Analysis of Hamlet in Terms of Aristotle

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Poetics was written in 350 B.C and to this day it impacts the way literature is written. Even when analyzing the works of one of the most famous authors to exist, Shakespeare, we see that his work also meets the guidelines of literature set by Aristotle’s Poetics. When looking at one of Shakespeare’s works, particularly Hamlet we can begin to take the play apart and analyze a single scenario at a time, and we notice just how Shakespeare has followed these abstract rules. In Hamlet Shakespeare has chosen to base his play on the six rules to a tragic hero set by Aristotle, the function of the play, and the purpose of a tragedy.

The first of Aristotle's rules or guidelines to a tragic hero is that the tragic hero must be a person of high stature, using their status to enforce their virtues, nobility, and modesty. When we look at Hamlet he is in fact a person of high status, he is the son of the previous king, and is still in line for the royal throne of Denmark. Although he is of high position he is also well received and loved by the people. This fulfils the first of the guidelines. The second is that the tragic hero is not perfect, they must have a way of connecting to the general public. The public takes in Hamlet as one of their own, they see him as being a good candidate to succeed to the throne. His acceptance clearly satisfies the second requisite. The third of Aristotle's rules is that the hero's downfall is partially his own fault. Their downfall comes from a brief mishap in judgement. This is immediately verified with the story of Hamlet, he chose not to kill Claudius when he believed him to be praying and clensing himself of sin, because Hamlet chose not to commit the deed. He goes on to kill Polonius believing it was the king. This infuriates Laertes’, who in turn kills Hamlet with a poison sword. Hamlet’s mishap in judgement lead to his own death.

The fourth rule characteristic of a tragic hero is that their punishment exceeds the crime they did....
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