Tragedy Of Hamlet; Triumph Of Shakespeare
There are certain formulas that a work of literature is supposed to follow in order to be considered a true tragedy. Does Shakespeare's Hamlet fall into this category?
In a world stifled by arbitrary rules and regulations, tragedy is supposed to adhere to a specific formula. Yet in the world of literature, these rigid conventions are unmistakably out of place. A dramatic creation as significant as William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a reflection of deep emotion, not the result of some prepared systematic procedure. Thus the tragedy of Hamlet is just that; a tragedy. It evokes pity and heartache; it summons empathy and regret; it mimics the emotions of genuine despair. So although Hamlet does not technically meet every "requirement" necessary to qualify as a true tragedy, the sentiment it fosters makes it tragic nonetheless.
The most tragic aspect of the play is not rooted so much in madness or in death, but in Hamlet's failure to follow his heart and fall in love with Ophelia. Hamlet keeps his fondness for Ophelia hidden under a mask of feigned indifference that ultimately causes him to lose what could have been the love of his life, forever. Hamlet's incongruous emotions and actions are especially evident in his meeting with Ophelia while his uncle and Polonius are hiding behind a curtain. Hamlet's affection for Ophelia has already been established yet his behavior towards her is needlessly malicious. Hamlet's complete rejection of Ophelia and what had transpired between them is nothing more than a façade; a ruse devised to deceive his not so well hidden eavesdroppers, as well as himself.
Hamlet is especially cruel in the scene in which orders Ophelia to "Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?" (3.1.122). It would appear to the casual observer that this man vigorously detests this woman, but it is the fact that we know the depth of his true feelings that makes this scene especially tragic. Hamlet has traded love for reputation and happiness for self-delusion, simply because he does not feel comfortable experiencing love. Hamlet cares very deeply about Ophelia; he aches to be with her, but his obligation to marry within his class, along with his disturbing visions and mental deterioration, keep him from pursuing a life with the only woman who could offer him true bliss. Not until her funeral is Hamlet able to touch upon his pain in a real and honest way. "I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum" (5.1.274)
Both Hamlet and Ophelia are tragically unstable characters. Ophelia, who can do nothing but sing following the death of her father, is as inept as Hamlet is at dealing with tragedy. Of course, Hamlet's utter rejection of her is the catalyst that sends her reeling into the pitfalls of desperation, and ultimately, death. In Act IV, Ophelia conveys to her brother Laertes the following sentiments: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that's for thoughts. He then replies, "A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted. Thought and afflictions, passion, hell itself, She turns to favor and to prettiness (4.5.179). This is Laertes' way of expressing to Ophelia that sentiment is essentially a frivolous waste of time, an outlook that is, in reality, the ultimate tragic perception.
In many ways Leartes' views are proven accurate, considering the tragic end of both the love and the characters that had experienced it. Both Leartes and Hamlet are extraordinarily skeptical about true love and whether or not it genuinely exists, and both are intended to represent the direct contrary to the joyous aspects of romantic love. Ironically, the calamities that befall them are an express result of their cynical perceptions. Thus the tragedies affecting the hero extend far beyond the protagonist himself, which is according to formula, a deviation from the prescribed tragic form. Tragedies are in principle, after all, tales surrounding the relentless misfortunes of one "hero". Yet Hamlet is not the only character that falls from grace, loses honor, eludes happiness and meets a tragic end. Yet to exclude Hamlet from being labeled a tragedy simply due to this and other irrelevant deviations is ludicrous. Especially when logic would seem to dictate that increased suffering marks increased levels of tragic expression.
In Hamlet, we witness the nature of the inner torment a man endures as he follows his obsessions yet declines to follow his heart. We observe misfortune, despair and madness at its most disheartening depths, and we empathize with the alienation, isolation, suffering, rage, confusion and bloodshed that the characters so tragically experience. The inner and outer conflicts Hamlet and his cohorts face are intensely tragic by nature, and inherently captivating by design. Thus what is a tragedy in the theater and on paper, is a triumph for the author expressing such intensity of emotion.