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Hamlet: A Tragic Hero Essay

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“A tragic flaw is an error or defect in the tragic hero that leads to his downfall.” (http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/literature/bedlit/glossary_t.htm) In the history of literature, if the question of who was the most indecisive character was brought up, Hamlet would be a prime candidate. Hamlet had numerous chances to reap revenge for his father’s death but was only able to follow through after the accidental murder of his mother. Hamlet’s inability to make a decision ultimately leads to his demise, and for that is his tragic flaw.

What makes a tragic hero? Dr. Peter Smith, Associate Professor of English at Kentucky State University, broke the archetypical characteristics of a tragic hero down into six groups. Of the six, four will be discussed, the first being “noble stature.” (http://www.kysu.edu/artsscience/ENG411/tragic%20hero.htm) Smith said that the fall of one with noble stature will not only affect their life but also the lives of the people who look to them for support. Hamlet is the prince of Denmark; the people of Denmark rely on a strong royal family to rule and support the country. Next, Smith discussed the “tragic flaw” (http://www.kysu.edu/artsscience/ENG411/tragic%20hero.htm) which leads to the decline of the hero. Hamlet’s inability to make a decision lead to his death, which will be discussed in more detail further on. Thirdly, Smith says that one must have “free choice. The tragic hero falls because he chooses one course of action over another.” (http://www.kysu.edu/artsscience/ENG411/tragic%20hero.htm) Hamlet is not forced to kill but makes the decision on his own. Finally, Smith says, “the punishment must exceed the crime.” (http://www.kysu.edu/artsscience/ENG411/tragic%20hero.htm) The audience cannot f...


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... the one behind the curtain and kills Polonius by mistake without a second thought.

Hamlet is a tragic hero because he follows the guidelines set by Dr. Smith; he has noble stature, he has a tragic flaw, he has free choice, and finally, he has unjust punishment. (http://www.kysu.edu/artsscience/ENG411/tragic%20hero.htm) His downfall was his inability to make a decision. He vowed revenge for his father’s death only to stall time and time again until he finally goes through with it only to die himself.


Work Cited

Clark, William George, and Wright, William Aldis. The Unabridged William Shakespeare. Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1997.

“Glossary of Literary Terms.” The Meyer Literature Site. February 7, 2002.

Smith, Peter. “The Characteristics of an "Archetypal" Tragic Hero”. Characteristics of a Tragic Hero. 2002. Kentucky University. February 7, 2002.


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