Why Hamlet is a Hero
A literary hero is someone who displays feats of nobility along with courage. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, young Hamlet is obviously the hero of the play. Stranded in the middle of a court full of corruption, faced with his father’s death and his mother’s almost immediate remarriage, Hamlet somehow comes out of it a hero in the reader’s minds. It is his courageousness and nobility that lead him through his revenge, virtually unscathed by the corruption of the court.
Hamlet’s courageousness is shown through many aspects. After being given a mission of revenge by his late father’s ghost young Hamlet not only accepts it, but also expands the mission to include purifying the whole court. He believes that his mission is not only to kill Claudius, but to kill corruption as well. Though he does not consciously announce his goal to root out the corruption in the court, it can be seen through his reactions after killing Polonius and manipulating the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. His reaction upon realizing that he had killed Polonius was not one of utter shock or one of regret; instead, Hamlet proclaims farewell to the “wretched, rash, intruding fool” (III.iv.33). Also, Hamlet tells Horatio that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “are not near his conscience” (V.ii.58), even after he has ordered the killing of the two. Even though Hamlet may sound cold and heartless, it is not so because in Hamlet’s perspective, he was merely trying to rid the court of corrupted fools as it is part of his scheme of purifying the court. Hamlet’s murder of these three characters reflect great courage because by doing so he had to overcome his religious belief that murder is a sin and live up to the challenge of purifying the court.
Not only does Hamlet’s courageousness show in his mission of revenge, it is conveyed in other incidences in the play. He is not afraid to follow the ghost in the fourth scene of the first act. Hamlet clearly knows about the dangers of following the ghost, as it could be a devil in disguise and easily take Hamlet’s life. However, Hamlet senses that the ghost might be his late father’s spirit and therefore disregards his companions’ warnings and follows it. This act shows his courage as he quells any fears that he may have and pursues the ghost, in hopes that it may answer the question of his presence, even if it may cost Hamlet his life. He is much braver than his companions, who are not willing to follow the ghost. Another event in the play where Hamlet’s bravery is clearly shown is when he accepts Laertes’ duel challenge. Even when Horatio warns him against taking the challenge due to possible acts of trickery by Claudius, Hamlet dismisses it because he now believes that “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends” (V.ii.10), and one must accept that fact. This clearly shows his courage, as he now is able to accept death, something that takes bravery and wisdom. Again, Hamlet’s courage is obviously greater than Horatio’s. This is what makes Hamlet a greater man than Horatio. Horatio may be the most just throughout the play, but Hamlet’s bravery dominates and distinguishes him from Horatio. Through these examples, it is evident that Hamlet’s courage outweighs that of any other character.
Another aspect of Hamlet that brands him the hero of this play is his nobility. Before his father’s death, Hamlet is a very intelligent man, sophisticated and cultured. However, one of his flaws was his lack of maturity to deal with death. After his father’s death, he has changed but he is still noble in essence. He is noble enough to give Claudius the benefit of the doubt, even after the ghost has revealed the truth to him. This is shown through the fact that he is willing to wait a few months until he can “catch the conscience of the king” (II.ii.559) through the use of the mousetrap scene. Unlike Fortinbras, who would risk thousands of lives “even for an eggshell” (IV.iv.53), Hamlet, for something as big as revenge for his father’s death, must be totally certain that Claudius is the true killer until he can act. His nobility also will not allow him to embarrass anybody in public. In private, he will speak his mind fully, as shown when he yells such atrocities as “get thee to a nunnery” (III.i.133) to Ophelia in the nunnery scene. Another example of Hamlet speaking his mind in private is when he accuses the queen of living “in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love Over the nasty sty” (III.iv.94) in the bedroom scene. However, in the second scene of the first act, Hamlet promises his mother that he will stay in Denmark. He makes this promise in front of the court.
Another incident that augments Hamlet’s nobility is when Hamlet does not inspect the foils before the sword fight. He did not do so because if he had, there was a chance that he would have embarrassed the king and Laertes in front of the court had he found any trickery. The only incident where he does publicly embarrass someone is after the bedroom scene when Claudius is asking about the body of Polonius. Hamlet proclaims that “a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar” (IV.iii.29), and by doing so infers that Claudius is rotten enough to be eaten by maggots. However, this can be attributed to his current state of mind, right after becoming a killer. Another incident that shows Hamlet’s nobility is when he does not kill Claudius in the prayer scene. He believes that by doing so, he will send Claudius to heaven and thus not fulfill the task of revenge successfully. This is contrasted by Laertes, another foil for Hamlet, when he proclaims that he would “cut Hamlet’s throat i’ the church” (IV.vii.125). Another quality of Hamlet that makes him noble is his loyalty. In the interest of Hamlet’s safety, it would be better if he did not have to kill Claudius, because that would be an act of murder and treason. However, Hamlet is loyal to his father and does not think about his own end. Instead, he only thinks of the task of revenge. This is clearly contrasted through the characters of Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, who become pawns of Claudius in hopes that by doing so, they will gain status in the court. Through these examples and comparisons to other minor characters in the play, it is seen that Hamlet is obviously the noblest character in the play.
It is seen through the examples of Hamlet’s courage and nobility that he is obviously the hero of the play. However, these are only the physical aspects of a hero. Often, as is the case with Hamlet, the reader will connect and have feelings for the hero, and thus make him more memorable. Hamlet is a young man with depth and thought. He is troubled because his perfect life has just been shattered and he has been given the task of revenge and killing a man. Instead of backing down, he builds his courage up and rises to the occasion by giving himself the impossible task of purifying the whole court. A reader can’t help but feel for this young soul. Also, even when it is against his morals to kill, he still accepts the task of revenge because it is the noble choice. This added together makes his death a tragedy as it invokes the pathos inside of the readers. Through this last example, it is shown that he is the hero of the play, as all of the other deaths— Ophelia’s, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s, Claudius’, Polonius’, and the Queen’s— don’t provoke the same kind of emotion that Hamlet’s death does. Hamlet always thinks about his actions, and it is tragic that he died even after his immense contemplation. Hamlet’s death was due to the trickery of Claudius, and thus the reader can feel sorrow and pity for Hamlet. The pathos that Hamlet provokes combined with his courage and nobility is what makes Hamlet the hero of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.