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How far, and in what ways, do you agree that the story of Polonius and his children is a tragedy within a tragedy?

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How far, and in what ways, do you agree that the story of Polonius and his children is a tragedy within a tragedy? 'Hamlet' is a revenge tragedy; a genre originally developed by plays such as 'The Spanish Tragedy' by Thomas Kyd from 1585-1590. The genre is characterized by the inclusion of death, murder, betrayal, madness, poison, surveillance and the supernatural in the narrative - themes that all frequently occur in 'Hamlet'. However to what extent does the story of Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes conform to this idea of a revenge tragedy; and more broadly, how does the story of the family conform to the genre of tragedy as a whole? One issue is how to define a tragedy; Thomas Heywood wrote: "Comedies begin in trouble and end in peace; tragedies begin in calm and end in tempest", 'Apology for Actors', 1612. By this definition, tragedy generally can be summarised as a sequence of events that lead to the destruction of the majority of its characters. In this sense, the story of Polonius and his family conforms to the basic skeleton of a tragedy - by the end of the play Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia are dead. ...read more.


When asked by Claudius what he will do when Hamlet returns to Denmark to avenge his father in Act 4 Scene VII, he replies 'To cut his throat i' the church.' This directly mirrors the church scene, where Claudius is vulnerable yet Hamlet refrains from acting out his revenge. This displays Laertes' as a traditional revenger, willing to act, unlike Hamlet who considers the legitimacy of the ghost's claims before even considering revenge. Laertes does not take much persuading from Claudius. However it is this over-willingness to act that is the cause of his death. In his rage at the death of both his father and sister, he plots with Claudius to kill Hamlet; a move which kills him as he himself is poisoned by the sword intended for Hamlet. Over-willingness to act is Laerte's hamartia; and so Laertes also conforms to this tragic skeleton laid out by Aristotle. However perhaps more tragic, although not conforming to Aristotle's works, is the question; why is Laertes so willing to act? His father was voyeuristic, deceitful and loquacious - he used Ophelia as a tool to gain favour with the king, and spied on Laertes to ensure his name was not tarnished. ...read more.


Ophelia is being perpetually commanded and ordered throughout the play by the significant characters in her life; first Laertes, when he displays his disapproval of her intimacy with Hamlet, and Polonius when he conducts his own 'play within a play', ordering her to talk to Hamlet while he observes behind an arras. She has little to no freedom, despite the fact she has 'done nothing wrong'; unlike her brother who had enjoyed the 'primrose path of dalliance' while in Paris, and the voyeuristic indulgence of Polonius. The death of Ophelia to a modern audience is tragic, so in this sense the story of Polonius and his family is a tragedy. I agree that the story of Polonius and his family should be considered 'a tragedy within a tragedy'. Their story contains many of the frequently occurring aspects of a tragedy; death, love, murder, revenge and surveillance. As well as this, the family conforms to the concept of a tragedy as laid out by Aristotle. Finally, the story of Polonius and his family conforms to what is considered tragic in the present, as the tragedy has transcended the period in which the play was written. ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

3 star(s)

A confident commentary on the nature of tragedy, exploring a number of models and concluding with a strong case for Shakespeare not only examining but also transcending many of the conventions of his day.
Much more could be made of the detail of the text in order to put this a 5 * category, but this is nevertheless clearly conveyed and shows a knowledge of the text.

Marked by teacher karen reader 08/03/2012

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