Compare Hamlet with Macbeth, Othello and other Tragedies

Hamlet is marked by the greatest subtlety in conception of character and complication of motives. When we compare Hamlet with Othello, we find something of subtlety in Iago’s analysis of his motive, but Iago’s character is not set in a tragic key. Iago’s analysis of his motive has been described by Coleridge as “motiveless motive grinding” and it seems to be nothing more than a display of his dialectical skill-all word-chopping. Hamlet’s analysis of his motive goes into the roots of his very character, and its tragic significance is always pointed. In Othello, there is less of complexity that characterizes the development of action in Hamlet. The tragedy in Othello turns on the sup- posed incompatibility of union between Othello, a Moor, and a white lady. At least, critics assume this to be the very essence of the tragedy. The machinations of Iago are the most important factor in the development of the plot, and the simplicity of Othello and Desdemona makes it easy for Iago to carry out his diabolical intrigue. The motives he sets forth in his soliloquies are not meant to satisfy either himself or his audience. He has a devilish brain or intrigue, and he plays his game almost unchecked till the end, when his wife, Emilia, exposes him.

It may be noted that both Hamlet and Othello are plays of intrigue. In Hamlet the atmosphere of intrigue makes the play so complex and its movement so slow. In both the plays there is the revenge motive; in Othello it is weaker; in Hamlet it is rendered more tense, exciting and tragic by the frustration of purposes. The story of Hamlet is simple in outline, but the intellectualization of the content and rationalization of the delay that occurs in the execution of revenge make the play so difficult to comprehended.

When Hamlet is compared with Macbeth we see that Macbeth is a play more compared, the relation between character and incident being maintained with greater dramatic cogency. Macbeth has been described as a tragedy of ambition. We may trace points of affinity between the two. Like Hamlet, Macbeth is possessed of passionate imagination and keen sensibilities. Macbeth’s retribution is partly wrought through his imagination; it may also be pointed out that like Hamlet, Macbeth displays speculative interest in the things of life. We may take the following soliloquy of Macbeth in the beginning of Scene vii of Act I:

“If it were done when ’tis come, then ’twere well

It were done quickly, If the assassination

Could trammel up the consequence and catch,

With his surcease, success; that but this blow.

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Might be the be all and the end-all here-

But here upon this bank and shoal of time-

We’d jump the life to come.”

Here Macbeth speculates about the future. Similarly, in his famous soliloquy “To be, or not to be”-Hamlet speculates about the future. The difference is that Macbeth contemplates the crime of murder and its consequences, which, he is afraid, may extend beyond this life ….. and he quails at the idea of this, while Hamlet, oppressed by the burden and mystery of life, contemplates suicide. Macbeth is urged on to the fulfilment of his ambition by the instigation of his wife and the supernatural softening of the witches. He begins, with a crime, and then he has to secure himself by a repetition of crime; at last the doom falls on him, wrought as it is, by his imagination and sensibilities and also by the external agency of the witches. Now in Hamlet, there is the same supernatural soliciting, the revenge-motive is supplied by the ghost of Hamlet’s father. It is a sacred task, imposed upon Hamlet, and in carrying it through, he meets with obstacles both internal and external. It is easier for Macbeth to attain his object through a crime; if he has moral scruples in the beginning, they are swept off by the chiding tongue of his wife. Hamlet’s sacred duty to this father involves the crime of murder; it is murder, sanctified by the motive or revenge. The question why Hamlet has not been able to execute his revenge with one stroke, puzzles critics. But delay is the very essence of a revenge- play, such as Hamlet is.

But Hamlet and Macbeth are romantic tragedies, making use of the super-natural machine. There is a finer touch and delicacy in the supernatural of Hamlet, the physical loathsomeness of the Weird Sisters in Macbeth can never be overcome but the Ghost in Hamlet is a being aloof from us-a phantom, provoking in us “thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls” it is a more effective use of the supernatural in any raze.

The other tragedies with which we may compare Hamlet, are Julius Caesar and King Lear. In Julius Caesar there is the ghost of Caesar, and Caesar dead seems to be more powerful than Caesar living. The spirit of Caesar roving about for revenge is a figure as impressive as the ghost of Hamlet’s father demanding of his son the duty of revenge. Brutus has been compared with Hamlet. There is an idealistic strain in both-speculation as opposed to action being dominant in both. When we compare Hamlet with King Lear, we find that both are plays of dark, menacing and violent passion. Perhaps King Lear has a greater, tragic grandeur when he raves in unison with storm and thunder on a blasted health than Hamlet vehemently reproaching himself for the failure of his task.



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