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Hamlets treatment of Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern robs him of the

sympathy and approval necessary for a tragic hero. Do you agree?

Introduction
Common point between all 4 characters: they die, and Hamlet plays at least a partial
hand in their eventual fates
But, although his behaviour towards them is reprehensible, it is reprehensible to different
degrees depending on his intentions and possession of faculties
Complex question of his guilt in the fate of these parallels the plays wider thematic
concerns of ethics and moral complexity
Shakespeares portrayal of Hamlet is ultimately ambivalent but he ends Hamlet on a
noble note - perhaps due to Hamlets repentance and mature acknowledgement of
justice that must be served in the aftermath of his murder of Polonius

A tragic hero is one who is led upon a path to self-destruction in pursuit of a lofty goal, partially
because he is beset by a hamartia. Hamlet elicits our sympathy or frustration over his hamartia
of a contemplative and introspective nature, which verges on extreme indecision at times.

Key question here: to what extent can Hamlet be faulted for his destructive behaviour?
Arguably, Hamlet cannot be the sole responsible party, as guilt is a complex issue that
inevitably involves even the seemingly innocent besides the direct catalysts of Hamlets
actions, rather than a binary or absolute
The prior actions and factors that drive him to his extremes of cruelty are the fault of both
powerful and everyman characters from Claudius to Polonius and Rosencrantz and
Guilderstern themselves
Question the question: What defines a tragic hero? Are approval and sympathy from the
reader are necessary for characters to be tragic heroes? Is it the defining trait? (no,
because many Hamlet characters are sympathetic, but none have a mix of traits so
unique as in Prince Hamlet.) Whether Hamlet is overall a sympathetic character is a
question with no clear answer, but he is sympathetic in certain snapshots in the play.

At first glance, Hamlet does not appear to possess the necessary traits of a hero that
would elicit approval
Despite being a Prince, Hamlet contradicts the trope related to princely attributes: rather
than being bright, courageous, and active, he is given to inwards indecision and
introspection, and is an outsider in his own court - Hamlets first line in the whole play is
an aside, muttered only to himself, and he is emphatically disparate in his black
mourning dress in the midst of the celebratory court

Rather than being sympathetic, Hamlet also appears a condemnable cruel and flawed
man, unworthy of sympathy
Get thee to a nunnery
His crude and cruel sexual jests at Ophelia which confuse her - unreasonable, derived
from his irrational generalisation of all women as corrupt, impure and unfaithful (Frailty!)
Sending R&G to their deaths with a decree, abusing his position by using his signet ring
Accidental murder of Polonius - a rash act, led by his volatile emotions, a far cry from the
virtuous Prince he is externally
Gertrudes reaction: O, what a rash and bloody deed is this! highlights the
contemptibility and moral transgressiveness of his act
If we consider simply the tragic and detrimental outcomes of his actions, Hamlet
appears morally reprehensible

However, to conclude so would be a myopic interpretation, ignoring Hamlets moral


ambiguity
To the extent that his circumstances are overwhelming and rob him of agency OR that
he is partially justified in his actions, his treatment is not completely unreasonable
depending on context, which thus does not rob him of sympathy entirely
He is also a victim of circumstances!
Polonius - simply one single, uncharacteristic moment of unthinking action from
Hamlet, the only time he dared to let go of thinking too precisely. He later
acknowledges and apologises to Laertes for the wrong he has done him for
killing his father (I've done you wrong), exchanging forgiveness with Laertes
eventually. Although he does blame it on his madness, given his hot blood in the
closet scene, one can say he indeed did not intend to kill Polonius
Ophelia - perhaps less justified, but perhaps a result of some hurt done to him
Rosencrantz and Guilderstern - his treatment is motivated not only by his own
selfishness but also their questionable treatment of him which inspires a loss of
faith (childhood friends Hamlet trusted in, spying upon and conspiring against
Hamlet! Hamlet gave them a chance to reveal their true intentions to him but they
capitulated on this. Hamlet was also a pawn in their schemes, about to be sent to
imminent death. Can his selfishness not be justified with the fact that he has to
live to avenge his father?)
A binary, absolute moral judgement of Hamlet hinders us from understanding the new,
more complex sort of hero Hamlet typifies
The ultimate assessment is a grey area

Conventional, easy (straightforward) sympathy and approval may not be the defining
traits of a tragic hero either
Hamlet is also clearly a tragic hero due to his hamartia, his self-destruction, his
contradictory nature
The standards for defining his character should not rest upon how admirable he is
He is portrayed sympathetically by Shakespeare mainly through the interiority we gain to
his thoughts and dilemmas, such that we experience and are privy to his struggles,
which disincentivises us from passing too quick a judgement upon his moral character.
Shakespeare questions whether the path Hamlet should take is ever so straightforward -
by raising questions of the need to confirm Claudiuss guilt (which Hamlet does do), of
ascertaining the identity of the ghost, and of cleansing the rotten state of Denmark
Towards the end Hamlet does reclaim some of his nobility, through his attempts to make
amends with people like Laertes + Gertrude + Horatio and his genuine emotion over the
loss of his loved ones
Which shows his deep attachment to these people