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Tragedy is one of the most ancient forms of drama that emphasizes human suffering though leads to catharsis. The genre of tragedy is rooted in Greek theater of Athens that emerged around 2500 years ago.  The most significant and ancient representatives of this genre are the tragedies of Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus. The emergence of tragedy is supposed to play an important role in self-definition of Western civilization (Klein 1118). The next generation of tragedy is evident in the works of Shakespeare, Schiller and Strindberg. It is worth emphasizing the most famous tragedy ever – Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This play is one of the longest and the most filmed stories that embrace the range of emotions, themes and motives (Klein 116). This work is purposed to discuss the crucial attributes of tragedy via the analysis of Hamlet as it is bright and interesting example of the given genre.

Definition and the Key Characteristics of Tragedy

In order to comprehend the key points of development of tragedy, it is necessary to begin with antique definition of this genre. Aristotle, for example, wrote that tragedy is “an enactment of a deed that is important and complete, and of [a certain] magnitude, by means of language enriched [with ornaments], each used separately in the different parts [of the play]: it is enacted, not [merely] recited, and through pity and fear it effects relief to such [and similar] emotions” (1449b). Though Hamlet represents other wave of tragedy genre, it is important to notice that it is full of emotions, language ornaments and a feeling of relief the same as Greek tragedy was. It means that essential characteristics of tragedy reflects its key features and sense and, therefore, remain the same after centuries. The history of Hamlet is very interesting and still secret because nobody knows for sure who was the historical prototype of the main character – Hamlet. Despite the mystery and scrutiny of this tragedy, Hamlet remains poetic representation of true story, enriched with specific British tone of language.


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Analysis of Hamlet


Hamlet is key character of the tragedy that represents both courage and melancholy, both hesitance and determination. He is the Prince of Denmark, son of the late King Hamlet, who was killed by his brother King Claudius. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude was forced to marriage with King Claudius and he wants to kill his nephew in order to maintain his power over the kingdom. Ophelia is Hamlet’s loved woman who has died because of his indifference, while Gertrude was poisoned by mistake or due to suicide.

Emotions and Language

Suffering may be called the language of tragedy due to both its form and its sense. As a tragedy, Hamlet begins with depressed and hanging young man, who suffers from the death of his father the King Hamlet:

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah, fie! ‘Tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead! Nay, not so much, not two.
So excellent a king, that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! (Shakespeare 340-345)

This passage transfers the emptions of Hamlet and his psychological condition in comparison to other characters. He is despaired and betrayed as he is deeply involved in his inner conflict. The matter is that the ghost has told him that Claudius has killed his father, whole Hamlet can not ensure whether this statement is worth believing. In addition, Claudius sent Hamlet’s old friends to find out what he was thinking of. Nevertheless, Hamlet discovered that they were spies and did not know if he wanted to live or to die. Hamlet’s psychological conflict is connected with his moral rules and the honor of his family. On the one hand, he was not cruel, evil and selfish: he did not hate his uncle before his father’s death. On the other hand, he can not let the things go on as his family is ashamed by his uncle’s betrayal. Disgust and desire to revenge are mixed in Hamlet’s soul. This fact represents the key characteristics of tragedy: the emotions and suggestions are tearing Hamlet apart, and his life can be compared to the struggle of his mind with insanity.


The scenes of Hamlet are full with dramatic moments that represent mystical insights, philosophizing, struggle between duty and morality. It is necessary to remind one of the key monologues of Hamlet in this play:

To be, or not to be- that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die- to sleep. (Shakespeare 1750-1755).

This may be called the most dramatic moment of the tragedy in which psychological conflict of the main character becomes obvious. These lines also represent the most challenging philosophical issue of this tragedy: Hamlet does not know which position he should take. Hesitance is the result of his uncertainty that is rooted in doubts and weakness. Debates on the right decision and struggle between the chaos of emotions and the voice of reason are the true suffering. Hamlet suffers due to his uncertainty, loss of his father, mother and true love. Nevertheless, the reader gets emotional and psychological relief through catharsis.


According to Wofford, during Renaissance period the tragedy was presented and understood as abolishment of madness (194). She also wrote that “Hamlet will continue to puzzle and possess the minds of future generations, who can make the play their own only by in turn taking critical possession of it. ‘Remember me!’ says the play, and we will not forget” (Wofford 210).  In Restoration times Hamlet was interpreted as a hero, who resists the obstacles and handles his troubles. In the beginning of the 18th century the play met a wave of criticism, including Voltaire’s critique (Morley 123). The matter is that Voltaire represented neoclassical cannon that provided a serious attack on Hamlet, defended by classical thinkers (Morley 140). In the 20th century Hamlet was criticized by Bradley and Freud. Bradley believed that Hamlet should be studied as alive man who passes through different stages of his development. Sigmund Freud believed that Hamlet characterizes the symptoms of Oedipus complex, while “the play is built up on Hamlet’s hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him; but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations” (Freud 367).For instance, the King Claudius killed Hamlet’s father and though the Prince loved his father,, he wanted to take his position and to become a man of his mother. In addition, Freud believed that the characters’ actions are connected with their disability to achieve sexual and, in turn psychical relief (Freud 340). Psychoanalytical psychologists and philosophers frequently refer to Hamlet, as they believe that the behavior pf the characters is one of the earliest illustration that confirms their theory (Freud 341).It is worth mentioning religious themes in the play as they add to the play’s tragic moods.  For instance, the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism is present in the tragedy: while Shakespeare’s Denmark was Protestant, many or rituals represented in tragedy follow Catholic style.


Tragedy is extremely powerful and exiting branch of drama that has survived after centuries. Though tragedy has emerged in Greece, it has passed through modifications in Britain, Italy, Germany and other regions. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the greatest examples of tragedy that maintains the readers emotionally stressed and attentive. Hamlet embraces a range of suggestions, characters and emotions. His inner conflict is reflected in his insanity and uncertainty. Despite a great amount of analytic and criticism, Hamlet seems to remain the most interesting and mysterious tragedies ever.

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