Playing the Part of the Hero
The tragic story of Hamlet is based on one of the oldest stories in the world. The character of Hamlet is cursed with the characteristics that create a tragic hero. These characteristics include his one tragic flaw and how he suffers from it, his nobility in life and in admitting his flaw, and finally his salvation and how he realizes why he must keep a good soul.
All tragic heroes possess one characteristic, or flaw, that causes suffering in their personal lives. Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his indecisiveness, which stems from his fear of being sent to hell for his sins on Earth. Hamlet expresses this fear, after the players perform:
“Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wanned,
Tears in his eyes…And all for nothing!
What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba…
Yet I… Can say nothing, not for a king
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damned defeat was made. (II.ii.538-59)
This fear prevents Hamlet from feeling the many joys of life including loyalty to his family and ambition. Hamlet attempts to show loyalty to his mother by obeying everything she asks and nothing that Claudius asks. However, after the players perform, Hamlet loses his loyalty when his mother refers to Claudius as Hamlet’s father. She declares, “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.” To this reference Hamlet responds, “Mother, you have my father much offended” (III.iv.9-10). Hamlet suggests that by calling Claudius his father, Gertrude is offending his true father, King Hamlet Also, because of his fear of hell, Hamlet lacks ambition. This ambition, if he possessed it, would allow him to kill Claudius in revenge for his own father’s murder and allow him to admit his love for Ophelia. In fact, as Hamlet scolds Ophelia for no longer being a beautiful virgin, he states, “…for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not” (III.i.126-28). He implies that if she were still a virgin, then he could love her and be with her. Hamlet’s lack of ambition now begins to diminish his zeal for life and lead to lost loved-ones.
Though his flaw may cause Hamlet to lose those that are dear to him, he is still considered noble in several ways. He is intelligent, due to his schooling at Wittenberg. However, being intelligent does not make a person noble; Hamlet also has manners and civilized attributes as Ophelia expresses,
“O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,
Th’expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers…(III.i.159-62)
Along with Hamlet’s goodness, he also is able to admit his flaws. He admits that the one thing keeping him from revenge is his conscience as he says, “How all occasions do inform against me, / And spur my dull revenge!” (IV.iv.34-35). The fact that Hamlet is able to admit his own flaws proves that Hamlet is a truly noble man.
After returning to Denmark, Hamlet comes across a gravedigger doing his job. Watching the digger toss up skulls, without giving a care as to whom they might belong, Hamlet understands why he cannot kill Claudius; it is because he is not used to it. This must also be why Claudius kills so easily, because he has done it before. Also at the grave, Hamlet realizes his true purpose in life. He begins to understand that these skulls are only bones and that it does not matter whose bones they once were, they are now part of the earth. Hamlet explains:
“No, faith, not a jot, but to follow him thither with
Modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it. Alexander died,
Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust
Is Earth, of earth we make loam, and why of that loam
Whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer-barrel?
He knows now that, it makes no difference where the body is laid to rest, the soul will go on to new horizons.
By the end of the play, Hamlet’s indecisiveness leads to the deaths of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius and his family, the King, the Queen, and Hamlet himself. Though this tragic hero comes to salvation in the end, it cannot save his life, but perhaps it will save his soul.