Hamlet from a Historical Overview

In the late nineteenth century when the Shakespeare’s plays start published, critics start classify Shakespeare’s work according to plot and frequent elements. The plays are classified to three main different genres, history, tragedy, and comedy. In each type, they chose some in common literary elements Shakespeare uses in his different plays to consider wither they are comedy, tragedy, or historical plays. In fact, Shakespeare never classifies his work or aim to uses specific categories, but the scholar attempt is significant and reliable. According to the Aristotle theory of tragedy, 

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions. . . . Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality—namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody.

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So, the scholars rely on this theory to classify the tragic plays, but does all Shakespeare’s tragic plays consist of all tragedy’s elements. According to literature scholars’ classification, Hamlet is a tragedy play. This is true, but it is difficult for critics to differentiate between Shakespeare’s genres. “Genre distinctions are notoriously difficult to express in formulate or abstract terms, even if particular genre labels can be recognised and applied with little experience”(Early Modern Tragicomedy, p.134). 

What if Hamlet can be viewed from other genre prospective? Does Hamlet apply historical plays’ elements? In this essay, a short genres experiment will be conducted, on Hamlet to assume that Shakespeare’s play could be read from two different perspectives. 

In the beginning of this paper, the definition and the categorization of Shakespeare’s tragic plays has been highlighted. The historical plays of Shakespeare indeed have different elements. This Shakespeare’s genre is propaganda for Shakespeare’s current events. In addition, it is a real historical figures from England history, and embellishment of plot and characters also Hamlet involves many of significant tragedy part. For instance, the serious themes of the play are the death of King Hamlet, the remarriage of Queen Gertrude, and the most important is the ghost appearance. All these events indicate the tragedy as well as the last act in the play, the death of the main characters except Horatio. In contrast, the same scene has an implication of historical perspective,

As thou’rt a man,

Give me the cup: let go; by heaven, I’ll have’t.

O good Horatio, what a wounded name,

Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart

Absent thee from felicity awhile,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,

To tell my story.

The last sentence demonstrates Shakespeare’s historical intention in the play. Shakespeare tries to documents Denmark history around the seventh century, and integrating Denmark to the Norway. The death of all the Denmark royal family, and the empire toward Norway is historical documentation through out the literature. In addition, the ghost is also a representation of religious ambivalence in England during the religious reformation. In the late fifteen and early sixteen century, the religious combination of the Catholic and Protestant religions issues emerged. Shakespeare addresses the both believe. In the first appearance of the ghost, Horatio denies the ghost, unless he observes it himself. In this point, if the ghost a common believe at that time, it will not be a main issue for Shakespeare to highlight at his work. It’s hard to indicate whether it is a tragedy or history, however, it is reasonable to look at Shakespeare’s work from other perspectives. Shakespeare’s works are the most effective and influential in literature. 

There is a possibility to examine Shakespeare’s work according to the year of writing to reveal if there is any equivalent connection between history and Shakespeare’s hidden intention of his work. The literacy level at the fifteen and early sixteen century is restricted. The people who can read and write are limited, however, people can perceive performance more than writing. Therefore, he attempts to inform people with their current events throughout the stage and plays. 

Works Cited

McManus, Barbara F. “Outline of Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy.” 

Outline of Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy. 1999. Web. 27 Sept. 


Mukherji, Subha. Early Modern Tragicomedy. Woodbridge,

 Suffolk, UK: D.S. Brewer, 2007. 134. Online.

Shakespeare, William, and Barbara A. Mowat. The Tragedy of 

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Washington Square Press New 

Folger ed. New York: Washington Square, 2002. Print.

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