Hamlet: A Misunderstood Tragedy?

In the past few days, our group has talked a lot about the lack of traditional tragic elements in Hamlet.  Though there is a lot of death in this final scene, there are also elements of comedy in conversations with the gravediggers and Oseric, as well as an unexpected resolution between Laertes and Hamlet.  Additionally, Hamlet lacks the fundamental fatal mistake that many tragic heroes have.  (See here for further information about elements of tragedies.)  However, all of these are qualitative assumptions.  The major question is, how can the tools at our disposal help us to better understand the classification of Hamlet? Monk was the obvious choice to aid in this question, but as April suggests, Monk is equally confused about the “tragediness” of Hamlet, and none of us are 100% certain why this is.

I’m not sure exactly how to clarify the question, but I attempted to take a stab at it using my tool.  I started by choosing words from my previous List Word result that I thought were particularly indicative of a tragedy.  In this process, I came up with a list of 12 words: know, dead, grave, death, die, life, purpose, nature, cause, soul, blame and fault.  I then ran these words through the Concordance Tool to see what limited context TAPoR could supply.

Result of chosen words in the Concordance Tool for Hamlet.

I also ran these words with the fifth Act from Macbeth.  Everybody in the group agreed that this play displayed the most definite signs of a tragedy, so I used it as a control with which to compare my results with.

Result of chosen words in Concordance Tool for Macbeth.

The goal was to identify how these words are used differently or similarly in Hamlet and Macbeth (I apologize that the screenshots cannot show the entirety of my results),  though I am not sure that they are good representations.  I immediately concluded that that this job is perhaps best suited for Wordseer or Wordhoard, because then the context and speaker are identified with more ease.  However, there were a few surprising results.  For instance, I did not expect the words “cause” and “blame” to be common in both of these final acts.  Moreover, they seem to both be used in reference to the King (though it has been a long time since I read Macbeth so I can’t exactly be sure).  It made me think of the similarities between Macbeth and Claudius.  Even though Claudius is not the protagonist of the play, he resembles a tragic hero like Macbeth more than Hamlet does.  Both are spurred by ambition and die because of it.  So the question is, do elements of a tragedy need to belong solely to the protagonist?

Overall, my results at this point are not very conclusive.  I think in the coming days I will dabble a bit in the other tools while consulting with my peers,  Hopefully this will yield further evidence regarding the lack or abundance of tragedy in Hamlet.  I am particularly interested to discover how Hamlet’s word usage indicates him as the tragic hero and not just a victim of circumstance.  I’m not sure how to best approach this problem yet, but hopefully my peers will have some ideas.

2 thoughts on “Hamlet: A Misunderstood Tragedy?

  1. Great post Stephanie!
    I agree with your group about the lack of “tragedy-ness” within Hamlet. It really does not become a tragedy until the last few scenes when everyone dies. I think your use of comparing Hamlet to other Shakespeare tragedies is great, especially when looking at the language and word use of each play. I also agree with your comment about how WordSeer would be a helpful tool when trying to find the speaker and context of the word being searched, because that is the main function of our tool. It sounds like your group presentation will be really interesting!

  2. In that link you posted to info about tragedies, I found the part about ‘characters’ very interesting in regards to Hamlet.

    “Character is the second most important element of tragedy. Each character has an essential quality or nature that is revealed in the plot. The moral purpose of each character must be clear to the audience.
    – The line regarding the moral purpose of each character being clear to the audience is interesting. Remember in our analysis of 3.4 when we couldn’t be sure if Hamlet was really out to avenge his father or was just per-occupied with his mothers sex life? I still feel pretty vague on whether or not Hamlet actually wanted to kill Claudius solely to avenge his father.

    Also, one other line within the four main qualities a character should have: “Each character must act consistently throughout the play.”
    – I feel that Hamlet is far from consistent throughout the play, otherwise why would so many scholars continually question if his madness is acted or real? Also, in one moment he is able to kill Claudius but then thinks about it and doesn’t – the prayer scene. Then a few moments later he just blindly stabs at the curtain and isn’t even sure who he’s killing.

    As for whether or not elements of the tragedy have to lie solely on the protagonist, I assume the general consensus is yes, but I would prefer no. If you look at this play through Claudius’ eyes, maybe he had a good reason to kill Hamlet Sr. If this is the case then you cant help feeling sorry for him, having a punk like Hamlet for a stepson moping around and causing problems for the first few months of his kingship, and then he gets killed by him!
    Wow, this was a long post, my apologies!

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