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The Character of Hamlet

The character of Hamlet in the play of the same name by William Shakespeare has long been a difficult one for critics to assess because he is seen as passive rather than active for most of the play. Early in the play he is charged with the task of avenging his father, a task given him by his father's ghost, and yet for most of the play he does nothing about it. He is highly reflective but inactive until the very end of the play when he does his duty, destroys the man who killed his father, and is himself destroyed. Critics have pondered the question of why he waits so long. One of the consequences of his waiting can be seen in Act II, Scene iii as Claudius, suspicious of Hamlet, prepares to defend himself from an attack he believes may be forthcoming. However, the scene also may answer some of the critical questions raised about Hamlet and his behavior. It reflects what has gone before and foreshadows much of what is to come.

The tragic hero derives from the Greek drama, as elucidated by the criticism of Aristotle in particular, criticism that was revived in the Renaissance period and that came to be used as a prescription for drama rather than a description of it as Aristotle intended. Tragedy in this conception is struggling against something over which we really have no control, and the tragedy develops from a recognition of the futility of the struggle, leading to the resignation of the tragic hero to his or her fate and indeed even to their embracing that fate. The hero often knows his fate but still does not see it coming, as it were. He or she then takes responsibility for that failure--this is the lesson learned and imparted to the audience and only reinforces the power of the gods and the need for the human spirit to obey. Underlying the actions of the tragic hero is a fatal flaw in his character, and it is because of this flaw that he is not able to escape his fate. The flaw is usually a form of pride, but it ...

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The Character of Hamlet. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:14, April 21, 2019, from