Discuss Hamlet as a tragedy and Hamlet's role as a tragic hero.

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A tragedy, according to Aristotle, should make an audience feel pity and fear. One might argue that an audience would feel pity for Hamlet. Indeed, his father is murdered, his mother marries the murderer, and he also loses the woman he loves. One might also argue that the presence of the vengeful ghost throughout the play creates fear, both for the audience and for the characters. Indeed, much of the drama of the play's opening scenes derives from the fear created by the ghost of the dead king.

Aristotle suggested that the tragic hero in a tragic play should demonstrate several characteristics. A tragic hero, Aristotle said, should have a tragic flaw, which is one personality trait that causes his or her tragic downfall. Hamlet's tragic flaw might be his inability to take action. Indeed, he spends much of the play trying to convince himself to avenge his father's death and would almost certainly have survived if he had only been more decisive and acted more quickly.

Another characteristic of the tragic hero, according to Aristotle, is that he or she should, metaphorically, fall from a great height. This is why Shakespeare's tragic heroes are usually kings and queens, or, as in Hamlet's case, princes. The fact that Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark means that his death is all the more tragic, because he has fallen from such a great height, metaphorically.

A third characteristic of the tragic hero which Hamlet also demonstrates is an honorable death. At the end of the play Hamlet forgives Laertes and is forgiven in turn. Hamlet also gives his support to Fortinbras, as the next ruler of Denmark. When Hamlet finally dies, Horatio calls him a "sweet prince" and says that he has a "noble heart." He also wishes for Hamlet "flights of angels (to) sing (him) to his rest." Thus, despite being guilty of many dishonorable acts during his life, Hamlet does ultimately die with honor.

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A tragedy is a type of drama that usually involves human suffering. Often, the characters who endure suffering are both admirable and flawed. It would not be tragic if a completely evil, heartless character underwent some horrible event. A tragic character is one who has some decent qualities. The audience has sympathy for the tragic character (they would find it difficult to have sympathy for a character with no redeeming qualities) and the evocation of this sympathy is called pathos. The audience feels sympathy and/or identifies with the tragic character. Notice the root 'path' in pathos and sympathy.

So, for Hamlet to be a tragic character, or hero, we must find something sympathetic or identifiable about him. This isn't hard to do. His father was murdered by his uncle and his mother quickly married that uncle. At least, we can sympathize with his loss.

We might also admire Hamlet for his emotional depths and philosophical intelligence. Hamlet is one of the more complicated figures in tragic drama because he is such a profound thinker, also something to be admired. Ironically, Hamlet's tendency to think so deeply about things is not only a quality we admire; some critics think it is also his tragic flaw. It is his constant philosophizing that delays his vengeance and also leads him to consider suicide. Part of the tragedy is deeply affected Hamlet is.

Hamlet's drawn out method of madness, en route to avenging his father's murder, causes him to offend Ophelia which then leads to her own death. In his treatment of Ophelia, I would say he is less than heroic; more of a tragic figure.  

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Describe Hamlet as a tragicomedy.

I noticed that this question or request has gone unaddressed for one week now, and I would suggest that the reason for that is because Hamlet isn't a tragicomedy.  There is really nothing very funny in this play or about what is happening to any of the major or minor characters.  A king has been murdered and supplanted by his brother; a ghost has come to Hamlet to tell him of the murder to to demand revenge; Hamlet spends a good portion of the story coming up with a plan to prove that the ghost's story is true.  Hamlet feels betrayed by his uncle.  Hamlet feels betrayed by his mother for her overly quick remarriage to Claudius -- a marriage that would have been considered incestuous.  Hamlet's girlfriend, Ophelia, breaks up with him because her father told her to.  Hamlet's supposed friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, have to come to Elisinore at the command of the King, not to help Hamlet, but ultimately, to spy on him for the King.  Hamlet spends a good part of the play thinking about his actions, but not doing very much to accomplish his goals, and when he does act, he accidental kills Polonius.  This act puts him in more immediate danger from Claudius who sends him to England in order to have him killed.  When he arranges his return to Denmark, it is to discover that Ophelia has committed suicide and that Laertes wants vengence for his father's death.  There is NOTHING funny in any of this.  It isn't even a comedy of errors -- Hamlet is the pure definition of tragedy.  The final result -- eight characters dead by the end of the play -- is no laughing matter.  It seems wrong to even laugh at how awful it is.  The few very slight comedic moments (Hamlet's toying with Polonius while pretending to be mad; Hamlet's taunting the King after Polonius's death; Hamlet's bawdy talk with Ophelia before the play) are not enough to bring this play to being an example of tragicomedy.  Hope this helps!

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