Hamlet

by

William Shakespeare

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Hamlet: Genre 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 5, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet is one of the most famous examples of a tragedy: the main character is a hero unable to change his own fate, and most of the characters die violently at the play’s end. The play’s tone and mood are both dark and somber because the hero is destined to fail and meet his own destruction before the end of the play.

However, the tragic elements are those more specifically associated with a revenge tragedy. In the play’s beginning, Hamlet swears to avenge the unjustified murder of his father. His single-minded devotion to this cause paired with his inability to take decisive action is ultimately his downfall, and his wasted potential makes him a classic tragic hero. However, Hamlet’s flaws cause the death of multiple other characters: Polonius, Ophelia, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are all killed directly or indirectly by Hamlet’s actions. However, it is Hamlet’s death that seals the play as the staple of a classic revenge tragedy. In the last scene of the play, Fortinbras reflects on Hamlet’s death: 

For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royal; and for his passage,
The soldier’s music and the rite of war
Speak loudly for him 

In this scene, Fortinbras laments Hamlet’s violent death and praises his character. This is ultimately the most tragic part of Hamlet: that he was a person of great potential. Due to his flaws, however, he was never going to succeed. Though the death of the hero isn’t a required component of a tragedy, in Shakespeare’s plays, one is usually a signifier of the other.