Hamlet Essay Example

“A tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole and complete and of a certain magnitude. A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end” – these words of Aristotle present a sufficient and versatile notion of the concept of tragedy. Tragic element is inherent in many literary works. It adds more depth to the writing and serves to emotionally involve the reader in the events described in the book, play, or short story. Tragic figures in literature have been playing an important role for centuries and still mark out the essence of numerous literary works. Tragic figures were the necessary part of the plays, stories, and other works at the time of Shakespeare, and they arouse deep feelings in the modern readers. Such characters as Jay Gatsby from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Macbeth from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Count of Monte Cristo from Duma’s novel of the same name, Kafka’s Gregor Samsa from The Metamorphosis, and many others represent the variety of tragic heroes in modern and classic literature. Tragedy remains one of the most popular forms of drama nowadays and deserves a great attention and research. This paper aims to investigate two particular tragic figures of the literary genre: Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the play of the same name and Kafka’s Joseph K. from the unfinished novel The Trial and find similarities and differences between these characters.

Hamlet and Joseph K. as Tragic Figures

Hamlet and Joseph K. are undoubtedly tragic figures who get into series of dramatic events that change their life entirely and lead them to tragic end. In Shakespeare’s play, he is represented as a noble man whose motives are determining and dramatic in their nature. He begins with a desire to take vengeance on the killers of his father for their unfair and dishonorable deed. From the beginning of the play, the reader can guess that such seeking for justice almost inevitably must lead a main hero to death, for Hamlet’s opponents are powerful and unstoppable. Joseph K. appears in a similar situation when he starts his struggle for justice with the system that seems to be very complicated and invincible. Both heroes get caught in the whirlpool of illogical and incomprehensible events that tend to weaken them by a means of inconceivable psychological pressure.

Further examination of the similarities between Hamlet and Joseph K. lead us to analysis of their characteristic features. One of Hamlet’s major features is his faith in the power of words and language that he believes would help him to get the edge on his foes. However, this belief eventually leads Hamlet to death as the world is a cruel place where words often mean nothing compared to the power of money, connections, and status. The same delusion we see in Joseph K. He believes that he is able to convince the officials involved in the trial that he is innocent and deserve no punishment. This feature does not bring Joseph any use in his struggle with unfairness. Similarly to Hamlet, Joseph K. did not succeed in his honest intention to demand justice appealing to common sense.

There are also similarities in the characters development throughout the stories. For instance, we may observe the decay of personalities of both Hamlet and Joseph K. occurring in a result of major dramatic changes in their lives. Hamlet falls under the influence of his surroundings that leads him to corruption and making multiple mistakes. Joseph K. falls prey to the confusion and mystery surrounding the court, the reason of his accusation, and judicial system in general and gets distressed and involved into irrational process of defense that gets him even more frustrated and depressed.

Finally, there is also a spiritual element in both of these stories. Joseph K. encounters with it in the church where the priest asks him to evaluate his role in the chaos surrounding him and the trial. From the perspective of the priest, Joseph K. is standing at the edge of abyss, the point of no return. It can be suggested that Joseph’s attempts to justify and defend himself is the acceptance of guilt. K. refuses to recognize the supernatural aspect of the process against him, and it prevents him from focusing on the essential features of the situation distracting from the alternative solutions (Kafka 208). Hamlet encounters with supernatural forces when he is visited by the ghost of his father. As opposed to Joseph K., Hamlet embraces the supernatural, and it eventually leads him to further mental corruption. The words of the ghost aroused feelings of aggression and hatred in Hamlet and destroyed his initially kind, peaceful, and thoughtful nature.

Let us continue with examining the differences between Joseph K. and Hamlet. Analyzing the characters I found one considerable difference in their nature that is worth discussion. I want to point at their lives and their significance in terms of existence and its meaningfulness. Hamlet is presented by Shakespeare as an example of a decent and honest young man who is capable of self-sacrifice and devotion. We see no self-interest in his motives, but sincere grief and desire to right a wrong not for his own sake, but for the sake of his deceased father. On the other hand, Joseph K. never wanted anything in his life for somebody else. There is not much “giving” in his life, and we never see him acting for the sake of common good, or simply to help someone in need. Joseph K.’s life is meaningless in the wide sense and therefore, nobody stands for his defense when the trial starts. Everything he does, he does because of self-interest and there is no one who has a special place in his heart. That is why, Joseph K. feels very insecure when he finds that all his law books and applications do not work. His tragedy is not in the fact that he was unfairly accused in something that is kept in secret. The tragedy of Joseph K. is that he stays alone in the moment of need, for he never had a chance to become close with somebody who could support him in a difficult situation. Hamlet is lonely, as well. However, he was betrayed by those whom he considered as his friends. The tragedy of Hamlet is that he gets off the rails being involved in an unfair game surrounding royal family and repeats the destiny of his father.

The examination of similarities and differences between characters of Hamlet and Joseph K. presented in this essay revealed that there are much more similarities than differences in their fates and behavior. Despite seemingly different situations in which the heroes become involved, they both seek for justice. They both use the power of words to defeat their enemies and overcome the obstacles on their way. However, Hamlet’s intentions indicate that he seeks for justice not for himself but for his father who was insidiously poisoned by the traitors. On the other hand, Joseph K. experiences different kind of injustice. This injustice is directed at him in particular and thus, he has to fight for himself. Despite certain differences in characters’ nature, Hamlet and Joseph K. both experience loneliness that facilitates their tragic departure. Generally, Joseph K. and Hamlet present interesting examples of tragic figures in literature. Their stories get the reader personally involved and intensify the dramatic element of the plot. Such heroes help to make the literary work deeper, more sufficient, and personalized that provides further involvement of the audience.

Work Cited

Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York: Vintage Books, 1969. Print.

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