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Hamlet As Hero Essay, Research Paper

We often wonder why Shakespeare’s character Hamlet, in the play Hamlet, waited

so long after bring told by the ghost, about the evil deed, before carrying out

his plan. Everyone contains a tinge of Hamlet in his or her feelings, wants, and

worries. Hamlet is not like other tragic heroes of his period. He stands apart

from other Shakespeare’s heroes in his much discussed innocence. Is this

supposed tragic hero maybe an ideal hero, one without the tragic flaw, which has

been a part of the formula for the tragedy since the Golden Age of Greece? This

is a question that has been the field for many literary critics’ battles. The

main, and, most often, the only flaw that has been attributed to Hamlet was his

delay. This seems to constitute the central part in Hamlet. Critics seem to

cling to this detail, as if trying to save the status of Hamlet as a typical

Elizabethan tragedy of revenge. According to Aristotle, " the definition of

tragedy, there should exist a flaw in the character of the main hero, who is a

great personality that is engaged in a struggle that ends

catastrophically".(Aristotle, 459) If Hamlet had no flaw, what kind of

tragic hero is he? No doubt, Hamlet is a tragical drama, for it has many

characters that end up losing their lives. But the play would not lose it’s

tragic tone if Hamlet was an ideal hero instead of a tragic one. Which is

exactly the case. If just all critics realized this, maybe today we would not

have that much trouble trying to decipher Hamlet’s character, just like

Elizabethan audiences never raised any questions concerning Hamlet’s delay.

Alice Griffin, a drama critic, lecturer, states " it was only in the last

two centuries, that the audience and their perceptions have drastically changed,

which causes this confusion concerning the character that was created by

Shakespeare for the common people, some ignorant ones among them, perhaps".

(Griffin, 63) Hamlet is an ideal hero with a flaw, a flaw that sparks many

questions among critics everywhere, these questions can be answered in a simple

concentration of one scene. Hamlet is like a soldier that is thrown into a war

where he has to do some things he rather would avoid doing, but under the given

circumstances he bites his teeth and carries himself well. In this war, the

circumstances brought on by Claudius’s murdering of King Hamlet are Hamlet’s

enemy. Morris Weitz, a critic of Shakespearian plays, states, "His dead

father, and destroyed country, is the painful truth which leaves so much hatred

and resentment in his heart". (Weitz, 15) Being a loyal prince and son, and

one whom an entire kingdom respected, he should seek revenge and bring justice

back in the royal court. The whole play would be very simple if this murder was

an open assassination. But no, Shakespeare made sure that this murder was a

secret, that no one, except maybe Claudius, knew about it. Bernard Grebanier,

another critic that focuses on the piece of literature, says, "this puts in

a completely different context to the play that was written by Thomas Kyd, a

play that is titled Ur-Hamlet, which Shakespeare used as a basis for his Hamlet

play".(Grebanier, 111) This way, Shakespeare accomplished very different

development of action, and ultimately one of the best plays in that history.

Along with that, Shakespeare created disagreement concerning reasons why Hamlet

waited so long before killing Claudius. A careful reader can notice that more

than two months pass between Hamlet being told by the aspiration about the evil

deed, and Hamlet following through with his plan. One can argue that from this

follows that Hamlet procrastinated, have that one flaw – being passive, not

daring to act. But Shakespeare never payed attention to this time interval.

According to Grebanier, "an audience was not aware of it, because

Shakespeare didn’t want it to be… the rather large time interval was of no

consequence, and truly one cannot notice this without a conscious

calculation". (Grebanier, 179) More critics, especially during popularity

of Freud, have tried to explain Hamlet’s delay exclusively from psychological

point of view. But how can one psychologically analyze a character that does not

exist in a physical world; whose existence is dependent is merely on his actions

and reactions to the events and other characters from the play? J. Dover Wilson

summarized it by saying that Hamlet is a "character in a play not in

history". (Weitz, 107) From the point of view of these critics, it follows

that character preceded the plot, thus shaping it for its needs. But

Shakespeare, not to mention all the other play writers, followed Aristotelian

view. "Tragedy is an imitation of life … and thus the plot precedes the

character". (Aristotle, 459-460) This, without even knowing Aristotelian

method, can also be deduced from knowing that Shakespeare adopted the plot of

Ur-Hamlet, and changed it slightly. A slight change in the plot, however, hardly

even the slightest change affects the characters. But one should realize that

"preceding" means coming before the other one, and it does not mean

eliminating the other. Therefore, the cause of Hamlet’s fall cannot be ascribed

exclusively to the situation. That would mean eliminating every element of

tragedy, and even drama, from Hamlet. If this would happen then Hamlet would

have become a mere collection of fate-dependent events that accidentally so

happened not to have a happy ending. So, the reason for Hamlet’s actions should

be understood as a synthesis of original situation, Hamlet’s reactions to it,

and then again of the situation that was affected by Hamlet’s reactions. Looking

at Hamlet’s reactions, one detail cannot be over-looked: Hamlet does not kill

Claudius in church, while he has the best chance of doing so up until that point

in the play. This little detail, and it is really a little detail, for if it was

more important, Shakespeare would have dedicated to it more than some 100 lines

in the play, tends to affect the reader’s evaluation of Hamlet’s delay. Why did

he not kill the King? Understanding this scene is crucial today in understanding

Hamlet’s delay, for we seem to be puzzled by it (if we were in the audience, the

whole scene would have lasted only moments, but as readers, we have the freedom

to ponder about it). At least so was Professor Dowden, to name one critic, who

holds that Hamlet "loses a sense of fact, because he puts every event

through his mind, filtering it until every deed seems to have an

alternative", In not doing the deed, but by evaluating it even more.

(Bloom, 66) Coleridge and Goethe would agree with this, holding that Hamlet’s

soul is too philosophical and it lacks ability to instinctually act on impulse,

and that he is "too sensitive to avenge himself". (Grebanier, 159) But

if one only reads what goes on in the play, Hamlet could by no means be called

too sensitive or passive. After the ghost appears, he ignores the fears of his

friends, is strong enough to break off their restraining hold, and follows the

ghastly apparition. He is known in the kingdom as a brilliant fencer, and shows

his skills in the match with Laertes, after which he is also able to cut the

king and take the glass of poison from Horatio’s hand, all that while dying of

deadly poison. "What then is the delay of action? Did Shakespeare make it

on purpose so that he can fill the five long acts?" (Grebanier, 115) Hamlet

is very brave and impulsive prince, but the plot seems to prevent him from

finding an, according to Bloom, "external model or simple solution for

conduct, so that he must depend more on thinking, and less on acting".

(Bloom, 102) He realizes that killing a King is a great crime. In the

seventeenth century, kings have divinity about them, and hurting a politician

today cannot compare to hurting a king from that period. The proof of this is in

the last scene. Even after Laertes speaks out and lets everyone that is present

knows that the match and poison were only the King’s plans. To this the crowd

yells, as if having an instinct to defend their king: "Treason!

Treason!" ( Shakespeare, Act V ii 312) Even if it was not punishable to

assassinate the King, Hamlet would still not kill him in the church. He might

have taken the sword out, but one thing then went through his mind: "If

King is murdered, the truth is murdered too, and the King Hamlet’s assassination

would be impossible to prove". "His aim is not to kill the King and

get the throne. He is primarily concerned with punishing the murderer of his

father, punishing him under the shelter of justice". (Grebanier, 111- 113)

So, Hamlet does delay, according to Stoll, "but with purpose to create his

deed momentous when the right moment comes in it’s time". (Stoll, 87) This

is what is behind his procrastination in the church. Until he has the proof, he

must be as patient as possible. His words in the church, then, are not at all

excuse for delay when he says that he must wait for the King to be in act that

has no relish of salvation in it. Rather, he speaks to himself in attempt to

force himself not to use violence, but to be patient. So, instead of showing a

flaw in the church, Hamlet shows virtue, his prudent patience. He is now

absolutely determined in his plan and all of his actions are directed towards

one accomplishment, to justly punish the one who murdered his father. The proof

of this is in the last scene when he orders Horatio to let everyone know the

truth, and what went on in the kingdom in the last two months. Hamlet is the

only Shakespearian tragic hero who does not have a tragic flaw, which makes him

an ideal hero, instead of a tragic one. By him being an ideal hero, doesn’t

change the tone of the play. It’s just stating that Hamlet was a very noble and

strong willed character, that didn’t have a tragic flaw. He planned everything

out, and it just seems like he has a tragic flaw. Hamlet the play still is a

revenge tragedy, for Hamlet never lived to see the full revenge. OUTLINE I.

Introduction II. Hamlet’s Delay 1. The situation of the play that surrounds

Hamlet. 2. Ur-Hamlet as a basis of Hamlet 3. Two months delay question 4.

Psychological only interpretation of Hamlet. 5. Aristotelian definitions of

drama 6. Hamlet actions as a synthesis of character and plot 7. The scene in

church – most important for the notion of delay 8. Delay because Hamlet is

passive and too emotional 9. Murdering the King is murdering the proof 10.

Virtue of patience rather than procrastination flaw III. Conclusion

Aristotle. "Poetics." The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces.

Fifth Continental Edition. Ed. Maynard Mack Bloom, Harold. Hamlet, a concise

critique. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1990 Corrigan, Robert W.. The

Modern Theater. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1964 Grebanier, Bernard. The Heart

of Hamlet, The Play Shakespeare Wrote. NewYork: Thomas Crowell Company, 1960

Griffin, Alice Venezky. Living Theater. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1953

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: The Penguin Group, 1985 Stoll, John.

Hamlet, a Stratford-Upon-Avon Study. London: Edward Arnold LTD., 1963 Weits,

Morris. Hamlet and the Philosophy of Literary Criticism. Chicago: University of

Chicago, 1964

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