Hamlet Tragedy



The dramatis personae of mythical or literary tragedy are characters
towards whom fate slowly reveals inevitable destruction, but tragedy is
not limited to the unfolding of an unavoidable fate. In Hamlet, tragedy
extends its concerns into landscape and axial directionality. Landscapes
in plays of myth and literature give a specific location for imagining
the moods and elements for the particular genre. Axial direction refers
to the aim of the play\'s action, as in what direction is the play\'s
action aimed. The clowns at the grave, much like the ghost Hamlet,
orient the Dane prince to the psychology of verticality, and, by means
of homeopathic language, lead young Hamlet\'s soul into memoria.
Any serious investigation of tragedy, and tragedy is vested in
seriousness, needs to track ideational antecedents (rather, go into the
past by means of tragedy\'s relationship with past events). Aristotle
(1992) laid the first tie on the track to the modern understanding of
tragedy when he wrote the following:
Tragedy, therefore, is an imitation of a worthy or illustrious and
perfect action, possessing magnitude, in pleasing language, using
separately the several species of imitation in its parts, by men acting,
and not through narration, through pity and fear effecting a
purification from such like passions. (pp. 10-11; italics mine)
The action of tragedy is perfect since it is inextricably tied to fate.
There is no way out of the circumstances except onward and further into
them. The magnitude that tragedy possesses is a leap out of a personal
history and into the realm of mythology. Theater-goers from Aristotle to
present seek tragedy to witness "myth, which gives full place to every
sort of atrocity, [and] offers more objectivity to the study of such
lives and deaths than any examination of personal motivation" (Hillman
1964/1988, p. 81). Pity and fear (or terror) are principle emotions of
the characters of Shakespeare\'s tragedy. The words, "Alas, poor ghost"
(Shakespeare, p. 894), marks Hamlet\'s pity for the ghost, and terror is
expressed in his cry, "Oh, God" (ibid.)! Hamlet pities the skull of poor
Yorick at the open grave, and his imagination becomes full of terror and
abhorrence as he contemplates death (p. 927). The language of the Hamlet
tragedy is pleasing to the audience but not the characters, and it is
the possessive magnitude of tragedy\'s language that pleases.
An obscure association rises when Chaucer\'s idea of tragedy in the
Canterbury Tales is juxtaposed to the image of the grave in tragedy. The
monk defines tragedy as "a story concerning someone who has enjoyed
great prosperity but has fallen from his high position into misfortune
and ends in wreched-ness (sic.). Tragedies are commonly written in verse
with six feet, called hexameters" (Chaucer 1989, p.575; italics mine).
Contemporary associations with the metaphor of \'six feet\' leads to
imagining a grave, as in six feet under. Elizabethan graves were shallow
(Rogers-Gardner 1995) and bear no direct allusion to contemporary
notions of a grave\'s depth, but, as meaning-making through imagination
takes place today, the association is allowed. What this obscure
excursion elucidates is the relatively mercurial influence that the
image of the grave provides tragedy. Somehow, the grave is difficult to
approach directly; therefore, by means of indirection I make my
direction known.
The deep impression of the grave\'s image in tragedy is indirectly
contained in Nietzsche\'s idea of the effect of tragedy. "Now the grave
events are supposed to be leading pity and terror inexorably towards
the relief of discharge" (1993, p. 106-7; italics mine). Nietzsche uses
the word \'grave\' to carry a weighty importance for the plot of tragedy.
He does not use the grave plot as a weighty image for tragedy. Where do
some of the principal characters of tragedy lie in the end? Oedipus at
Colonos, Medea\'s children, Antigone, Haimon, Polyneices, King Hamlet,
and Ophelia all relentlessly end in a grave plot. The very image of the
grave imbues people with pity and terror.
Pity is feeling which arrests the mind in the presence whatsoever is
grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the human
sufferer. Terror is feeling which arrests the mind in the presence
whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with
the secret cause. (Joyce 1916/1970, p. 204)
Joyce uses the word "grave" much as Nietzsche does above,