Is this supposed tragic hero maybe an ideal hero – one without the tragic flaw, which has been a part of the formula for the tragedy since the Golden age of Greece?; is a question that has been the field for many literary critics’ battles. The main, and, most often, the only flaw that has been attributed to Hamlet is his delay. This seems to constitute the central part in Hamlet. Critics seem to cling to this detail, as if trying to save the status of Hamlet as a typical Elizabethan tragedy of revenge. By the definition of tragedy, there should exist a flaw in the character of the main hero, who is a great personality that is engaged in a struggle that ends catastrophically (Stratford, 90).
If Hamlet had no flaw, what kind of tragic hero is he? No doubt, Hamlet is a tragical drama, for it has many characters “from the top” ending up losing their lives. But the play wouldn’t lose its tragic tone if Hamlet was a an ideal hero instead of tragic one, which is exactly the case. If just all critic realized this, maybe today we wouldn’t have that much trouble trying to “decipher” Hamlet’s character, just like Elizabethan audience never raised any questions concerning Hamlet’s delay. It was only in the last two centuries, that the audience and their perceptions have drastically changed, which causes this confusion concerning the character that was created by Shakespeare for common people, some ignorant ones among them, perhaps.
Hamlet is like a soldier that is thrown into a war where he has to do some things he rather would avoid doing, but under the given circumstances he bites his teeth and carries himself well (Stratford, 128). In this war, the circumstances brought on by Claudius’s murdering of King Hamlet are Hamlet’s enemy. His dead father is the destroyed country, painful truth which leaves so much hatred and resentment in his heart. Being a loyal prince and son, and one whom entire kingdom respected, he should seek revenge and bring justice back in the royal court. The whole play would be very simple if this murdered was an open assassination.
But no, Shakespeare made sure that this assassination was secret, that no one, except maybe Claudius, knew about it. This puts in a completely different context the play that was written by Thomas Kyd, a play titled Ur-Hamlet, which Shakespeare used as a basis for his Hamlet (Grebanier, 111). This way, Shakespeare accomplished very different development of action, and ultimately one of the best plays in the history. Along with that, Shakespeare created disagreement concerning reasons why Hamlet waited so long before killing Claudius. A careful reader can notice that more than two months pass between Hamlet being told by the Ghost about the evil deed, and Hamlet following through his plan.
One can argue that from this follows that Hamlet procrastinated, having that one flaw – being passive, not daring to act. But Shakespeare never payed attention to this time interval. An audience wasn’t aware of it, because Shakespeare didn’t want it to be – the rather large time interval was of no consequence, and truly one cannot notice this without a conscious calculation (Grebanier, 179). More critics, especially during popularity of Freud, have tried to explain Hamlet’s delay exclusively from psychological point of view.
But how can one psychologically analyze a character that doesn’t exist in physical world; whose existence is dependent merely on his actions and reactions to the events and other characters from play? J. Dover Wilson summarized it by saying that Hamlet is a “character in a play, not in history” (Weitz, 107). From the point of view of these critics, it follows that character preceded the plot, thus shaping it for its needs. But Shakespeare, not to mention all the other play writers, followed Aristotelian view that drama is imitation of life, of the actions of man.
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