Hamlet: A Comedy?



The topics of controversy generally surround tragedy.  From the Laramie Project to Streetcar Named Desire, but would comedy make it any easier to take?

The comedy of Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous works.  This play can be looked at and analyzed in many different ways until we unweave the language that Shakespeare was known for.  I see this as a comedy in tragic fashion.  As it is well known, Shakespeare wrote his works for the stage and for the partially uneducated mob that would be his audience.  Because of his literary brilliance, Shakespeare utilizes comedy in the first half of the play to make the impending tragedy even more tragic.  However tragic the end may be, by comparison Hamlet is a very comedic Shakespearean play.  The many outlets of comic relief keep the play from being a gloomy and dark tale until the conclusion.  Three major characters can be seen as the main sources of comedy in Hamlet.  Those three being, Hamlet, Polonius and of course the Gravedigger.

Although most would say that Hamlet was a tragedy, it can be equally seen as a comedy.  Death is taken very lightly making the tragic parts more tragic, but in turn the tragic parts make the comedy much more fun.  As a writer, Shakespeare knew his audience.  Although some enjoyed the beauty of the underlying principles, he knew that most were controlled by their emotions.  By setting such a far spectrum of emotions throughout the play, Shakespeare makes every moment be more emotional due to the contrast of the opposing moments.

Although he has a wonderfully comical scene with the gravedigger, most of Hamlets comedic moments come from his remarks to King Claudius and to his mother Queen Gertrude.  This continues to separate the comedic and tragic moments in the play and separating Prince Hamlet from the King and Queen.  Hamlets continued jest at the expense of the king is easy to enjoy because it is easy for the audience to laugh at the villain in the play.  Through Shakespeares words, Hamlet is able to be a very quick witted and sly conversationalist when he confronts the king throughout the play.

Polonius is one of the most comical characters in the play.  Through his timely delivery he can make even the most dramatic moments become a time to pause from the sadness to laugh. But the simplest of jokes are the ones that are easiest for the audience to connect with.

In common conversation it is appropriate to make people laugh in moments of tragedy, but the tragedy in Shakespeare’s work is worse than most people have to face in their actual lives.  Perhaps it is something to consider next time someone says “too soon?”

Jonathan Spies


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