William Shakespeare's play Hamlet is the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Hamlet is the protagonist of the work, and the play outlines the trials and tribulations that Hamlet must endure while trying to uncover the truth surrounding his father's death. It is also a story of revenge-the revenge that Hamlet seeks to inflict on those who are responsible for the death of his father, and finally, Hamlet's own tragic demise, ending with his untimely death.
According to Aristotle's classic definition of a tragedy, Shakespeare's Hamlet undeniably falls into the category of tragedy. Aristotle's definition states, "a tragedy is defined as an imitation of an event that is serious, complete, and possessing magnitude...". Hamlet is undoubtedly a serious play that possesses much magnitude. For one, the story centers ...view middle of the document...
The protagonist of a tragedy is required to possess not only requires a tragic flaw, but he must also make a tragic error. In Hamlet's case, that tragic error occurs when he stabs Polonius through the curtain errantly believing that he is really stabbing Claudius. This action sets off a chain of events that eventually decides Hamlet's fate. Aristotle's definition of a tragedy also requires the hero to be admirable. Hamlet is certainly an admirable character, especially in his unwillingness to do harm to Claudius until he is absolutely sure that Claudius is guilty. But unfortunately, the admirable qualities that most tragic heroes possess are also their downfalls.
Tragedies, according to Aristotle, must effect "through pity and fear [...] the catharsis of such emotions." This means that the story must bring about the emotions of pity and fear into the audience. This play certainly arouses pity and fear due to the tragic circumstances of Hamlet's life and death. His father is murdered, his mother marries his uncle, the woman he loves drowns herself, he accidentally kills the wrong man, and he is marked for death by those plotting against him. There is ample reason to pity Hamlet, and also, for the audience to feel some sort of fear due to Hamlet's predicament.
The catharsis that Aristotle writes of occurs at the end of the play when the audience can finally breathe a sigh of relief. This catharsis in Hamlet is brought about by the swordfight. Hamlet must fight with Laertes, and in the process, Gertrude is killed, Claudius is killed, Laertes is killed, and Hamlet himself is killed. But the catharsis is achieved when a warring prince from Norway comes upon the scene of death, hears the tragic story of Hamlet's life, and decides to treat Hamlet's body like that of a hero. Although the ending is tragic, it does contain an element of closure, thus bring about a catharsis for those who have watched it.