Who or what is to blame for the tragic ending of the play Hamlet?

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  • Created by: Fiorella
  • Created on: 13-11-12 17:58

Who or what is to blame for the tragic ending of the play Hamlet?


Hamlet was written by the celebrated playwright Shakespeare between 1599 and 1601, and remains one of his most lauded tragedies. Tragedies were extremely popular in Elizabethan times, and retain their popularity today and have come to play an important role in the self-definition of Western civilization. As with other plays of the time such as Thomas Kyd’s ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ and Marlowe’s ‘Jew of Malta’, Hamlet contains many of the elements of such Elizabethan tragedy such as the melancholic, hesitating avenger, the death of the villain, as well as many murders and, of course, this is achieved at the end of Hamlet when the body count rises. Tragedies were believed to cleanse the audience and aid them in their own lives through the experience of watching the human suffering that is found in all tragedies. Aristotle, the fifth century Athenian philosopher, writes about how the endings of tragedies are caused by a tragic flaw – hamartia, and much has been said about Hamlet’s hamartia. One of the most striking aspects of Hamlet is the bloodbath towards the end in which all the main characters perish. Much debate has arisen as to the cause of this slaughter. In this essay, I will attempt to argue that it is a conflagration of reasons for the tragic ending.


Claudius, the new King of Denmark, is often blamed for the tragic ending as it is he who initiates the bloody proceedings by slaying Hamlet’s father and sharing the ‘incestuous sheets’ with Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, as wife within ‘two months’ of King Hamlet’s death, in order to, firstly, gain power, and then retain it. There is no doubt of the guilt Claudius feels for the ’rank’ and ‘foul murder’ of King Hamlet which smells to high heaven’, nor the painful moral crisis he undergoes in his soliloquy after watching ‘The Mousetrap’. Furthermore, Claudius is involved in a very direct way in the killings of a number of characters. Using his conniving skills of manipulation honed over years as a corrupt politician, he slyly provokes Laertes to avenge the accidental death of Polonius at the hands of Hamlet, which results directly in the deaths of other characters.

Another example of his ruthlessness is when he realizes that Hamlet might be trying to kill him, and he resolves to strike first. His aggression, when threatened, results in a determined effort to triumph, and this, in turn, leads to a situation where all the characters’ lives are threatened. Thus, it can be argued that he is the main reason for the tragic ending.

However, at the same time, Claudius is dignified and sincere in his soliloquy after The Mousetrap, and despite his ruthless planning, he is not so different to Hamlet in the sense that he recognizes ‘the corrupting currents of the world’ and accepts his fate. Ironically, his life is saved by this prayer.

Claudius is also a man


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