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COURSE: B. A. LLB(Hons.)

ROLL NO.: 1759



I hereby declare that the work reported in the B. A. LLB(Hons.) Project Report entitled
“Moral Fabric In Shakespearean Tragedies” submitted at Chanakya National Law
University is an authentic record of my work carried out under supervision of Dr. Pratyush
Kaushik. I have not submitted this work elsewhere for any other degree or diploma. I am
fully responsible for the contents of my project report.





I would like to thank my faculty Dr. Pratyush Kaushik whose guidance helped me a lot
with structuring my project.

I owe the present accomplishment of my project to my friends, who helped me immensely

with materials throughout the project and without whom I couldn’t have completed it in the
present way.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to my parents and all those unseen hands that helped
me out at every stage of my project.



COURSE: B.A., LL.B. (Hons.)

ROLL NO: 1759


William Shakespeare, the most quoted author in English Literature for his pithy lines that can
be found scattered throughout his works, excels in artistic perfection and for not being overtly
didactic in any of his works. He has successfully saved himself from any kind of
propagandist affiliations—religious, social or moral. Still, his works are not altogether
lacking in moral lessons. Shakespeare’s moral vision is perceptible in almost all his works
which are just representation of human nature that abounds in the glory of practical wisdom
and prudence.

By the common consent of critics and general readers, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth and
Hamlet are considered to be Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. The question arises: do they
contain any moral lessons?

It is generally argued that Shakespeare was neither a moral teacher nor a preacher; he was an
artist, and a supreme artist at that. He did not invent stories to give moral lessons to his
audience or readers. He simply borrowed the stories from various sources and gave them
dramatic shape. But he did it so artistically and effectively that he is regarded as the greatest
poet and playwright in English literature.


1. The researcher aims to present a detailed study of the Shakespearean tragedies which
has been mentioned in his four works.
2. The researcher tends to present the moral vision of the great play writer Shakespeare.


1. The plays of the Shakespeare is widely accepted and be read on a greater extent.
2. The moral values which Shakespeare has tried to convey to the public through his
plays has been grasped by them effectively and efficiently.


The researcher has relied on the doctrinal method of collection of data.


The researcher has relied on the following sources:

Secondary sources:

 books, plays written by Shakespeare

 websites

1. Introduction
2. Difference between Shakespearean Tragedy and Greek Tragedy
3. The various elements in the Shakespearean Tragedies.
4. Characteristic of a Tragic Hero in the plays of Shakespeare.
5. Conclusion

Tragedy, branch of drama that treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible
events encountered or caused by a heroic individual. By extension the term may be applied to
other literary works, such as the novel.
Although the word tragedy is often used loosely to describe any sort of disaster or
misfortune, it more precisely refers to a work of art that probes with high seriousness
questions concerning the role of man in the universe. The Greeks of Attica, the ancient state
whose chief city was Athens, first used the word in the 5th century BCE to describe a specific
kind of play, which was presented at festivals in Greece. Sponsored by the
local governments, these plays were attended by the entire community, a small admission fee
being provided by the state for those who could not afford it themselves. The atmosphere
surrounding the performances was more like that of a religious ceremony than entertainment.
There were altars to the gods, with priests in attendance, and the subjects of the tragedies
were the misfortunes of the heroes of legend, religious myth, and history. Most of the
material was derived from the works of Homer and was common knowledge in the
Greek communities. So powerful were the achievements of the three greatest Greek
dramatists—Aeschylus (525–456 BCE), Sophocles (c. 496–406 BCE), and Euripides (c. 480–
406 BCE)—that the word they first used for their plays survived and came to describe a
literary genre that, in spite of many transformations and lapses, has proved its viability
through 25 centuries.
Historically, tragedy of a high order has been created in only four periods and locales: Attica,
in Greece, in the 5th century BCE; England in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, from
1558 to 1625; 17th-century France; and Europe and America during the second half of the
19th century and the first half of the 20th. Each period saw the development of a special
orientation and emphasis, a characteristic style of theatre. In the modern period, roughly from
the middle of the 19th century, the idea of tragedy found embodiment in the collateral form
of the novel.
This article focusses primarily on the development of tragedy as a literary genre. For
information on the relationship of tragedy to other types of drama, see dramatic literature.
The role of tragedy in the growth of theatre is discussed in Western theatre.

Whereas the plots of Greek tragedies and Shakespearean tragedies can be fairly similar,
consideration of the actors and staging will yield some of the main differences.

Greek tragic actors wore masks that covered their entire faces, whereas Shakespeare's players
did not. Greek tragedies also had a smaller number of actors who spoke in a single scene than
in Shakespeare’s plays. In a typical scene from a Greek tragedy, it is fairly rare for more than
two actors to speak to one another. Shakespeare’s tragedies also lack the twelve to fifteen
member chorus found in the earlier Greek tragedies.

The theaters themselves were also different. How much of a stage was present in ancient
Greece is a matter of debate. The primary acting space in a Greek theater seems to have been
the orchestra, a large circular space that frequently had an altar in the middle of it. This is not
the case in Shakespearean theater. Also, Greek plays were always staged outdoors and during
the day. Again, Shakespearean tragedies could be performed in indoor theaters.

We should also note that Greek tragedies were performed as part of religious festivals
devoted to the god Dionysus. Shakespearean tragedies do not have this religious alignment.

Whereas the plots of Greek tragedies and Shakespearean tragedies can be fairly similar,
consideration of the actors and staging will yield some of the main differences.

Greek tragic actors wore masks that covered their entire faces, whereas Shakespeare's players
did not. Greek tragedies also had a smaller number of actors who spoke in a single scene than
in Shakespeare’s plays. In a typical scene from a Greek tragedy, it is fairly rare for more than
two actors to speak to one another. Shakespeare’s tragedies also lack the twelve to fifteen
member chorus found in the earlier Greek tragedies.

The theaters themselves were also different. How much of a stage was present in ancient
Greece is a matter of debate. The primary acting space in a Greek theater seems to have been
the orchestra, a large circular space that frequently had an altar in the middle of it. This is not
the case in Shakespearean theater. Also, Greek plays were always staged outdoors and during
the day. Again, Shakespearean tragedies could be performed in indoor theaters.
We should also note that Greek tragedies were performed as part of religious festivals
devoted to the god Dionysus. Shakespearean tragedies do not have this religious alignment.



Below we are going to take a more in-depth look at each of the elements of Shakespearean
tragedy, as well as explore a few examples.

1. The Tragic Hero

A tragic hero is one of the most significant elements of a Shakespearean tragedy. This type of
tragedy is essentially a one-man show. It is a story about one, or sometimes two, characters.
The hero may be either male or female and he or she must suffer because of some flaw of
character, because of inevitable fate, or both. The hero must be the most tragic personality in
the play. According to Andrew Cecil Bradley, a noted 20th century Shakespeare scholar, a
Shakespearean tragedy “is essentially a tale of suffering and calamity conducting to
death.” (Usually the hero has to face death in the end.)

An important feature of the tragic hero is that he or she is a towering personality in his/her
state/kingdom/country. This person hails from the elite stratum of society and holds a high
position, often one of royalty. Tragic heroes are kings, princes, or military generals, who are
very important to their subjects. Take Hamlet, prince of Denmark; he is intellectual, highly
educated, sociable, charming, and of a philosophic bent. The hero is such an important person
that his/her death gives rise to full-scale turmoil, disturbance, and chaos throughout the land.
When Hamlet takes revenge for the death of his father, he is not only killing his uncle but
inviting his own death at the hands of Laertes. And as a direct result of his death, the army of
Fortinbras enters Denmark to take control.
2. Good vs. Evil

Shakespearean tragedies play out the struggle between good and evil. Most of them deal with
the supremacy of evil and suppression of good. According to Edward Dowden, a 19th century
noted poet and literary critic, “Tragedy as conceived by Shakespeare is concerned with the
ruin or restoration of the soul and of the life of man. In other words, its subject is the struggle
of Good and Evil in the world.” Evil is presented in Shakespearean tragedies in a way that
suggests its existence is an indispensable and ever-enduring thing. For example, in Hamlet,
the reader is given the impression that something rotten will definitely happen to Denmark
(foreshadowing). Though the reader gets an inkling, typically the common people of the play
are unaware of the impending evil.

In Julius Caesar, the mob is unaware of the struggle between good and evil within King
Caesar. They are also ignorant of the furtive and sneaky motives of Cassius. Goodness never
beats evil in the tragedies of Shakespeare. Evil conquers goodness. The reason for this is that
the evil element is always disguised, while goodness is open and freely visible to all. The
main character (the most pious and honest person in the tragedy) is assigned the task of
defeating the supreme evil because of his goodness. As a result, he suffers terribly and
ultimately fails due to his fatal flaw. This tragic sentiment is perfectly illustrated by Hamlet in
the following lines:

O cursed spite,

That ever I was born to set it right."

3. Hamartia

Hamartia is the Greek word for “sin” or “error”, which derives from the verb hamatanein,
meaning “to err” or “to miss the mark”. In other words, hamartia refers to the hero's tragic
flaw. It is another absolutely critical element of a Shakespearean tragedy. Every hero falls
due to some flaw in his or her character. Here I will once again reference A. C. Bradley, who
asserts, “The calamities and catastrophe follow inevitably from the deeds of men and the
main source of these deeds is character.” As a result of the fatal flaw, the hero falls from a
high position, which usually leads to his/her unavoidable death.
A good example of hamartia can be seen in Hamlet when Hamlet's faltering judgment and
failure to act lead him to his untimely death. He suffers from procrastination. He finds a
number of opportunities to kill his uncle, but he fails because of his indecisive and
procrastinating nature. Every time, he delays taking action. In one case he finds an
opportunity to kill Claudius while Claudius is praying. Still, Hamlet forgoes the excellent
opportunity to achieve his goal with the excuse that he doesn’t want to kill a man while he is
praying. He wants to kill Claudius when he is in the act of committing a sin. It is this
perfectionism, failure to act, and uncertainty about the correct path that ultimately result in
Hamlet's death and lead Denmark into chaos.

Hamartia, also called tragic flaw, (hamartia from Greek hamartanein, “to err”), inherent
defect or shortcoming in the hero of a tragedy, who is in other respects a superior being
favoured by fortune."

— Encyclopedia Britannica

4. Tragic Waste

In Shakespearean tragedies, the hero usually dies along with his opponent. The death of a
hero is not an ordinary death; it encompasses the loss of an exceptionally intellectual, honest,
intelligent, noble, and virtuous person. In a tragedy, when good is destroyed along with evil,
the loss is known as a "tragic waste." Shakespearean tragedy always includes a tragic waste
of goodness. Hamlet is a perfect example of tragic waste. Even though Hamlet succeeds in
uprooting the evil from Denmark, he does so at the cost of his death. In this case, the good
(Hamlet) gets destroyed along with evil (Claudius). Neither of them wins. Instead, they fail

5. Conflict

Conflict is another imperative element of a Shakespearean tragedy. There are two types of

External Conflict

External conflict plays a vital role in the tragedies of Shakespeare. External conflict causes
internal conflict in the mind of the tragic hero. Every tragic hero in a Shakespearean play is
confronted with external conflicts that must be addressed. Hamlet, for example, is confronted
with external conflict in the shape of his uncle, Claudius. He has to take revenge, but as a
result of his uncle's craftiness and effective security, Hamlet isn’t able to translate his ideas
into action. This external conflict gives rise to internal conflict, which hinders Hamlet from
taking any action.

Internal Conflict

Internal conflict is one of the most essential elements in a Shakespearean tragedy. It refers to
the confusion in the mind of the hero. Internal conflict is responsible for the hero's fall, along
with fate or destiny. The tragic hero always faces a critical dilemma. Often, he cannot make a
decision, which results in his ultimate failure. Again, Hamlet is a perfect example. He is
usually a doer, but over the course of the play, his indecision and frequent philosophical
hangups create a barrier to action. Internal conflict is what causes Hamlet to spare the life of
Claudius while he is praying.

6. Catharsis

Catharsis is a remarkable feature of a Shakespearean tragedy. It refers to the cleansing of the

audience's pent-up emotions. In other words, Shakespearean tragedies help the audience to
feel and release emotions through the aid of tragedy. When we watch a tragedy, we identify
with the characters and take their losses personally. A Shakespearean tragedy gives us an
opportunity to feel pity for a certain character and fear for another, almost as if we are
playing the roles ourselves. The hero's hardships compel us to empathize with him. The
villain's cruel deeds cause us to feel wrath toward him. Tears flow freely when a hero like
Hamlet dies. At the same time we feel both sorry for Hamlet and happy that Claudius has
received his proper punishment.

7. Supernatural Elements

Supernatural elements are another key aspect of a Shakespearean tragedy. They play an
import role in creating an atmosphere of awe, wonder, and sometimes fear. Supernatural
elements are typically used to advance the story and drive the plot. The ghost Hamlet sees
plays an important role in stirring up internal conflict. It is the ghost who tells Hamlet his
father was killed by his uncle Claudius and assigns him the duty of taking revenge. Similarly,
the witches in Macbeth play a significant role in the plot. These witches are responsible for
motivating Macbeth to resort to murder in order to ascend the throne of Scotland.

8. Absence of Poetic Justice

Poetic Justice means good is rewarded and evil is punished; it refers to a situation in which
everything comes to a fitting and just end. There is no poetic justice in the tragedies of
Shakespeare, rather, these plays contain only partial justice. Shakespeare understood that
poetic justice rarely occurs outside of fiction. Good deeds often go without reward and
immoral people are often free to enjoy life to its fullest. “Do good and have good” was
considered an outdated ethos in the time of Shakespeare, which is why we don’t find any
poetic justice in his tragedies. Good is crushed along with evil. Hamlet dies along with

9. Comic Relief

Comic relief is our final key element. Shakespeare didn’t follow in the footsteps of his
classical predecessors when writing tragedies. Greek and Roman writers didn’t use comic
relief. But Shakespeare wanted to relieve the tension for the reader and lighten up the mood
here and there. A few examples of comic relief scenes include the grave digger scene
in Hamlet, the drunken port scene in Macbeth, the fool is smarter than the king dialogue
in King Lear, and the Polonius in the wings speech in Hamlet. We also have the following
scene in Romeo and Juliet:

MERCUTIO: “No, ‘tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door, but ‘tis enough;
‘twill serve. Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am pepper’d, I
warrant, for this world.”

HAMLET: Whose Grave’s this, sirrah?


HAMLET: What man dost thou dig it for?

CLOWN: For no man, sir.

HAMLET: What woman then?

CLOWN: For none neither.

HAMLET: Who is to be buried in’t?

CLOWN: One that was a woman, sir; but, rest her soul, she’s dead.

HAMLET: How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo

— Shakespeare



For hundreds of years now, critics have been trying to figure out and define the tragic flaw of
Shakespeare's tragic heroes. Many brilliant critics have been led astray either by focusing in
on one point too intensely or by looking at things too broadly while ignoring the facts that do
not back up their thesis. Victor Cahn claims that all tragic heroes "try to justify [their] actions
in the name of 'honor'" (x). For an example he uses a scene in Troilus and Cressida in which
Hector is resisting Achilles challenge to fight but ultimately gives in, saying, "Life every man
holds dear, but the dear man / Holds honor far more precious-dear than life" (V, iii, 27-28). It
is a fact, now, that in Shakespeare's time honor was very precious and important, particularly
in a tragic hero; however, it is ridiculous to suggest that this "honor" is what caused the
actions of their tragic downfalls. Shakespeare has one of his most beloved characters,
Falstaff, in Henry IV, Part I, share with us his view of honor by saying, "What / is honor? A
word. What is that word honor? / What is that honor? Air" (V, i, 133-135). Though Falstaff
may not be known for his bravery or chivalry, what he states is true. Honor is but a word,
nothing but air, and does not have the strength to overcome reason in order to guide men's
actions towards their tragic ends. Harold S. Wilson tries to illustrate the order of faith and
nature in Shakespearean tragedies. Muir disagrees, saying, "To produce this neo-Hegelian
fantasy Wilson had to ignore the chronological order of the plays: There is something odd
about a synthesis which actually precedes what it is supposed to synthesize. In this case, it
can be easily seen that a respected critic has been seduced by a desire to find To list some
others who search in vain for one central theme, G. R. Elliot, in Flaming Minister, says
Shakespearean tragedy is "the tragedy of pride" (xix-xxi). In saying so, though, he is
choosing to put his total focus on one flaw, thus regarding "such characteristics as the
credulity or jealousy of Othello, Macbeth's overweening ambition or Antony's sexual
passion" as not as important as the flaw of their pride. Muir quotes A. C. Bradley's
Shakespearean Tragedy saying, "We remain confronted with the inexplicable fact, or no less
the inexplicable appearance, of a world traveling for perfection, but bringing to birth, together
with glorious good, an evil which it is able to overcome only by self-torture and self-waste.
And this fact or appearance is tragedy" (13). At the end of many Shakespearean tragedies,
though, it does not seem as though good has prevailed or that we are in a world traveling
towards perfection. Where is the good in Desdemona's dead body? Where is the good in all
the bodies the dying Hamlet is stepping over to finish his task and add one more by killing
Claudius? As Muir says, "The world does not seem to be traveling for perfection. . . but
rather bent on substituting the ordinary for the exceptional" (13). In Shakespeare's Tragic
Heroes, Lilly B. Campbell criticizes Bradley's methods, and Muir says, "The criticism has a
good deal of validity." He then goes on to say, "Professor Campbell herself expertly deploys
her wide knowledge of Elizabethan theories of psychology so as to demonstrate that
Shakespeare's tragic heroes are slaves of passion." This is a theory that is backed up by
Aristotle, mentioned in Christian theological discussions and essays, and will be the theory
used to support the ideas in this paper, that prince Hamlet, as well as other characters in the
play, are overcome by different forms of passion that diminishes their reason and becomes
the driving force of their appalling actions. Aristotle, in Poetics, states, "Tragedy, then is an
imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude…Again, without
action there can not be a tragedy" (VI). This action must invoke "pity and fear" to the
audience (XIII). Thus, it seems ridiculous that honor or nobility alone could inspire in men
such actions that would be void of reason and invoke pity and fear in the audience. Aristotle's
opinion was that men were full of self-control and were, therefore, responsible for their own
actions. It was the tragic heroes own actions, then, that brought about the chaos and tragic
events. Aristotle went on, though, in his Ethics, saying that men were not always responsible
for their actions, that the "human ability to choose wisely could deteriorate" (1.239ff). He
went further, viewing "human failure as a breakdown in ethical reasoning"(Kenny 57).
Plutarch agreed, saying, "Neither do I think it impossible also but that men's good wills and
gentle natures being injured without cause may peradventure change their natural
disposition"(Wardman 4). In essence, both are saying that humans are in control of their
actions, and that generally "good," noble men could have their ability to reason robbed of
them by something horrible or unforeseen occurring in their lives, invoking too much
passion. When one is overcome with passion, his ability to think or act rationally or
reasonably is erased, as the Peripatetics taught: "passions were evil if they were not governed
by reason" (Campbell 70). St. Thomas Aquinas made divisions for the certain types of
passions: "Love and Hatred, Hope and Despair, Desire and Aversion, Courage and Fear, Joy
(or Pleasure) and Sadness (or Grief), and Anger" (Campbell 69). Shakespeare's plays and
tragic heroes are immersed with these characteristics of passion, from Macbeths' desires
combined with his fears to King Lear's wrath and despair; from Hamlet's grief transforming
to anger to Othello's love turning to hatred and jealousy. Though many subdivisions were
later created, these divisions will suffice in demonstrating the passions aroused in Hamlet, as
well as some of the other characters surrounding him. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, numerous
characters are overwhelmed with many of the different forms of passion. When the Player
King says during the play within the play, "What to ourselves passion we propose, / The
passion ending, doth the purpose lose. / The violence of either grief or joy / Their own
enactures with themselves destroy: / Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament; / Grief
joys, joy grieves, on slender accident" (III, ii, 200-205), he summarizes most of the passions
that entwine Hamlet, at least those felt by Prince Hamlet, as well as Fortinbras, Laertes, and
Ophelia. The grief felt by the three men, due to the loss of their fathers, is acted out in three
different ways, though: Hamlet's grief initially causes him to become so melancholic that he
is inactive, Laertes' grief causes his passion to overcome his reason, and though young
Fortinbras is full of grief he has not allowed passion to engulf him and is still led by reason.
Ophelia, on the other hand, becomes swallowed up by grief with the loss of her father
compounded by the loss of her lover-when Hamlet claims that he loves her no more and is
sent to England, she becomes utterly insane, ultimately allowing her passion of grief to drive
her to suicide. The fundamental passion of grief is divided into two sorts by Sir Thomas
More: "The grief that seeks for consolation is thus put on the one side; on the other is the
grief that does not seek for consolation; and this latter inconsolable grief may result either in
dullness and loss of memory and in the sin of sloth, or in hasty anger and rashness, and in the
sin of ire" (Campbell, 114). Evidence of this theory is seen in Macbeth when Malcolm tells
Macduff, "let grief / Convert to anger; blunt not the heart, enrage it" (IV, iii, 228-229).
Laertes is not to be consoled or appeased at the death of his father, as well of his sister, and
his grief transforms into anger. Hamlet is inconsolable; throughout most of the play he is dull
and slothful. However, from Act III on, he begins sporadically behaving rashly and as though
he is full of anger. In his earliest soliloquies he moans and complains constantly of his grief,
such as, "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt, / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, /
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/His cannon 'gainst self slaughter" (I, ii, 129-132). Here,
full of melancholy, he complains of wanting to die but not being able to kill himself due to
Christian law. He does show sparks of motivating passion, though, as when he sees his
father's Ghost and is told of King Hamlet's murder, he proclaims, "Haste me to know't, that I,
with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge" (I,
iv, 29-31). All Hamlets' claims to swift action are nothing but claims, though, for Hamlet lets
his grief cause sloth and delay throughout the entire play. In Act III, his passion of grief turns
to anger when he goes to talk to Gertrude. Before he goes in, he is so angry that he thinks he
may kill her, saying in a soliloquy, "Soft, now to my mother. / O heart lose not thy nature: let
not ever / The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom. / Let me be cruel, not unnatural; / I will
speak daggers to her, but use none" (III, iii, 400-404). He is indeed full of passionate anger
when he enters her room, and he performs his first act of rash violence by stabbing Polonius,
who was hiding behind the curtain, thinking it was King Claudius. Another change occurs in
Hamlet in Scene III: his passion has overcome his reason as well as his conscience, and
possibly his sanity. The ghost appears to him after he stabs Polonius, but Gertrude cannot see
it. This causes doubt to the ghost's existence and gives cause to doubt that Hamlet is merely
acting crazy anymore. He is in a violent rage while talking to Gertrude and it is her fear that
he is going to kill her that causes her to cry out and for Polonius to react behind the curtain.
When Hamlet lifts the curtain and sees that it is not Claudius but Polonius, instead of
showing remorse at his mistake he spits out, "Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! /
I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune" (III, iv, 32-33). He has become cold and lacking
of conscience as he remains for the rest of the play, though his slothfulness does not dissipate
as it still takes him two more Acts to enact his father's revenge. That passion has removed his
conscience and made him callous is revealed in two different actions by the prince. First,
when the King sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Hamlet and retrieve the body,
Hamlet will not tell them where it is and asks to be taken to Claudius, saying, "…Bring me to
him. Hide fox and all after" (IV, iii, 30). Hamlet is acting like finding the corpse is a game of
hide and seek, one which he is eager to play. When Claudius asks him where the body is,
Hamlet first replies, "At supper. / . . . Not where he eats, but where 'a is eaten. A / certain
convocation politic worms are e'en at/him" (IV, iii, 17, 19-21). When asked again, he crudely
replies to the King, "In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger / find him not there,
seek him i' th' other / place yourself" (IV, iii, 33-35). He is cold and remorseless with his
words, even brave (or arrogant) when he tells Claudius to go to hell; nonetheless, he is still
only using words against the King, still lacking in action. His second action that shows a
removal of his conscience is his sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be executed in
England. This was not a rash act of anger, but a pre-meditated murder. When Horatio asks
him of it Hamlet replies coolly, "Without debatement further, more or less, / He should those
bearers put to sudden death, / Not shriving time allowed" (V, ii, 45-47). Knowing that they
did not know what was in the letters they were carrying, Hamlet sent them to their deaths
without delay, not giving it a second thought. The only thing that remains still in Hamlet's
conscience is his regret for getting Laertes involved, displayed when he states, "But I am very
sorry, good Horatio, / That to Laertes I forgot myself, / For by the image of my cause I see /
The portraiture of his. I'll court his favors, / But sure the bravery of his grief did put me/Into a
tow'ring passion" (V, ii, 76-79) and the only reason he feels bad about it is that he sees
himself in Laertes in that their circumstances, losses, and causes are the same. In Act V,
Scene II, the play's last, Hamlet's passion finally drives him into a rash and angry action.
Directly before this action, he is still idle in carrying out the murder of Claudius. He is
actually fencing with Laertes, seemingly for sport and the entertainment of the King, for of
course Hamlet is unaware of the poisonous blade, as well as the poisoned goblet of wine.
Only does Hamlet react to the passion of anger when his mother falls down and cries, "No,
no, the drink, the drink! O my dear Hamlet! / The drink, the drink! I am poisoned" (V, ii,
309-310), and then Laertes confesses to him, "Hamlet, thou art slain; / …In thee there is not
half an hour's life. / The treacherous instrument is in thy hand, / Unbated and envenomed.
The foul practice / Hath turned itself on me. Lo, here I lie, / Never to rise again. Thy mother's
poisoned. / I can no more. The King, the King's to blame" (V, ii, 314, 316-321). Immediately
upon hearing this, Hamlet rashly thrusts the sword into Claudius, declaring, "Then, venom, to
thy work" (V, ii, 323). It seems almost as though the demands from the ghost to get revenge
for him and restore order to Denmark were not enough and never would have happened had it
been left totally up to Hamlet. In fact, when Hamlet kills Claudius, his dead father seems to
be the last thing on his mind. What ignited the passion of rash anger in him was the poisoning
of his mother, and that led directly to the killing of Claudius. The only action that may
display that Hamlet, as well as Laertes, may have some remaining reason is when they
forgive each other for their sins, both possibly realizing, as Hamlet did earlier, that both are
foils of each other and both are victims of passion. In the deep exploration and analysis of
Shakespeare's Hamlet, it is clearly shown that all of the characters, aside from the
antagonists, are victims of passion. Though the tragic heroes in Shakespeare's plays have
passion to motivate and direct their actions, the antagonists never do. If you think about
Claudius in Hamlet, Iago in Othello, Goneril, Regan, Edmund, and the Duke of Cornwall in
King Lear, and the Weird Sisters in Macbeth, all of them possess a kind of evil that they are
proud of and use it to hurt others and better themselves. None of them are driven beyond
reason by passion to carry out acts of murder and destruction; they each possess the free will
and human choice that Aristotle wrote about and they each use their reason to make the
choices that they know are wrong. Campbell notes: Thomas Aquinas defined the difference
between venial and mortal sin: 'Now the difference between venial and mortal sin is
consequent to the diversity of that inordinateness which constitutes the notion of sin. For
inordinateness is two-fold, one that destroys the principle of order, and another which,
without destroying the principle of order, implies inordinateness in the things which follow
the principle. (99) So it can be understood that the tragic heroes are committing venial, or
forgivable, sins due to their passion removing their reason and ability to choose while the
antagonists are committing mortal, or fatal sins that are unforgivable in their resolute
excessiveness. It can truly be concluded then that Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth,
all being robbed of their reason are truly victims-victims of passion.


it may well be said that William Shakespeare, the unrivalled authority on human nature in
English as well as in world literature, has integrated in his plays a deep human wisdom. His
wisdom does not induce men and women of his plays to play fair or foul and achieve the
desired ends and yet be rewarded in the end. Though it was to some extent, the era of poetic
justice, and evil was overcome by goodness in art and literature and other art forms,
Shakespeare does not impose his moral ideas on the readers as did other writers of his times.
In his most natural and yet most artistic manner, he advocates such prudence and practical
wisdom as is value based. In his treatment of these four tragedies also Shakespeare’s supreme
concern is establishment of a moral order.

1. Aristotle. Ethics. Ed. Sir Alexander Grant. New York: Anno, 1973.
2. Baroll, Leeds J. Shakespearean Tragedy. Cranbury, NJ: Associated UP, 1984.
3. Bradley, C A. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear,
Macbeth. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin, 1992.
4. Cahn, Victor L. The Heroes of Shakespeare's Tragedies. New York: Peter Lang, 1988.
5. Campbell, Lilly B. Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes. 3rd ed. New York: Barnes & Noble,
6. Kenny, A J. Aristotle's Theory of the Will. New Haven, Conn: Yale UP, 1979.
7. Muir, Kenneth. Shakespeare's Tragic Sequence. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1979.
8. Shakespeare, William. Four Great Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
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Eds. Sylvan Barnet, Alvin Kernan, Russell Fraser, and Sylvan Barnet. New York:
Penguin Books, 1998.
9. Wardman, Alan. Plutarch's "Lives." London: Paul Elek, 1974.