Comparison Analysis of Hamlet and Oedipus

Among the variety of dramatic genres that gravitate towards one of the two poles, joy or deep sorrow, tragedy is the apotheosis of the latter. If the genre of tragedy and drama originated in Ancient Greece, then the very nature of this phenomenon should have much in common with the mythology that reigned on the shores of the Aegean Sea in those years. Tragedy is a synonym for drama and includes the comedy genre. The standards of the genre are several classical works written in different eras. On the example of Oedipus and Hamlet, a comparative analysis should be made of which of the two heroes is the most prominent representative of the tragedy.

First of all, it is necessary to determine what exactly is meant by the genre in question. According to Aristotle, the beginning and soul of a tragedy is the plot, and the second is the characters (Lucas 101). After all, tragedy is the depiction of action and, mainly through it, the depiction of characters. From this capacious definition, Aristotle derives the basic principles that the playwright must follow, which remain the basis and essence of dramaturgy and are therefore called “classical” (Lucas 76). These include:

  1. Unity of action;
  2. The presence of a truly tragic hero;
  3. The scale of the issues being developed.

These three principles define the limits of creative search when writing tragedies. Consequently, the theme of death, fatality is the main resource of all tragic writings, where Hamlet and Oedipus are the most famous works. In the play of Aeschylus, Oedipus, the king of Thebes, plays the role of a tragic hero struggling with an unsolvable, fatal problem. The idea expressed by Aeschylus expresses the senselessness of the struggle with one’s own destiny (Snyder 43). It is noted that the play meets all the criteria put forward by Aristotle for a truly tragic work. In turn, Shakespeare creates his tragic hero in many ways already different from his predecessors, but the three commandments are also present in his play (Lucas 15). Hamlet is also at war with the fate that took his father, but in addition, the hero also fights with himself in an attempt to give answers to impossible questions. Shakespeare, as it were, adds an internal plan to the established structure, adding a lyrical component to the genre features of the tragedy.

Hamlet is created in the Renaissance, and this is the time of the awakening of human individuality after a long “Christian haze” of the Middle Ages. What Oedipus grieves about and what Hamlet reflects on with an external superficial similarity, in fact, turn out to be incomparable objects. Oedipus, by all means available to him, tries to avoid the fulfillment of the prediction, and this is Aeschylus’ hero’s problem; it gives the hero motivation (Duxfield et al. 89). Hamlet’s dilemma is deeper and more sophisticated in a moral sense, it is the sum of all his spiritual rushes. It is still mystical, that is, unsolvable, but unlike the problem of Aeschylus, it lends itself to research and analysis (Snyder 93). This example shows how and thanks to what the genre of tragedy, gradually begins to acquire the characteristic signs of degeneration (Lucas 15). With the growth of the general culture of unsolvable problems in the life of mankind, it becomes less and less. Man more and more adapts to the imperfection of the world, which once seemed fundamental.

In Oedipus, the reader notices satisfaction with all the signs of a tragic character. By this, is meant the fulfillment of the principle “the enemy harms the enemy”, which leads to suffering and anguish of the character. In Hamlet, however, there is a transition from one misfortune to another even more severe misfortune (Snyder 54). In work, in the finale, not only the closest people die and not necessarily at the hands of loved ones, but everyone perishes. The tragedy of Aeschylus heals the souls of those who unsuccessfully try to resist their own fate (Duxfield et al. 65). It materializes the fears of such people, thereby relieving the accumulated tension, has a pessimistic character. Hamlet, based on the Christian idea of salvation, gives hope.

It is important to emphasize that the tragedy of Shakespeare is alien to a deliberately given external structure. The author, following the medieval folk tradition, does not follow the rules, in particular the dramatic ones. In other words, Shakespeare simultaneously anticipates the classicism tradition but also steps over it, and Hamlet is the most universal in this respect. All dramatic inventions are organically demolished in it. Preserving the unity of action, skillfully drawing the image of a tragic hero, representing a deep thought, Shakespeare clearly draws a plane before the viewer, half mystical but felt (Snyder 38). Hamlet, even acting as an avenger for his father, is isolated from family ties as a self-determined personality. Oedipus knows the true state of affairs from the very beginning, and his duty is clear to him (Duxfield et al. 77). Hamlet begins with ignorance, so that through premonitions, vague suspicions, recognition, then through verification and confirmation of the private truth about the crime committed, he reaches the understanding of the world. In fact, here, Shakespeare is already creating a hero of modern times, a romantic hero.

Thus, deciding which character best represents tragedy as a genre is an almost impossible task. The fact is that this issue can be approached from two sides. From the point of view of the rules and unshakable foundations of the genre, Oedipus turns out to be the most illuminating and competent tragic character. On the other hand, according to the history of fate and knowledge of the world, Hamlet most effectively reveals the potential of the entire tragedy. Thus, both heroes do equally well in this context. Hence it can be assumed that they are equal.

Works Cited

Duxfield, Andrew, Cadman, Daniel and Hopkins, Lisa. (Eds.). The genres of Renaissance tragedy. Manchester University Press, 2019.

Lucas, Duncan A. Affect theory, genre, and the example of tragedy. Springer International Publishing, 2018.

Snyder, John. Prospects of power: Tragedy, satire, the essay, and the theory of genre. University Press of Kentucky, 2021.

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