Hamlet as a Complex Tragic Hero

Hamlet is the center of action in the play. This is a play so dominated by one character that Hamlet without the 'Prince is impossible to imagine. The play deals with his suffering and tragic death. The other characters in the play serve as foils to him. Hamlet's tragedy is a particular example of a universal predicament; action is necessary, but action in a fallen world involves us in evil.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

To attempt to shuffle off responsibility by refusing to act, or by shuffling off this mortal coil-by 'handing god back his ticket,' as Dostoevsky puts it involves us equally in guilt.

Like other tragic heroes of Shakespeare, he is also endowed with exceptional qualities like royal birth, graceful and charming personality and popularity among his own countrymen. He is essentially a scholar and a thinker, and his noble brain conceives the finest thoughts. He has a high intellectual quality. He is religious-minded and is very sensitive. In spite of possessing all these higher qualities which rank him above the other characters, but the flaw in his character named as 'tragic flaw' by A.C. Bradley, leads to his downfall and makes him a tragic hero.

The tragic flaw in the character of Hamlet is that he thinks too much and feels too much. He is often disturbed by his own nature of 'self-analysis.' He is forever looking into himself, delving into his own nature to seek an explanation for every action, and giving vent to his own thoughts in soliloquies. Coleridge says that his enormous intellectual activity prevents instant action and the result is delay and irresolution. Bradley gives his own explanation for his delay and irresolution. According to the learned critic, he suffers from melancholia, a pathological state only a step removed from insanity. His thoughts are diseased thoughts. What is required of Hamlet is prompt action, whereas he broods over the moral idealism which leads to his delay in action. When he gets an opportunity to kill Claudius, he puts aside the thought because he cannot strike an enemy while he is at prayer. Again he allows himself to be taken to England, although he knows well that the plan is part and parcel of Claudius's evil intent. Hamlet himself is fully aware of his own irresolution.

There are several causes account for Hamlet's inaction. By nature he is prone to think rather than to act. He is a man of morals and his moral idealism receives a shock when his mother remarries Claudius after his father's death. Chance too plays an important part in shaping his character. Chance places him in such a position in which he is incapable of doing anything. He feels sad at his position and says ''The time is out of joint. 0 cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right.''

He becomes inconsistent and is no longer a person who reaches a conclusion only by reasoning. He cannot quite accept the role that nature has prescribed for him-that of a revenger-and thus he is unable to act quickly.

Like other tragic heroes Hamlet too has to face conflict, both internal and external. The internal conflict is between his moral scruples and the act of revenge, which he is called upon to perform. Love of his father, the dishonor of his mother, and the villainy of his uncle prompt him to take revenge while his nobility, his moral idealism, his principles and his religion revolt against such a brutal act. The result is that, torn within himself, he suffers mental torture.

The external conflict is with Claudius-'the mighty opposer'-and the murderer of Hamlet's father. To Hamlet, Claudius is a smiling, damned villain, a seducer and a usurper of his rights to Denmark's throne; he is one against whom he has to take revenge. The other external conflicts are with Laertes, his friend and the brother of his beloved Ophelia, with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, his former school fellows and friends but present enemies. Indeed Hamlet succeeds in overcoming his foes, but only at a dreadful cost.

Character is not the only factor that is responsible for the tragedy of Hamlet. External circumstances are also responsible for making Hamlet tragic hero. Shakespeare creates a heeling that there is a mysterious power in this universe, which is responsible for every small -happening. The appearance of the Ghost and its revelation is a manifestation of Fate. Many of the things that take place in Hamlet's life are by chance, but none of these are improbable. He kills Polonius by chance. The ship in which he travels is attacked by pirates, and his return to Denmark is nothing but chance. Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine, by accident, and dies. So fate in the shape of chance shapes the future of all characters including Hamlet. But the sense of fate is never so overwhelming as to cast character in shade; after all, it is Hamlet himself who is responsible for his tragedy.

Hamlet Study Center

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