A Comparison of Death Of A Salesman and Hamlet

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A Comparison of Death Of A Salesman and Hamlet


      Willy Loman and Hamlet, two characters so alike, though different.  Both

are perfect examples of tragedy in literature, though for separate reasons and

by distinct methods.  The definition of a tragedy, in a nutshell, states that

for a character to be considered tragic, he/she must be of high moral estate,

fall to a level of catastrophe, induce sympathy and horror in the audience, and

usually die, and in doing so, re-establish order in the society.  Hamlet follows

this to a "T". Death of a Salesman does not fall within these set guidelines but

is still considered tragic for reasons, though different, somewhat parallel

those of Hamlet's.


      Hamlet, a rich young price of high moral estate suddenly has his joyous

life ripped away from him when his father, Hamlet Sr., suddenly passes away.

Though originally thought to be of natural causes, it is later revealed to him

through his father's ghost, that dear old dad was murdered by his Step-Father,

and also his Uncle, Claudius. Vowing revenge upon his Uncle/Dad, Hamlet begins

to mentally falter and eventually, is in such a wild rage that he accidentally

kills Polonious believing him to be his father. Hilarity ensues.


      Ophelia, Hamlet's love interest, commits suicide/dies (that's up for

debate elsewhere) after going slightly mad from the impact of her father's death,

then Laertes, Polonius' son, arrives on the scene enraged and ready to kill

Hamlet for what he's done, and  just when you thought things couldn't get any

worse, unbeknownst to Hamlet, Claudius has been plotting to kill him.  Talk

about your bad days.


      A duel takes place between Hamlet and Laertes where Laertes, using a

poison-tipped sword, cuts Hamlet, thus giving way for his impending death.

Hamlet eventually gets hold of the sword and kills Laertes, then kills King

Claudius.  Just as the play ends, Hamlet takes his last breath of air, appoints

Fortinbras Jr. as the new King of Denmark, and dies.


      In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, a salesman who believed himself to

be a powerful man, has his life unravel before him as he loses his job, his

sanity and the respect of those around him.

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  Many years before, Willy had an

affair.  This "dirtied" his appearance to his son Biff, though his wife never

found out.  Biff later went on to become a drifter of sorts, dabbling in one

low-paying profession after another until finally settling on a farm.


      After Willy was fired, for being too old, too inept or both, supposedly,

Willy pretends he's still working and doesn't let his wife in on the bad news.

Too stubborn to accept a job from his next-door neighbour, Willy is forced to

lie to his family.


      Through visions of his older brother Ben, coupled with the degradation

of his mind, Willy eventually commits suicide to ensure his son Biff's career

through the Life Insurance policy.  Willy dies an empty, shallow death.


      Hamlet and Willy are both considered tragic.  The Classical Tragedy's

definition was tweaked with to make it a more general encompassor.  A common

man's injured sense of dignity, coupled with forces beyond his control and/or

ability to comprehend, displace him from his perceived place, causing the

audience to recognize such and prepare itself for the inevitable finale in which

the hopelessness and defeat are more poignant than the actual death.


      Willy and Hamlet both fell from grace, both commited morally bankrupt

acts and evetually died, giving way to a re-establishment of order.  Tragic men,

for different reasons,  bound together through their demeanor and their deaths.



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