Quilt: Drama

VCCS Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)

page 9 of 20
Objective for this Page: To address Hamlets tragic flaw and its impact on the other characters and the audience.

You would probably agree that on items one through four, Shakespeare gets a high-five from Aristotle, right?

That's what most scholars and critics say. But whereas they tend to agree that Hamlet "is not perfect" and that his tragedy is "partially his own fault," they differ greatly on just what constitutes his "tragic flaw."

Here are just a few of the candidates for that honor:

Excessive intellectualism--Hamlet thinks too much.
Infantilism--Hamlet has never grown up. He can't face the reality of a mother with sexual needs and a world that sometimes requires us to make compromises with evil.
Hamlet is the victim of an Oedipus Complex. (Obviously, so was Oedipus.) For a somewhat cynical--but accurate--definition of Oedipus Complex, click here and then scroll down.
Hamlet is manic-depressive. (Put him on Prozac, and he'd go back to school and behave himself.).
Hubris-Hamlet has delusions of grandeur. He thinks he can stage-manage the affairs of the kingdom and toy with his uncle and his mother.

The list could go on and on, and really, there is no reason that, as readers, we have to identify Hamlet's tragic flaw as precisely this or precisely that. It is most likely a combination of several things, which is one reason the play rewards us again and again. Everytime we read it, we see something new. Something jumps forward that stayed in the background on previous readings.


Okay, so what about item's five and six? Does the hero--Hamlet--gain some self-knowledge, some new awareness of himself and the world he lives in? If so, what is that new awareness? Where do we see evidence in the play that, in fact, Hamlet is acquiring new knowledge.

And does Shakespeare send the audience home in a positive frame of mind, not in a state of depression? There are some fairly upbeat statements made at the end of the play, but note that the stage is awash in blood . . . and that several innocent people (Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern) have gone to their deaths, thanks to Hamlet. And we're supposed to feel good?

Suggested Writing Assignments:

1. Hamlet's tragic flaw.

2. Hamlet as Aristotelean hero.

3. Hubris in Hamlet.

4. Hamlet's Development in the Play.

5. The Message of Hamlet: Positive? Or negative?

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