Shakespeare’s Hamlet is considered one of the greatest tragedies ever written, and Hamlet, the main character, is a well known tragic hero. The story of Hamlet starts off with a group of guards and Horatio seeing King Hamlet’s ghost; Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost, and the ghost reveals to Hamlet that Claudius, who is now king, killed him. The ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death by killing Claudius, but not to harm Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, while doing so. Hamlet sets off on a mission to obtain revenge for his father, but he has to determine the right time to kill Claudius, which is one factor that drives Hamlet to go crazy. Hamlet wants Claudius to admit his guilt before Hamlet kills him, so Hamlet finds a theatre group to perform a play that would reenact how Claudius killed King Hamlet. After Claudius’ reaction to the play confirms Hamlet’s suspicions, he decides to take action, but when Hamlet thought he was killing Claudius, he actually kills Polonius, an advisor of the king. When this accident happens, Ophelia, Hamlet’s former love interest, goes crazy; Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, is disgusted by what Hamlet has done to his family, so he decides to fight and kill Hamlet, but before this fight happens Hamlet goes to England, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern follow him. Ophelia commits suicide while in the woods over a creek, and Laertes thinks that Hamlet may have contributed to her death. During the sword fight where Hamlet is supposed to die from a poisonous stab wound, Laertes is stabbed by the poisonous sword, as well as Hamlet, and Gertrude and Claudius drink from a cup with poison in it. Due to all of the tragedies and deaths that occur in Hamlet, the play is known as a tragedy, and Hamlet is a tragic hero because he displays the traits of a tragic hero: he is a person of high rank who violates a law and he poses a threat to society and causes suffering to others through violating the law.
The first trait of a tragic hero that Hamlet displays is that he is a person of high rank who violates a law. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, and he was in line for the throne when his father died; however, his mother remarried taking away Hamlet’s chance of being king. Being the Prince of Denmark has brought Hamlet’s life to the public’s eye, so many people in Denmark like and respect Hamlet. Laertes even explains to Ophelia how high in rank Hamlet is that he cannot even marry whoever he would like: “His greatness weighed, his will is not his own, for he himself is subject to his birth. He may not, as unvalued persons do, carve for himself; for on his choice depends the safety and health of this whole state. And therefore must his choice be circumscribed unto the voice and yielding of that body whereof he is the head” (1.3.20-27). Before Laertes’ explanation, Hamlet found out that Claudius killed his father, and he swears to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius. Hamlet begins to go crazy while trying to find the right way and time to kill Claudius. In the middle of all of this revenge plotting, Hamlet is sent to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Hamlet has them sentenced to death, which is another example of when Hamlet breaks the law. While trying to kill Claudius, Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, which violates a law, so Hamlet can be seen as a tragic hero. Hamlet also kills Laertes and Claudius, so he breaks the law several times over the course of the play, which shows the characteristic of a tragic hero that a person of high rank violates a law.
Another trait of a tragic hero that Hamlet shows is that he poses a threat to society and causes suffering to others through violating a law. As previously stated, Hamlet kills multiple people which is the law that he breaks to be considered a tragic hero. Hamlet causes many people to suffer due to these crimes, such as Ophelia, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, Horatio, Polonius, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet causes Ophelia to go mad because of her father’s death, in which case Hamlet was the killer. This madness led Ophelia to commit suicide, which caused Gertrude, Laertes, and Hamlet to suffer. As a result of his father and sister’s demise, Laertes fights Hamlet, but in the process he is killed, which causes pain for Laertes. Hamlet also causes Claudius to suffer because he teases Claudius with the guilt of what he has done through the production that the theatre group performed. Hamlet also kills Claudius, which breaks the law and causes Claudius to suffer. Horatio suffers by Hamlet’s actions because he has to deal with Hamlet’s madness and problems, which drags him into the huge mess that comes with the royal family at Elsinore. Polonius’ death and suffering are caused by Hamlet’s actions, making him responsible for the crime. Hamlet also makes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern suffer because he is the reason that they were killed; he changes a death sentence to say their names instead of his own. Hamlet suspects that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had been playing him for a while: “'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me” (3.2.399-402). So after Hamlet finds a letter sentencing him to death, he changes the letter to say that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are to be sentenced to death instead. Therefore, through all of this suffering caused by Hamlet, Hamlet definitely poses a threat to society and can be seen as a tragic hero due to his actions and crimes.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses the tragedies and deaths to make the play a tragedy; Hamlet is a tragic hero because he is a person of high rank who violated a law, and he poses a threat to society and causes suffering to others through violating the law, which are all characteristics of a tragic hero. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, violates the law by killing different people such as Polonius, Laertes, Claudius, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, making him a tragic hero. Hamlet’s madness leads him down this path of destruction in which he harms and kills many people. Another way that Hamlet qualifies to be a tragic hero is that he causes suffering and harm to almost everyone in the play, such as Ophelia, Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Horatio, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet leads to or contributes to the death of most of these characters; if Hamlet had not acted as he did, some of these characters might still be around, but through Hamlet’s actions he caused many people to die or suffer, which shows that he poses a threat to society. In conclusion, Hamlet displays the traits of someone in a high rank that violates a law and of someone who poses a threat to society and causes pain for others, which make him a tragic hero, as shown throughout the play.