Since Hamlet killed innocent people, why is he considered a hero in Shakespeare's play, Hamlet?  Hamlet is responsible directly or indirectly, for a number of people’s deaths in the play, some...

Since Hamlet killed innocent people, why is he considered a hero in Shakespeare's play, Hamlet?

 

Hamlet is responsible directly or indirectly, for a number of people’s deaths in the play, some of them not altogether deserving of such a fate (or so it might seem). If this is so, how can he be regarded as a hero?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, Hamlet is regarded, from a literary standpoint as a hero. Aristotle described three characteristics for a tragic hero: he must be a great man (accomplished in battle, born into nobility, etc.), he must die, and his death must be his fault caused by his tragic flaw.

Hamlet fits into each of these categories, without question. In terms of being perceived as a hero, we learn from Claudius that Hamlet is deeply loved by the people of Denmark. He is not a hero in the simplest sense of the word, but I do believe he is an honorable man: he very much wants to avenge his father's murder.

Hamlet is a young man, away at school when his father dies, and has not been training for the military. As with many things—I would guess—what goes on in the castle, "stays in the castle." The only person that Hamlet is directly responsible for killing outright is Claudius, and he is, in essence, punished by his own duplicity. Hamlet may be considered by some to have contributed to Ophelia's death in spurning her, but this is not necessarily a death sentence. Laertes dies at Hamlet's hands being poisoned by the same that arrow he used to kill Hamlet. The only person undeserving of her fate is Ophelia: she is a victim. The rest bring their destructed down on their heads.

The term "hero" may not typically seem to be one that fits Hamlet— he has a good heart, wishes good things for others, and is innocent enough not to know how to go about killing his father's murderer. For discussion's sake, Hamlet would have been justified in killing Claudius once he had proof of the crime. Hamlet is a hero based more on who he is than on what he owns or has achieved. He is also heroic in the fact that he can find forgiveness for Gertrude for the sins he feels she has committed, and the same for Laertes when he confesses to his treacherous behavior.

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