Throughout history, it has been witnessed many times that artists do not usually make their mark on the world during their own generation. Like any other artist, authors have been known to only achieve their desired success and fame after they have died. However, defying this pattern, William Shakespeare, became very popular during his own lifetime, and continued to achieve greater recognition thereafter. Today his poems and plays are considered classic masterpieces, however, despite his popularity during his time, most of his plays were considered to be “vulgar entertainment by his educated contemporaries.” Since he was about the age of 24, Shakespeare had gained fame as an actor and a playwright, and a couple years later, as a poet of relatively erotic poems (www.Encarta.com). He has written over 120 sonnets, but Shakespeare’s modern reputation is mainly associated with his 38 plays, each in which he either wrote, modified, or collaborated on. Some of his most famous plays include the tragedies of Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello. Shakespeare’s success with his literature is mainly due to one factor. He consistently used the same successful format for all of his works. This format was based on “a rising”, “a climax”, and “a downfall”. While his plays were undeniably unique, because of their identical formats, they are also found to be similar in many ways. One could see this in the way that William Shakespeare shows the downfalls of his main characters in the tragedies of Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth.
In the tragedy play of Hamlet the death of a character becomes a frequent event. Even though many people lose their lives as a result of their own self-centered wrong doing, there are others whose death are a result of manipulation from the royalty. This is the case of Polonius’ family. The real tragedy of Hamlet is not that of Hamlet or his family but of Polonius’ family because their deaths were not the consequence of sinful actions of their own but rather by their innocent involvement in the schemes of Claudius and Hamlet. William Shakespeare wrote three great tragedies, the last of which was written in 1606 and titled Macbeth. This “tragedy”, as it
is considered by societal critics of yesterday’s literary world,
scrutinizes the evil dimension of conflict, offering a dark and
gloomy atmosphere of a world dominated by the powers of darkness.
Macbeth, more so than any of Shakespeare’s other tragic protagonists,
has to face the powers and decide: should he succumb or should he
resist? Macbeth understands the reasons for resisting evil and yet he
proceeds with a disastrous plan, instigated by the prophecies of the
three Weird Sisters. Along with Hamlet and Macbeth, Othello is one of Shakespeare’s three great tragedies and thus a pillar of what most critics take to be the apex of Shakespeare’s dramatic art. More than anything else, what distinguishes Othello from its great tragedies peers is the role of its villain, Iago. While the usurper King Claudius of Hamlet, and the unnatural villains of Macbeth (Macbeth, his Lady and the Weird Sister witches) are all impressively evil in their way, none of them enjoys the same diabolical role as Iago. Iago is a character who essentially writes the play’s main plot, takes a key part in it, and gives first-hand direction to the others, most notably to the noble Moor, Othello. The play presents us with two remarkable characters, Iago and his victim, with Iago as the dominant force which causes Othello to see the infidelity of his young and beautiful wife, Desdemona, with his favorite lieutenant, Michael Cassio. Indeed, not only is “seeing” and the gap between appearance and reality a central theme of the play, it overlaps with other major thematic strands (trust, honor, and reputation) and sheds light on still others, including the theme of patriarchy and the political state.
The first character to die in Hamlet is Polonius. Although Polonius often acts in a dishonest manner when dealing with Hamlet, it is only because he is carrying out plans devised by the king or queen to discover the nature of Hamlet’s madness. Being the king’s Lord Chamberlain, it is his duty to obey the king and queen’s wishes and it is this loyalty that eventually proves to be fatal for him. An example of how Polonius’ innocent involvement with the royalty results in his death can be found at the beginning of Act III, scene iv, when Hamlet stabs him while he is hiding behind the curtains in Gertude’s room. This shows how Polonius, a man unaware of the true nature of the situation he is in, is killed by a member of the royalty during the execution of one of their schemes. This makes Polonius’ death a tragedy. The next member of Polonius’ family to die is his daughter Ophelia. Ophelia’s death is tragic because of her complete innocence in the situation. Some may argue that Polonius deserves his fate because of his deceitfulness in dealing with Hamlet while he is mad, but Ophelia is entirely manipulated and used by Hamlet and the king for their own selfish reasons. An example of how Ophelia is used by Hamlet takes place in Act II, scene I, when Hamlet uses her to convince his family he is mad. Ophelia explains to Polonius how Hamlet has scared her, causing Polonius to draw the conclusion that Hamlet has an “antic disposition.” In Act III, scene iv, Hamlet kills Polonius while he is hiding behind the curtains in the Queen’s room. This event causes Ophelia to become insane and leads to her eventual death in a river near the castle in Act IV, scene vii. It can be seen how the combined scheming of Hamlet’s scheme which brings about the death of Polonius which leads to Ophelia’s death. The passing of Ophelia is a tragedy because she does nothing deserving of death, she is merely used for other people’s personal gain. The last member of Polonius’ family to die is Laertes, Ophelia’s brother and Polonius’s son. Laertes’ death is tragic because, although he kills Hamlet, he is avenging his father’s death. The difference between Hamlet and Laertes is that Laertes does not use others to attain his goals and his revenge is in part due to the pressure put on him by Claudius. This makes Laertes’ murder of Hamlet excusable and his death a tragedy. An example of how Claudius uses Laertes to try and murder Hamlet is seen in Act IV, scene vii. Claudius and Laertes are discussing Hamlet when Claudius says: “Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or are you like painting of a sorrow, A face without a heart?” He is asking Laertes whether he is really sorry about his father’s death or if he is just acting sad without feeling sad. Claudius uses these lines to lead Laertes into a plan to kill Hamlet, asking him what will he do to prove his love for his father in ActIV, scene vii. As you can easily see how Laertes, influenced by Claudius in the heat of his anger, could conspire to murder Hamlet and it is in this attempt that Laertes loses his own life to the very poison he kills Hamlet with. Once again, a member of Polonius’ family loses their life as a result of a conflict that they are ignorant to, making Laertes’ death a tragedy as well. The Death of Polonius and his family is the real tragedy. But there are more main characters that die also. the tragedy associated with Hamlet is not about Hamlet or his family. It is about, the tragic fate of Polonius’ family, whose deaths are not the result of any sins they do but by their being manipulated by Hamlet and Claudius for reasons they are unaware of. Although the death of Polonius’ family stands out as being the most tragic, many other characters in the story are killed as well. In fact, the death of a character in Hamlet almost becomes common near the end of the play.