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Final Essay Good Copy

Hamartia in Three Great Works of Literature by Taelara Reynolds

In the major texts, Agamemnon by Aeschylus, Hamlet by Shakespeare, and “The Love

Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, the common element of hamartia in each character

provokes a feeling of pity in the audience and creates an undeniable consequence, leading to the

protagonist’s downfall. This essay examines how the hamartia in all three characters is evident

through their actions and decisions. The situations they find themselves in create feelings of pity

and the audience can begin to predict certain outcomes. The final body paragraph states how

each work of literature concludes with definitive consequences for all, defining how hamartia is

the tragic flaw that leads to the hero’s demise. Similarities and differences are observed

throughout the body paragraphs to compare and contrast the three works. Pity and hamartia are

intertwined as the protagonist’s tragic flaws blind them from foreseeing the outcome of their

situations. The following body paragraph reveals each character’s hamartia, intriguing the

audience.

In Agamemnon, the play begins with Agamemnon accidentally killing a deer in a sacred

grove that belongs to the goddess, Artemis. As his first act of hubris in the play, she punishes

him by interfering with the winds so that his fleet cannot sail to Troy. It is later revealed that in

order to appease Artemis, Agamemnon must sacrifice his eldest daughter to allow the fleet a

clear pathway. At first, Agamemnon refuses to kill his daughter, but after being pressured by the

commanders to move on with the war, he agrees. His daughter, Iphigenia, was one of

Agamemnon’s children that loved him the most. In conversation, she innocently tells her father

to immediately see her when he returns from war, oblivious to his current agenda,

“IPHIGENIA: When you have returned home from Troy, you will have to come straight to me.
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AGAMEMNON: Before I leave, I have a sacrifice I must perform.

IPHIGENIA: Of course. The gods need their sacrifices.

AGAMEMNON: You will attend. You will stand right next to the purifying water.

IPHIGENIA: Will we dance round the altar?

AGAMEMNON: How happy you are in your innocence. But give me a kiss and your hand, then

go inside. / Soon, you will embark on a trip that will take you far away from me. Oh, to touch

your cheek, your hair, to hold you close . . . how unfair it is that you have to suffer for Helen and

for Troy. But enough, I must stop my tears. Go inside” (Aesch.,100-354). Although

Agamemnon did have a decision, he values winning the war over his own family. He talks

tenderly of his daughter, stating how innocent and happy she is and understands how it feels to

hold her close. Agamemnon is completely aware that it is unfair for her to be sacrificed for the

battle, but states that he must not shed any more tears as his main goal is to win the war. His

hamartia is revealed as an initial act of hubris against the Gods as the audience begins to feel pity

for Iphigenia’s undeserving death and for Agamemnon’s loss of a daughter. In addition to this,

he initially hesitates to kill his daughter but by giving in to the Commanders’ persuasion, he is

blinded by the objective of sailing to Troy and cannot see the consequences moving forward. He

also lies to Clytemnestra and tells her that Iphigenia is going to live in a stranger’s home to be

married off to Achilles so that he can continue out the sacrifice without any interruptions.

Furthermore, in Hamlet, the hypothesis of his defeat comes from the ghost of his father coming

to him and telling him he was murdered by his scheming uncle. Hamlet makes it his goal to

assassinate his uncle out of revenge for his father and to reclaim the thrown to its respectful

owner. Throughout the play, Hamlet’s obsession with vengeance increases, seeing it first as an

immoral sin, then as a necessary duty. Hamlet soon discovers he is being spied upon, so he sets
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up a play to see if Claudius is truly guilty of killing the king. He witnesses Claudius’ reaction to

a scene where the king dies from being poisoned, then follows him to his room to take action.

There, he sees him praying and decides Claudius is not in a sinful enough state to be killed in

that moment, fearing that he will die and go to heaven instead of hell. The audience witnesses

Hamlet’s hamartia through his hesitation to kill Claudius while he is alone and unarmed, “Now

might I do it pat, now he is praying; and now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven, and so am I

revenged. That would be scann’d. A villan kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this

same villain send to heaven.” (Shakespeare, III.iii.74-79). During this scene, Hamlet is watching

Claudius from a hidden position, stating simply that he has the perfect opportunity right then and

there to murder him. His uncle, unaware of Hamlet hidden, is kneeling and presumably unarmed

where Hamlet clearly has the advantage. Hamlet does not want to kill Claudius while he is

praying as he feels it would be more appropriate to kill him while he is sinning, so he can be sure

he will go to hell and not be redeemed into heaven. What Hamlet fails to recognize through his

hesitancy is that by delaying action and waiting for a more appropriate time, he creates

complications the longer he ceases to take action. Hamlet’s indecisiveness is apparent as he

battles internally with his morals. He strives to avenge his father’s death but feels guilty for not

doing anything and seems to be looking for the perfect opportunity to gain retaliation. Evidently,

the audience concurs that Hamlet’s indecisiveness is not only an insecurity, but his inability to

act upon his instincts and his feelings of guilt are a part of his hamartia. Hamlet is further pitied

for these reasons which creates a stronger connection between the audience and his character.

Moreover, the narrator in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, hesitates to socialize, inhibiting

him from forming long-lasting relationships due to his lack of confidence. Prufrock is uncertain

of himself and his personality therefore withdrawing from society and remaining isolated. He
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questions himself, “‘Do I Dare?’ and ‘Do I Dare?’ Time to turn back and descend the stair, with

a bald spot in the middle of my hair- (they will say: “how his hair is growing thin!”) My morning

coat, […] my necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin — (They will say: “But how

his arms and legs are thin!”) Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for

decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” (T.S. Eliot, 37-48). He describes his

insecurity not only as his indecisiveness to socialize with women, but about his lack of assurance

in his personal appearance. Simply, he states that he is worried the women will tease him

because of his thin limbs and balding hair. Prufrock’s statement reveals his hamartia – his

inability to socialize due to his lack of confidence. His timidities stop him from mingling with

others, making himself an outcast. Each character shares a commonality: their hamartia and

unfortunate situations develop them as tragic heroes in their story. Hamlet and Prufrock share the

same aspect to their flaws – their hesitancy to make important decisions. Agamemnon and

Hamlet are also similarly indecisive and constantly question whether it is the right course of

action to take. Prufrock shares the same hesitancy as Agamemnon, however he hesitates about

connecting with society and becoming an outcast, believing he does not have value or deserved

to be loved. On the other hand, Agamemnon believes he should be loved and favoured by all.

The differences mainly lie in their own personalities. Agamemnon is arrogant and selfish to his

needs and wants, for example sacrificing his daughter to gain the winds he needed to sail to

Troy. Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s death but makes many mistakes along the way and

constantly hesitates on deciding when is the right time to take action. Prufrock has a strongly

lacks confidence in himself to interact with society, remaining an outsider in a bleak world.

Agamemnon and Hamlet are both from royal families, while Prufrock is a regular citizen. Lastly,

Agamemnon takes place in the 5th century BC during the trojan war while Hamlet takes place in
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the early 1600’s. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock takes place much later, in the early

1900’s.

Secondly, the authors use specific scenes to create pity throughout the audience from the

character’s fatal flaws. This allows them to predict how their stories may end with certain

foreshadowing, creating a peaked interest in the plotline. In Agamemnon, Aeschylus initially

creates pity through Iphigenia’s undeserving death. However, the audience can sympathise with

Clytemnestra who lost her daughter at the hands of her own husband, thus making Agamemnon a

tragic hero which is a contributing factor to his hamartia. Additionally, Agamemnon’s flaws are

evident once more as he arrives home from war and is hesitant to step on the rich tapestries

Clytemnestra lays out for him. Returning from battle, he is greeted by her at the palace where she

delivers a speech on how noble and brave a man he is. Her praise, however, received the

opposite reaction from Agamemnon who speaks haughtily and of himself: “Daughter of Leda, /

your speech was, like my absence, far too long. / […] don’t puff me up with such female

honours, or grovel there before me babbling […] like some barbarian. Don’t invite envy to cross

my path by strewing it with cloth. That’s how we honour gods, not human beings. For a mortal

man to place his foot like this on rich embroidery is, in my view, not without some risk. So I’m

telling you honour me as a man, not as a god” (Aesch.,783-1033). Not only does Agamemnon

scold Clytemnestra for delivering a speech too lengthy but insults her by comparing her to a

barbarian. He then instructs her to not deliver ‘such female honours’ but proceeds in telling her

to honour him as a man, not a god. The audience pities Clytemnestra as she is treated poorly by

Agamemnon, seemingly remaining loyal to him even after he knowingly sacrificed their

daughter. Agamemnon’s arrogance is a key part of his behaviour that significantly contributes to

his downfall. Furthermore, Agamemnon’s overconfidence reveals a crucial part of his


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personality and decision making as he foolishly chooses to walk across the royal cloth, after

hypocritically stating it would not be wise to do so. These actions provide insight to his superior

thoughts of himself, although stating aloud that he does not want evil to attack him, meaning he

does not want the Gods to look down on him. This second act of hubris is an added aspect of his

hamartia in which the audience further pities. Additionally, the colour of the purple tapestry

symbolizes wealth, power, and prosperity. By choosing to walk across the purple path,

Agamemnon has jinxed his fate thus foreshadowing to the beginning of his demise. Likewise,

pity is further felt in Hamlet as he has internal conflicts with himself which the audience

witnesses through his soliloquies to gain insight to his thoughts. Pity can be felt during Hamlet’s

sincere soliloquy where the churning of Hamlet’s emotions is exposed as he logically

contemplates life, “To be, or not to be? That is the question – Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to

suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep” (Shakespeare, III.i.57-61). This soliloquy is

possibly the most pity provoking of all as his speech is seemingly governed by reason instead of

frantic emotion. The audience can relate to his confusion as he questions the advantages and

disadvantages of existence and whether or not it would be right to end one’s life without it being

a sin. Following his soliloquy, Hamlet runs into Ophelia where she wishes to return the love

tokens he had once given her. Hamlet denies giving her any, and an argument between the two

sparks as he outrageously claims he had once loved Ophelia yet never loved her at all. In his

madness, he sourly comments on how humankind is completely wretched, and he tells Ophelia

that she should enter a nunnery instead of becoming a “breeder of sinners” (Shakespeare,

III.i.122-123). He then blames women for making men behave like brutes and for making the

world even more dishonest by painting themselves up with makeup to appear more beautiful than
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they really are. As Hamlet is worked into an angered state, the audience can sympathize with him

as he feels a heavy weight on his shoulders to avenge his father, and for poor Ophelia who meant

no harm. Hamlet then heads directly to his mother’s room where he plans to confront her on the

death of his father and wants her to admit her guilt. Polonius, previously overhearing his

conversation with Ophelia, runs to the queen’s room to eavesdrop on their conversation and

determine the reasoning behind Hamlet’s madness. As he hides behind a curtain, Hamlet enters

and demands why his mother requested him. Gertrude says that Hamlet has offended his father,

meaning step-father Claudius, which ignites an argument between the two. Enraged, Hamlet

states that she was the one who offended his father, meaning the King. Hamlet opposes her with

a vicious intensity and Polonius, in fear of Gertrude’s life, yells for help from behind the

tapestry. Hamlet then strikes his sword through the cloth, thinking it is Claudius, and kills the

innocent Polonius. Taken aback, Gertrude asks what Hamlet has done, to which he replies, “Nay,

I know not. Is it the king?”. The queen states that his reaction was a “rash and bloody” deed, and

Hamlet rebukes, “A bloody deed! Almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king and marry with his

brother” (Shakespeare, III.iv.24 – 30). Soon after, the ghost reappears in front of Hamlet, but the

queen cannot see him. He reprimands Hamlet for not killing Claudius sooner and focuses him to

stay on task. As Gertrude thinks he is crazy, Hamlet leaves, dragging Polonius’ body behind him.

The audience sympathises with Hamlet as it is apparent that he can see this father’s ghost, but

pities Polonius’ undeserving death as he was an innocent character to die along Hamlet’s quest.

As Polonius was Ophelia’s and Laertes’s father, Hamlet made a huge mistake in ending his life,

thus foreshadowing to the ending consequence. Furthermore, T.S. Eliot creates pity in The Love

Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as the narrator struggles not only with his confidence in his physical

appearance, but in his will to approach women and make his presence known in the universe.
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Prufrock is unsure of socialising with humanity as he greatly fears he will be judged. He speaks

as if he is in a room full of women yet sits alone as an outcast from society, refusing to indulge in

any kind of emotional connectivity with others. He states that he knows very well of women’s

appearances on the surface, but it is apparent he does not know deeper into their personalities,

“And I have known the arms already, known them all—Arms that are braceleted and white and

bare (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!) Is it perfume from a dress That makes

me so digress?” (T.S. Eliot, 62-66). Prufrock’s observant behaviour signifies his outsider

personality as he may physically be in a room, but mentally overthinking a million details of his

environment. This stops him from being a part of a social group, instead melting into the

furniture like wet cement drying and hardening into a concrete state, forever stuck in one form

and never changing. The readers pity his lack of assertiveness and how he is depleted of courage.

Furthermore, his state of mind is interesting as he references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “No! I am

not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a

progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be

of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed,

almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool” (T.S. Eliot, 146-154). This last line refers to how

Hamlet stabbed and killed Polonius through the tapestry, referring to him as the ‘intruding fool’

which foreshadowed to Hamlet’s downfall and suggests that Prufrock might have the same fate.

He intriguingly compares himself to Polonius from Hamlet, however his hamartia is more similar

to that of Hamlet’s insecurities and decision-making skills. The readers pity Prufrock in a

comparable way to Hamlet as they both separate themselves from normal society, although they

have different tasks at hand. The audience pities all three characters to create a stronger

connection with them. However, each situation differs from the other, giving alternative
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reasoning to the audience’s pity. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter and speaks disdainfully

towards Clytemnestra, creating pity for an innocent death and for his wife who was poorly

mistreated. Hamlet’s pity comes from questioning life itself and mistreating Ophelia due to a

madness that is created from an obsession with avenging his father’s death. He screams at

Ophelia and mistreats her similar to Clytemnestra, then proceeds to kill the innocent yet ‘foolish’

Polonius, similar to Iphigenia’s undeserved death. Prufrock pathetically outcasts himself in a

way that causes the audience to pity his state of mind and lack of confidence. He compares

himself to Polonius from Hamlet, recognizing that he is not a prince of a royal family, but simply

an attendant lord, happy to serve the prince and ‘glad to be of use’. Ironically, his hamartia is

parallel to Hamlet’s to which the audience can comparably sympathize both characters.

Lastly, all tragic heroes receive their own form of consequence, concluding their stories

with an undeniable demise. Their downfalls are unavoidable as they each suffer their own fates.

From defying the Gods and sacrificing his daughter for war to infidelity and condescendingly

mistreating his wife, Agamemnon’s arrogance and acts of hubris unknowingly lead him to his

end. He consequently dies at the hands of his own wife, Clytemnestra, who stabbed him and

Cassandra to death with a knife. Later, she validates herself to the chorus as to why it was right

to murder him, “I deem not that the death he died Had overmuch of shame: For this was he who

did provide Foul wrong unto his house and name: His daughter, blossom of my womb,

He gave unto a deadly doom, Iphigenia, child of tears! And as he wrought, even so he fares. Nor

be his vaunt too loud in hell; For by the sword his sin he wrought, And by the sword himself is

brought Among the dead to dwell” (Aesch.,1772-1783). Although the chorus is shocked at his

murder and grieves the death of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra chastises them, justifying

Agamemnon’s death as deserved and inevitable. She validates her actions by stating that his
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crimes of adultery with Cassandra and sacrificing Iphigenia lead him to his death and that he is

to blame. Agamemnon was unaware of his wife plotting her reprisal until his last breath. His

ignorance leads him to believe that she would remain by his side forever, no matter how poorly

he treated and disregarded her. Clytemnestra broke her loyalty for Agamemnon as the audience

discovers she has a lover with a long-time rivalry against Agamemnon’s father. It is revealed that

Clytemnestra’s lover, Agamemnon’s cousin Aegisthus, was in on the plot all along and even

helped Clytemnestra to murder both Agamemnon and his concubine Cassandra. Additionally,

‘Philos-Aphilos’ is the ancient Greek word meaning hate replacing love. In this case,

Clytemnestra’s love for Iphigenia is replaced for her loathing of Agamemnon as she gloats about

how just it was to murder him. Agamemnon’s condescending behaviour was a major attribute in

his hamartia and made him totally unaware of his forthcoming fate. Even though Agamemnon’s

death was unforeseen by him, the audience had some foreshadowing throughout the play with

insight from the Chorus to predict his fate and the ending. Hamlet ends in a peculiar way, unable

to escape his demise like all tragic heroes. Hamlet was sent to England, but during a pirate attack

he manages to escape and return home to Denmark to see Claudius. As Claudius plots a new way

to kill him, he and Laertes invite Hamlet to a fencing match in which he agrees. Before the

match, Laertes poisons the tip of his sword and Claudius poisons a cup of wine. After getting the

first hit, Claudius offers hamlet a pearl as a reward which he puts in the cup of wine. Hamlet

declines, stating he is not ready to drink yet. He gets another strike in, and as he does his mother

takes a sip from the wine before Claudius can stop her. Laertes then strikes Hamlet on the third

match with his sword and they get into a fight. During the conflict, they exchange swords and

Hamlet stabs Laertes with his own poisoned blade. Immediately after, Gertrude collapses saying

she has been poisoned and Laertes confessed that he poisoned the sword and exclaims they are
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both going to die, “It is here, Hamlet. / The treacherous instrument is in thy hand, Unbated and

envenom’d. The foul practice Hath turn’d itself on me. Lo here I lie, Never to rise again. Thy

mother’s pois’ned. I can no more—the King, the King’s to blame” (Shakespeare, V. ii. 229-236).

As Laertes blames Claudius for the scheme, Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword and

forces him to drink from the wine. Claudius then perishes, and Laertes dies apologizing for what

he has done. Hamlet tells Horatio to stay behind and tell the truth about what has happened, then

dies too. Although Hamlet does kill Claudius, he himself dies as well when he is struck by

Laertes poisoned sword. Laertes killed hamlet out of revenge for killing his father, Polonius,

which was a result of Hamlet’s hamartia - his hesitancy to take course of action at the

appropriate time. Hamlet, while succeeding in avenging his father’s death, fails in taking over

Denmark as the heir to the kingdom and is partly to blame for the entire royal family being

murdered, thus concluding the tragic hero’s demise. Lastly, the character of Prufrock in The Love

Song of J. Alfred Prufrock never breaks his silence barrier and allows himself to interact with

society. Predictably, he suffers his own fate of remaining isolated and lonely until he grows old,

“I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? / and walk upon the

beach, I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me. /

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (T.S. Eliot, 120-131). The premise of Prufrock’s

story is that he is too nervous to connect with others and find romance because he does not think

he is valuable enough to be loved. In believing so, he grows old never knowing a meaningful

relationship. Prufrock resolves to isolation because, like Hamlet, suffers from his own

insecurities and indecisions. He chooses not to interact with civilization because he is too self-

conscious and does not think the world will appreciate him for who he is. Lacking self-
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assurance, he ultimately chooses not to interact with anyone therefore his consequence is his

loneliness and seclusion from the world in which he resolves to aging alone. In the last line of

the poem, the narrator explains how he is waking from a dream into actuality which is more like

a nightmare, as if humans are the ones who drown him. Even so, the mermaids sing but not to

him. This negative mindset reflects his exasperation with uncertainty as he questions his life and

does not believe he is worth being sung to by a mermaid. Additionally, the negative connotation

“drown” exaggerates the author’s emotions while being used as a literal descriptive to compare

one reality from another. In a sense, Agamemnon is similar to Hamlet in that Hamlet was

unaware of his forthcoming death, which was due to his hesitation, causing him to mess up his

plan of killing Claudius, and creating suspicion. He ends up being partly responsible for the

death of the entire royal family whereas Agamemnon is only partly responsible for his own

fatality and the death of Cassandra. Prufrock on the other hand is only responsible for himself as

he is the sole reason for his demise. While Agamemnon and Hamlet die during the time period of

their plays, Prufrock’s death is assumed as he talks about growing old and never finding love.

Hamlet and Prufrock both end with never obtaining love but Agamemnon dies while having two

lovers. Prufrock, like Hamlet, hesitates in deciding to find love with women and instead pictures

himself growing old alone, never being worth love because he never loved himself.

In conclusion, all three great works contain a similar element with a reoccurring theme.

Agamemnon, Hamlet, and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” share comparable aspects of

hamartia which creates pity within the audience and reveals each character’s final consequence.

In the beginning, the audience witnesses’ each character’s hamartia which is evident through

their decisions and reactions. This forms feelings of pity within the audience as they relate to

each situation. Foreshadowing is revealed which allows the audience to predict the outcomes of
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the characters’ actions. Ultimately, the flaws of each protagonist consequently result in their

undeniable downfall. The characters’ stories are compared and defined throughout the essay to

reveal their similarities and differences. In summary, it is important to understand what defines a

great piece of writing. The shared elements are comparable trends in each story, making all of

the literatures successful in having a thorough plotline. The same feelings of pity from each

character’s hamartia are created in the audience within all works, and each protagonist suffers

their own form of consequence from this. It is imperative that every tragic hero has a strong,

consequential ending, which typically results from their oblivious actions and appalling

situations, usually resulting in their deaths. Implications of every classic piece of writing is that

many can interpret them in a different way. It may be easy to see certain themes and

commonalities, but some may disagree with subjects that pertain to the differences that separate

the characters. Furthermore, the specific circumstances each protagonist endures can be

understood inversely by the reader, creating their own interpretation. Nonetheless, it is vital that

each story have a strong beginning, middle, and end, and conclude correspondingly.
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Works Cited:

1. Aeschylus, and Gilbert Murray. The Agamemnon of Aeschylus. London: G. Allen &

Unwin Ltd, 1961. Print.

2. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New Folger's ed.

New York: Washington Square Press/Pocket Books, 1992.

3. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.". The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed.

M.H. Abrams et al. 2140-2143. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.

4. “Agamemnon.” Edited by Timothy Chappell, The Agamemnon, Open.ac.uk, 23 Jan.

2013, www.open.ac.uk/people/sites/www.open.ac.uk.people/files/files/aeschylus-

agamemnon-definitive.pdf.

5. Agamemnon. The Harvard Classics.” Lines 1500-1964. Aeschylus. 1909-14.

Agamemnon. The Harvard Classics., Bartleby, www.bartleby.com/8/1/4.html.

6. "What are some quotations from ‘Hamlet’ that indicate that Hamlet wants to kill Claudius

at the right moment, when he is sinning?" eNotes Editorial, 10 Apr. 2010,

https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-some-quotes-from-hamlet-that-indicate-

that-156189. Accessed 23 Aug. 2019.

7. LitCharts. “The Purple Tapestries Symbol Analysis.” LitCharts, Harvard University

Press, 1926, www.litcharts.com/lit/agamemnon/symbols/the-purple-tapestries.

8. “Agamemnon Lines 1-354 Summary & Analysis.” LitCharts,

www.litcharts.com/lit/agamemnon/lines-1-354

9. Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet: Act 5, Scene 2.” PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate

Free Shakespeare Resource, www.playshakespeare.com/hamlet/scenes/146-act-v-scene-

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