People and in particular readers will always favor and back heroes, who do heroic actions. However, at the same time, they will feel for the heroes who get caught in tragedies and become tragic heroes. As these heroes could undergo tragedies due to unforeseen circumstances, and will be helpless, readers will feel sorry for them. Thus, the focus will be on analyzing how tragic heroes will exhibit certain characteristics and whether Hamlet corresponds and fits to those characteristics, thereby becoming tragic hero.
According to Aristotle, a best tragic plot will be simple and at the same time complex, incorporating the elements of seriousness, completeness and of certain magnitude. “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude”. (Aristotle 11). Hamlet fulfills all these three key elements when it comes to plot aspects. The basic plot of Hamlet is about the titular character Hamlet’s quest for revenge for the death of his father. With his uncle Claudius only killing his father, Hamlet is seriously determined to avenge his death, thus constituting a serious action. As the theme of revenge and killing radiates throughout the work, serious action is strongly featured. The play’s plot also has the action of completeness, because it reaches the logical end of Claudius dying. It is complete in the sense all the actions of the play leads to the logical climax. Another key action aspect as stated by Aristotle is magnitude, with the play’s plot needing to show certain magnitude. The plot and the characters even while reflecting real-life aspects have to have some drama. This is particularly applicable to Hamlet. Although, Hamlet is a wealthy prince who has set on the path of revenge, he undergoes the same problems that are faced by the common people. He is hesitant, paranoid and even frightened due to the situations that arise because of his father’s death and even hesitates to kill his father’s killer when he had a good chance. However, in the climax, all these real life vulnerabilities evaporate, with Hamlet overcoming any hesitations and slitting Claudius’s throat thus exhibiting certain magnitude in the plot.
According to Aristotle, the element of Thought refers to something that is proved to be or not to be, and thus in a state of dilemma. When something is not proved right or confirmed, the thought process in the mind will wander, causing more confusion in the mind of the characters, thereby leading more tragic-ness. In the case of Hamlet also, the same confusion regarding who killed his father leads to a complicated thought process in his mind, causing various repercussions. After seeing and hearing from his father’s ghost regarding the murder, Hamlet is skeptical whether to believe it or not. “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep.” (Shakespeare 127). This makes him to act insanely and also harshly towards Ophelia, leading to further tragic-ness. He even delays revenge against Claudius, allowing many doubts to creep into his mind. (Lawlor 97). According to Aristotle, climax is the last piece of action in the play. Hamlet fulfills this element, as its climax is a culmination of what has been brewing from the start of the play. As the play is about how the main protagonist seeks revenge for the death of his father, in the climax, Hamlet was able to do that in a strong manner by slitting Claudius’s throat. Although, he accomplishes his objective, Hamlet gets injured grievously and dies, fulfilling the tenets of tragic hero.
From this analysis of Hamlet from the perspective of Aristotle’s tragic conventions, it can be said that Hamlet can be slotted as a tragedy and the title character Hamlet as the tragic hero. As discussed above, in the climax majority of the major characters die, including the protagonist thereby making it a tragedy.
Aristotle. Poetics. New York: W. Heinemann, Limited, 1927
Lawlor, J. J. “The Tragic Conflict in Hamlet.” The Review of English Studies New Series, 1. 2
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.