Tragic Flaw (Hamartia) Of Hamlet
Undoubtedly, Shakespeare is a great literary figure of his age. His contribution to drama and other literary terms is excellent and unforgettable. It is useless to criticize against such person. Christopher Marlowe, one of the university wits, gave few dramas to the age but he enriched it with such literary term. His dramas are watched and read with great curiosity through out the world. His work has not paid him only reputation but also made his name immortal. He wrote a total of 37 plays in his lifetime, all of which can be categorized under tragedy, comedy, or history.
Before discussing the tragic flaw or hamartia of Hamlet, it is better to know something about the word ‘hamartia’ used by Aristotle in his work, ‘ The Poetics’. According to him, the tragic hero is not perfect, and misfortune falls on him by some fault of his own. Aristotle uses the Greek word, ‘Hamartia’. Its root meaning is, ‘ missing the mark’. A.C. Bradley translates it, ‘tragic flaw’. Aristotle uses it, ‘error of judgment’. Hamartia is not moral imperfection but it is an error of judgment whether it is arising from ignorance of some material fact or from rashness and impulsiveness of temper or from some passion. The hero commits various errors in series which seem unknown to him. At last, they create very strange situation that leads the hero to his catastrophe.
Hamlet, a prince of Denmark, is a well educated and sympathetic person. He is morally a good person and mostly liked by all, despite it, he is not a saint or perfect man. Apart from it, he can not be called a villain because he does not perform such action that may prove him a villain. It is his love for his parents that becomes the cause of his catastrophe, but he is unknown to the errors that he commits in love. Aristotle talks about an intermediate person who commits errors unknowingly. He further talks about hastiness in action and light temperedness as the main weapons of hamartia, leading the hero to catastrophe. Hamlet does not seem light tempered, but it is very fit for Othello. Undoubtedly, Hamlet is a tragic hero; he commits errors which become the cause of his tragedy. If Othello had been on the place of Hamlet, there would not have been tragedy. It is the skill of the playwright that moves the hero in a way that he may face his tragedy by committing tragic flaws.
Hamlet commits a series of errors which become the cause of his tragedy. Jan Knott says that Hamlet is like a Swiss cheese with all the holes. In his character, irresolution is a dominant factor and it gives birth to delay. It occurs due to his childish mood. Indeed, a man possesses very strange disposition, and a man who is the owner of a childish nature never thinks to harm the others. It is same condition with Hamlet that arouses pity and fear among the audience.
Throughout the drama, Hamlet is found in grief. His grief is the hasty marriage of his mother to his uncle Claudius. It hides his love for his mother and reveals his pure immaturity. Although he is a prince, he does not enjoy his status but wants to move the country on the foot steps of his father. Besides, when he hears the cause of his father’s murder, his grief becomes double and leaves the other business of the kingdom. His invading by his inner conflict lessens sympathy for others. He wants to take revenge of his father; he must come out of the grief and hit the enemy a mortal strike. Apart from it, he is not helpless or weak; he can do any thing, but, in advance, he checks the accountability of his action.
In this drama, the author stages a play within play. Hamlet wants to make sure whether his uncle Claudius is the murderer or not. His staging drama for this purpose was equal to make the enemy aware of his crime and plan. The enemy is clever; he takes swift steps to repel him or to contrive to harm his life. He is ascertained that Claudius is the real murderer of his father, it again jostles him into grief, and he thinks about his mother. Such step made the enemy stronger but him weaker. His soliloquy, wherein he calls women frail, creates doubt within him about his mother as accomplice in the murder. His grief continues, and he is unable to get rid of. When Hamlet watches the drama that is prepared by him, he becomes very emotional on the emotional speech of the player. In the second soliloquy, he calls himself rogue and peasant slave and a dull and muddy-mettled rascal who, like a John-a-dreams, can take no action. He is, indeed, besieged by self contempt. His becoming fiery and condemning himself means to resolute to take a measurable action to avenge of his father’s death. This grief enhances his inner and external conflict.
Hamlet is not a successful lover. Shakespeare avoids falling him in the inferno of love, and it may be that he is childish. Hence his love is inclined to his mother that shows Oedipus complex. This love was perceived more apt for his tragedy. Undoubtedly, he loves Ophelia and she likes him, too. He, in haste or without any conformation, kills her father, and she loses her sense. It relied on him to support her, but he always thought about his mother. At last, she drowned to death in the river. When he comes back from the grip of the pirates, he sees the rite of her burying. There he repents on this accident. His participation aggravates the anger of Laertes, and his fire of revenge increases.
She was innocent and immature in love. It was Hamlet who raised her feelings of love, and she started moving on the unknown track of love. Hamlet did not completely introduce her to love. He left her in desert alone and dejected. When her father was murdered, it was a great threat to her life. If she had been fully fallen in love of Hamlet, she would not have committed suicide. Shakespearean tragedies mostly give importance to the love of heroine, but here, it is different because importance is given to the love of mother. If she had been alive and in sense, there would have been a great resistance in the tragedy of the hero. She might have supported Hamlet, and Claudius would have been failed in his conspiracy of duel between Hamlet and Laertes. Shakespeare does not let Hamlet taste maiden love.
His soliloquies delve out his inner conflict. He finds Claudius busy in worship, and it was the best chance for him to take revenge but he comes into dilemma. Here Shakespeare introduces his popular soliloquy ‘To be or not to be’. It means that he should kill him or not. If he killed him in this condition, he would go direct to heaven. He decides not to kill him. It shows his religious belief and fear as that child feels in darkness. Besides, it shows his inability. It verifies his first step to procrastination. He declares that it is conscience that resists him from the action and that’s why irresolution comes into his actions. He stages a drama to find the reaction and passion of the murderer. Claudius becomes suspicious and deputes Polonius as spy. When he was engaged in conversation with his mother, he hid himself behind the curtain to listen their secret. Hamlet felt somebody there and realized that it might be Claudius. Without any proof, he, in disgust, killed him. Claudius was in search of such hasty action. He got opportunity to contrive against him. He takes benefit from his flaw and sends him abroad with a cruel plan.
His fourth soliloquy, too, shows his irresolution. Here he watches efforts and bravery of Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, and then he compares him with himself. He attempts to revive his own desire for revenge against Claudius for the death of his father. Hamlet condemns himself lethargic because he does not think too precisely on an event, although he has cause, will, strength and means to get revenge. Apart from it, he has evidence that Claudius is the killer of his father. Hamlet finally decides that he must take action against Claudius in some form or fashion. Here he himself feels that he is the prey of procrastination that has happened due to irresolution.
His killing to Polonius is very strange. His soliloquies are proof of his delay in action. When he kills Polonius, he does not verify whether he is Claudius or some one else. It is his hastiness or childishness, and it appeals to the rule of Aristotle’s concept of hamartia. Such immaturity stands the entire environment against him. He loses his love, makes enmity against Laertes and the king. He is alone and easy to be hunted by the enemies. Laertes is his mighty enemy who is under the spell of Claudius. He makes two plans to kill him. His first is to offer a poisonous cup before duel, if he avoided taking it, he would be the prey of poisonous sword of Laertes.
His mission was to take avenge of his father and to save his mother. He could not save his mother. His indecisive pursuit of revenge for his father’s death confirms his major tragic flaw. In result, he is able to avenge for his father’s death on his own death. He was a good person, and his devotion and struggle arouses pity and fear for him among the readers. Hamlet’s irresolution is obvious in his actions after viewing the emotion of the actors, after his third soliloquy, in his fourth soliloquy, and in his indecisive pursuit of revenge for his father’s death. Hamlet was able to avenge his father’s death, but his own death due to his irresolution labels him as a tragic hero.
In result, it is obvious that Hamlet is not a fiery person. He looks lethargic into actions, although he has everything. His delay that inflicts his personality, but his death or tragedy restores his position. Even Fortinbras feels pity for him. It is really a great tragedy of a great tragic hero.