The Tragic Hero of Hamlet
Shakespeare's play, Hamlet illustrates the tragedy of a young prince's pursuit to obtain revenge for a corrupt act, the murder of his father. As the exposition unfolds, we find Prince Hamlet struggling with internal conflict over who and what was behind his father's death. His struggle continues as he awaits the mystic appearance of a ghost who is reported to resemble his father. Suddenly it appears, proclaiming, "Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing / To what I shall unfold" (1.5.5-6). The ghost continues to speak providing an important clue: "The serpent that did sting thy father's life / Now wears his crown" (1.5.38-39). In short, this passage reveals evidence leading to the identity of whom Prince Hamlet must pursue in order to obtain revenge. Moreover, Prince Hamlet's pursuit for revenge casts him into the role of a tragic hero, whose decision to feign madness enables the audience to see his tragic flaw, which seals his fate of destruction.
Tragic heroes are characterized as the protagonists of a tragedy who begin in a state of happiness and fall into destruction. The manner in which Prince Hamlet's happiness is affected, causing him to assume the role of a tragic hero is through the loss of his father, which drives him into a state of depression. Also, the hasty remarriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude to his uncle, Claudius, the new king becomes significant, as he is reluctant to support this marriage. His reluctance is portrayed later in the play as he speaks to Gertrude, saying,
Look her upon this picture, and on this, The counterfeit presentment of two brothers. See what a grace was seated on this brow: Hyperion's curls, the front of Jove himself, An eye like Mars, to threaten and command, A station like the herald Mercury New Lighted on a [heaven-] kissing hill, A combination and a form indeed, Where every god did seem to set his seal to give the world assurance of a man. This was your husband. Look now what follows: Here is your husband, like a mildewed ear, Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes? (3.4.53 - 65)
Likewise, the absence of happiness as well as a foreshadowing of destruction is heard between Prince Hamlet and the Ghost: "The time is out of joint-O-cursed site, / Thatever I was born to set right! / Nay, come, let's go together" (1.5.188-90). This quote illustrates his task of seeking revenge for his father's death, which ultimately influences his destruction.
Prince Hamlet's decision to feign madness does not follow the traditional method of a tragic hero's flaw being associated with an internal weakness such as having too much pride, ambition, or passion that causes his fall from happiness into destruction. For example, the Greek philosopher Aristotle defined the tragic hero with Oedipus as the archetype: a great man at the pinnacle of his power who, through a flaw in his own character, topples, taking everyone in his jurisdiction with him. In...