end, however, Hamlet is honored by the successor to the Danish throne, Prince Fortinbras, and Hamlet is declared to "have proved most royal" (5.2.444). Macbeth, on the other hand, is reviled by the successor to the Scots throne, Prince Malcolm, whose father Macbeth murdered; Malcolm calls Macbeth a "butcher," and Macduff intends to stick Macbeth's head on a spike as a warning to anyone else who thinks to act as he has (5.8.82).

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