Hamlet: Tragic or Comical?

Is Hamlet truly a tragedy or can it be considered more of a comedy? We’ve noticed, as a group, that when we ask Monk to predict the classification of Hamlet in either Comedy or Tragedy it continually deems it comedic.

But why is this? To further investigate this we’ve decided to compare Hamlet to Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, Merchant of Venice and As You Like It.   Macbeth is a tragedy through and through, while Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare’s first tragedy making them two good candidates to be comparative texts. Comedy on the other hand, we chose As You Like It because it’s a classic comedy and very well known, the choice of Mechant of Venice provided us with a bridge between comedy and tragedy since it is commonly known as a tragic comedy…maybe Hamlet can be a tragic comedy too?

I’m not really a huge reader of Shakespeare so the only thing  that I knew that differentiate a tragedy from a comedy was that a tragedy ended in death, normally numerous deaths, while a comedy normally ended in marriage or marriages. I looked on Wikipedia….which I know it’s not the most reputable source but I just need a quick reference on the differences between the two. They describe a tragedy as linked to “Aristotle’s precept[ion] about tragedy: that the protagonist must be an admirable but flawed character, with the audience able to understand and sympathize with the character.” A comedy has a “happy ending, usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters, and a tone and style that is more light-hearted than Shakespeare’s other plays”. Worhoard isn’t capable of showing me a relationship or qualities in a person to help me un-code a tragedy, however I can look at key words, adjectives and the use of the negative to gain the tone of a comedy.

Knowing the limitations of my tool I turned back to my last analysis where I searched the lemmas of love and death, as well as the use of the negative. I used this method in the 4 additional plays, as well as Hamlet as a whole and just Act 5. I soon realized that the results I received could be misleading because I just got the number of results back and not a percentage. Since not all the plays are the same length if the word love appears 200 times in play X and play Y it will not be the same percentage or concentration. So I also had to get Wordhoard to calculate the total number of words in each play.

These are the results I got (organized on paper so it’s easy to understand and follow):

The results weren’t overly surprising; “love” had a higher appearance in comedies, while “death” had a higher concentration in tragedies. The negative seems to appear more often in comedies than tragedies and this may be a linguistic choice of Shakespeare, but I’m not sure.

My findings that as a whole play, Hamlet, as a whole, falls in the middle between tragedy and comedy when it comes to the lemma “love”, it’s right in-line with tragedy with the lemma “death”, but when you look at the negative it appears to be a comedy. Making it as a whole play a confusing mix of tragedy and comedy, a tragic comedy…

When you single out just Act 5 I can see that it lends itself more to tragedy in both lemmas categories and is in between the two categories when we look at the negative. Since tragedy appears twice, I can label Act 5 as a tragedy.

I think some help from my other group members about synonyms or other words that are comedic or tragic will help me utilize my tool further in uncovering this mystery. Maybe different scenes are more comedic and others are more tragic?



2 thoughts on “Hamlet: Tragic or Comical?

  1. Paige,

    I find it interesting how you have, in a way, integrated traditional methods and digital analysis into a single unit through writing down the results you received on paper, ironically. This fact aside, I find it interesting that more negatives occur in comedies than in tragedies, however, I believe that I can provide a possible interpretation. Since comedies often feature complete resolutions of conflicts, perhaps the conflicts and struggles faced by the characters in comedic plays are fuelled more by aspirations to overcome what they are labelled by those around them as “not being”? I’m not sure if I’m articulating what I mean as I clear I could, however, this is merely my own speculation, based on recurring patterns that I have observed in the Shakespearean texts that I am familiar with. On a different note, perhaps we can apply some of the frequently occurring negatives to a search in my tool of expertise, word seer, in order to determine whether these words form trends or patterns that could suggest details about the plot or theme in Hamlet by displaying them on a heat map? It is also intriguing to observe the similarities and disparities in lemmas between Macbeth, Hamlet, and the tragedy I informed the group of today, Titus Andronicus—perhaps we can further elaborate on these trends as a point of focus for our presentation? Additionally, here are some words I can offer that I believe characterize tragedies from the texts that I have read, in order to assist you in your research, many of which I have explored in my most recent blog post: Slay, Wretch, Beast, Soul, Duty, Loyal, Revenge, Lust, Envy, Valour, Villain, Bawdy, Lecherous and Fall. It will be interesting to see what lemmas word hoard will associate these words with, and I hope that these will be of some use to you, and I commend you for your efforts, so far.


  2. I commend you for tackling Monk and Naye Bayes! I know it is a tricky tool, I have also found some interesting associations by looking at the language of the text comparing it to certain words or themes that I have found common throughout Hamlet.
    However as Dane stated above it could just be the interpretation on which the words were read. I know Monk is a computer but I commonly find myself asking how well can it go through the text and see if it is related to love or death on a human level.

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