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Andrew Allen

Mr. Palcsey

Honors English 10

October 19, 2017

The Tragic Hero of Hamlet

Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies. The play’s namesake,

Hamlet, is undoubtedly the tragic hero. Hamlet sets his heart on avenging his father from the

beginning, after being visited by his ghost. What follows is Hamlet’s fatal flaw, indecisiveness.

After his long stretch of indecisiveness, the audience is left with little sympathy for him. Hamlet

is the tragic hero of the play, with his character flaw being his indecision at every turn, which

would ultimately lead to the audience going through the cathartic process.

Hamlet is the tragic hero of the play. First, a tragic hero is normally of noble birth.

Hamlet fits this criterion, as he is the prince of Denmark, and technically should have been king

after his father’s death. Secondly, a tragic hero is seemingly destined from the start for suffering.

Hamlet’s character goes through this, as he starts with grief over his father. He also suffers after

being rejected by Ophelia. He is constantly under attack from murder plots by the king and

being betrayed by his supposed friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He ultimately ends up

witnessing his father, his love interest, and his mother die. He is suffering throughout the play

until his eventual demise. Lastly, a tragic hero does not comprehend the pain he causes others.

Hamlet fails to realize that he has caused terrible things for others. The one of these things is the

emotional distress he causes his mother. In Act III Scene 4, Queen Gertrude says, “O Hamlet,

speak no more! Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul, and there I see such black and grained

spots. As will not leave their tinct.” He is clearly causing his mother emotional distress, yet he
focuses on himself and his dead father, not her. Another thing he commits that hurts the people

around him is the murder of Polonius. This leads Ophelia to kill herself. It also is the catalyst in

the organization of the sword fight that results in the death of his mother, Claudius, Laertes, and

himself. One last feature of a tragic hero is a character trait that leads to their demise. Hamlet’s

flaw is his inability to act.

After he speaks with the ghost of his father, Hamlet is left with one goal. He feels that he

must avenge his father’s death and kill King Claudius. This is an objective that he delays for as

long as he can. His hesitation leads to the death of almost every character in the play, showing

that it is his tragic flaw. Had he killed Claudius when given the chance, the king would not have

been able to plan Hamlet’s murder. Hamlet was given the chance to kill Claudius, but he

overthinks it and loses the opportunity. In Act III Scene 3, when given a clear shot to kill the

king, Hamlet says, “No. Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hent.” In this quote, Hamlet

clearly lacks the assertiveness and will to do what he had set out to do. He could have ended

Claudius then and there, but he hesitated. After this, Hamlet kills Polonius, which causes

Ophelia’s suicide and leads Laertes and Claudius to forge a plan for Hamlet’s death. Had

Hamlet gone through with his original decision and not hesitated, the death of Laertes, Ophelia,

Queen Gertrude, and himself would have been avoided. It is this indecision that leads the

audience to go through the cathartic process by the end of the play.

By the end of Hamlet, it is hard for audience members to have any pity left for Hamlet.

By this point, Hamlet has had an opportunity to complete his task, and has squandered the

chance. He has murdered a man in cold blood due to his shortsighted, vengeful nature

throughout the play. This murder led to the suicide of a girl whom Hamlet had verbally

assaulted. One can hardly blame Laertes for wanting to avenge his father and trying to kill
Hamlet, as it the same act that Hamlet has also been attempting to do for the duration of the play.

It is hard to have any sympathy for Hamlet after all the harm he has caused to those around him.

The play ends with Fortinbras entering power, after in Act V Scene 2 Hamlet says, “On

Fortinbras. He has my dying voice. So tell him, with th' occurrents, more and less, which have

solicited. The rest is silence.” Fortinbras coming into power almost gives one the sense of relief.

The emotionally unstable members of the royal family have been pushed out of the way, and the

kingdom is left to a capable leader. By the end of Hamlet, the audience would not have had any

pity or sympathy left for Hamlet.

Hamlet is clearly the tragic hero in the tragedy named for him. His nobility, destiny of

suffering, relative indifference to the effects of his actions, and his character flaws prove this. His

indecisiveness leads to the death of his mother, Ophelia, Laertes, and most importantly, himself.

His flaw would have left the audience feeling little for him by the end of the play. Hamlet is one

of the most obvious examples of a tragic hero in the works of Shakespeare.