Free Hamlet Essays: Tragedy of Polonius’ Family in

Hamlet Hamlet essaysTragedy of Polonius’ Family in Hamlet Shakespeare

In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the death of a character becomes a frequent event. Although many people lose their lives as a result of their own self-centered wrongdoing, there are others whose deaths are the result of manipulation by royalty. This is the case with Polonius’ family. The real tragedy of Hamlet is not that of Hamlet or his family, but of Polonius’ family, because their deaths were not the consequence of sinful actions of their own but, rather, of their innocent involvement in the schemes of Claudius and Hamlet.
The first character to die, in Hamlet, is Polonius. Although Polonius often acts in a deceitful manner when dealing with Hamlet, it is only because he is carrying out royally devised plans to discover the nature of Hamlet’s madness. Being the king’s Lord Chamberlain, it is his duty to obey the wishes of the king and queen and it is this loyalty that eventually proves to be fatal for him. Hamlet stabs Polonius as he hides in the Queens room. Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better(III.iv.38-39). This shows how Polonius, a man unaware of the true nature of the situation he is in, is killed by a member of the royalty during the execution of one of their schemes. This makes Polonius’ death a tragedy.
The next member of Polonius’ family, to die, is his daughter, Ophelia. Ophelia’s death is tragic because of her complete innocence in the situation. Some may argue that Polonius deserves his fate because of his deceitfulness in dealing with Hamlet while he is mad; but Ophelia is entirely manipulated and used, by Hamlet and the king, for their own selfish reasons. Hamlet uses her to convince his family he is mad.
He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm,
And, with his other hand thus oer his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stayed he so(II.i.98-102).
Although this is subject to interpretation, and many believe that this is simply Hamlet taking one last look at Ophelia before he becomes engaged in his plan to kill Claudius, the fact that he scares her and does not try to alleviate these fears, points to the conclusion that he is simply using her to help spread word of his madness throughout the kingdom, via Polonius. In Act III, scene iv, Hamlet kills Polonius while he is hiding behind the arras in the Queen’s room. This event causes Ophelia to become insane and leads to her eventual death in a river near the castle in Act IV, scene vii. It can be seen how Hamlets scheme, which brings about the death of Polonius, leads to Ophelias death. The passing of Ophelia is a tragedy because she does nothing deserving of death, she is merely used for the personal gain of others.
The last member of Polonius’ family to die is Laertes, Ophelia’s brother and Polonius’ son. Laertes’ death is tragic because, although he kills Hamlet, he is avenging his father’s death. This was an act which, with reference to the moral climate of the 1600s, would have been condoned by the people viewing the play. The difference between Hamlet and Laertes is that Laertes does not use others to attain his goals and his revenge. The murder is, in part, due to the pressure put on him by Claudius. This makes Laertes’ murder of Hamlet excusable and his death a tragedy. Claudius and Laertes are discussing Hamlet when Claudius says, Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or are you, like the painting of a sorrow, A face without a heart(IV.vii.120-122)? He is asking Laertes whether he is really sorry about his father’s death or whether he is just acting mournful, without feeling mournful. Claudius uses these lines to lead Laertes into a plan to kill Hamlet. What would you undertake to show yourself in deed your father’s son more than in words (IV.vii.138-140)? It can be easily seen how Laertes, influenced by Claudius in the heat of his anger, could conspire to murder Hamlet; and it is in this attempt that Laertes loses his own life to the very poison with which he kills Hamlet. Once again, a member of Polonius’ family loses his life as a result of a conflict to which he was oblivious, making Laertes’ death a tragedy, as well.
Contrary to popular belief, the tragedy associated with Hamlet is not about Hamlet, or his family. It is, however, about the tragic fate of Polonius’ family, whose deaths are not the result of any sins they commit. Instead they are the result of their being manipulated by Hamlet and Claudius for reasons unknown to them. Although the death of Polonius’ family stands out as being the most tragic, many other characters in the story are killed, as well. In fact, the death of a character in Hamlet almost becomes commonplace.

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