Tragedy and the Common Man in Hamlet
Katelyn Stoll Professor Hall English 102 11 November 2009 “Tragedy and the Common Man” in Hamlet Arthur Miller notes that, “The tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing—his sense of personal dignity” (1). This characteristic seen in most tragedies is definitely evident in the character of Prince Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. The moment that Hamlet learns from the ghost that Claudius has committed regicide, his goal becomes clear: he has to avenge the death of his father by murdering his uncle.
Hamlet could not stand idly by while the assassin of his saintly father had an affair with his mother Gertrude and lied to the people of Denmark. However, Hamlet’s tragic flaw prevents him from taking action quickly. During the course of the play, the prince notes that he has yet to perform any action against his uncle Claudius, and he wonders why this is. The character of Hamlet is prone to reasoning and long soliloquies, not action; this, in my opinion, is his tragic flaw. The apparition of the late Hamlet informs his son that Claudius, the current king of Denmark, poisoned him.
Upon hearing the news, Hamlet is enraged and swears to take revenge against his usurping uncle. Almost immediately he is ready to lay down his life to correct what has been done, and he now has a “…willingness to throw all he has into the contest, the battle to secure his rightful place in his world” (3). It is at this moment in the play that Hamlet takes on the role of the familiar tragic hero and acts accordingly. He was displaced from the life that he knew and loved and was not awarded with his rightful position in society.
Hamlet should be the king of Denmark if what the ghost told him is true; not only is Hamlet not the king of Denmark, but also his mental health is constantly being called into question. He is losing ranks in society awfully quickly, and part of Arthur Miller’s definition of the tragic hero is that the hero strives to evaluate himself justly. His tragic flaw does not allow him to regain his personal dignity, however, and Hamlet becomes frustrated over time because of this. He either takes too much time thinking everything through, or he reacts impulsively and violently when the situation does not call for it.
This is seen when Hamlet accidentally stabs Polonius to death, thinking him to be a spy. His tragic flaw is not knowing when or how to act aggressively, and it really costs him in the end. According to Miller, “For, if it is true to say that in essence the tragic hero is intent upon claiming his whole due as a personality, and if this struggle must be total and without reservation, then it automatically demonstrates the indestructible will of man to achieve his humanity” (4).
He argues that the tragic play has a lot more to offer the spectator than just a sad or unfortunate ending. Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet concludes with the deaths of Gertrude, Laertes, Hamlet and Claudius. The point of this play, however, is not that four people died, but that Hamlet was finally able to avenge the death of his father. Although this was not a perfect victory for Hamlet, he was able to attain his goals, and this demonstrates the will of man (even the common man) to secure his sense of personal dignity. The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts” (3). The conclusion of Hamlet is both a wonderful and depressing one. In one sense, Hamlet is not a tragic hero, because he was able to overcome his tragic flaw and slay Claudius. In another more realistic sense, however, he perfectly fits the description of the tragic hero because he does not live long enough to see the benefits of his actions. Hamlet is never able to evaluate himself justly, and that was his main objective. In the tragic view the need of man to wholly realize himself is the only fixed star, and whatever it is that hedges his nature and lowers it is ripe for attack and examination” (3). Hamlet perfectly adheres to the definition of the tragic hero of Arthur Miller, because of his need to regain his personal dignity, his tragic flaw preventing him for achieving this, and a tragic ending in which his goals are never realized. Works Cited “Tragedy and the Common Man by Arthur Miller. ” Home Page of TheLiteraryLink, Dr. Janice Patten. Web. 02 Dec. 2009. .