Comparing the Characters of Hamlet and Macbeth
William Shakespeare is one of the most famous poets and playwrights in the history of English literature. He made a considerable contribution not only to the national literature, but to the development of this art in general. William Shakespeare created his most popular works in the period between 1589 and 1613. Some of his tragedies written during these years are considered to be the greatest works in the genre of tragedy; they are Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Working on the texts of different genres (22 years of experience in literature), Shakespeare mastered the art of writing and developed his own pattern of writing tragedies, so one can trace some special features of Shakespeare’s writing style that may be found in every work of the author.
What is important is that the focus of the Shakespeare’s works has changed from comedies to the serious internal struggles of the main characters in tragic works. The author depicted urgent issues that people faced in real life and inserted them into the texts to make an integral part of the tragedy. Shakespeare concentrated his mind on complex human personalities and this tragic motive permeates through all the work of the author. Thus, the tragedies Hamlet and Macbeth can be compared as parallel works with many similarities and differences in the plots, characters and ideas. Moreover, at the very beginning of his tragedies the author provided readers with the definition of the genre of the work. For these two tragedies Shakespeare used the same definition. This means that some similarities between Hamlet and Macbeth tragedies can be found on the first pages. Thus, both Hamlet and Macbeth appeal to the reader as rather similar characters, along with their personal specific features.
The tragedies Hamlet and Macbeth are to be compared and contrasted as an example of two best tragedies by William Shakespeare that represent not only a modified way of writing tragedies, but also the inner conflict of humans that may lead to self-distraction of a person. Being a master of words, Shakespeare portrayed the tragic fate of the two main characters in his works, developing the story lines, thereby showing that human’s nature is so versatile that even in similar situations it is almost impossible to predict human behavior since the variety of internal feelings and external causes influence it. The main characters of these two tragedies are extremely interesting and have literary value as characters, that are repeatedly returned to by many other authors. This fact demonstrates the remarkable significance of Shakespeare’s works, where careful attention is paid to these tragedies.
Both tragedies Hamlet and Macbeth start with the presence of the supernatural mystical elements. Shakespeare used the image of the ghost of Hamlet’s father in the tragedy Hamlet. The ghost approaches the prince and orders him to avenge his death. Correspondingly, in Macbeth, there are three witches who make an agreement with Macbeth to meet again later, and they tell Macbeth that he should be a king (Shakespeare, line 124-125). Shakespeare introduced supernatural creatures to attract the reader’s attention that will make him/her continue reading the tragedies. At the same time, the ghost and the witches possess some kind of magic power: the ghost of the King tells Hamlet stories that have already happened, and the witches can see the future. Mystical creatures have a great influence over the main characters, and one more similarity between these heroes is that two men doubt whether the supernatural creatures are good or evil (Shakespeare, line 598-599). The role of the preternatural interaction in both tragedies is almost the same: they contribute to the downfall of Hamlet and Macbeth at the end of the plays. Macbeth listens to the witches and commits evil deeds under their influence; likewise Hamlet finds out that Claudius is the killer of his father and claims to revenge himself on his uncle. Later on such supernatural influence will enhance moral dilemmas, make people lose their moral believes and lead to the death of both men.
The historic background of the main characters is also similar: both plays portray the kings: in Hamlet it is King Claudius, the king of Denmark who is Hamlet’s uncle and in Macbeth it is King Duncan, the king of Scotland. There is one more similarity: both kings were assassinated by the main characters and it resulted in their own death.
The symbol of weeds and flowers represent good in Hamlet, just as birds illustrate the same meaning in Macbeth. However, even more similarities may be seen when following dramatic plots of the plays and development of the personalities of the main characters. Both Hamlet and Macbeth are not self-confident enough: Hamlet compares himself with his father and says that he is not as strong and heroic as the King was (Shakespeare, line 152-153). Macbeth also mentions the lack of potential and self-confidence (Shakespeare, line 138-139). The author illustrates the dual nature of human beings. For example, Macbeth appears good and trustworthy while he is developing his plan to kill King Duncan and his dark and evil part wins. Hamlet, like Macbeth, hesitates about this revenge, since this is his duty, but his moral principles prevent him from killing. Very famous Hamlet’s words “To be or not to be…” are also great evidence of the internal struggle of the individual that is often faced by many people (Shakespeare, line 57).
One more similarity connects these plays: two men longed for power for their personal reasons: Hamlet needed it to revenge his father’s death and Macbeth wanted to concentrate the actual power in his hands, but their desires were so strong that eventually they turned into unnatural desire to kill. The need for power was self-destruction to Hamlet and Macbeth, and their deaths became a reasonable conclusion of their deeds.
The first differences between Hamlet and Macbeth appear when the main heroes of the tragedies face the supernatural elements. Hamlet meets the ghost of his father, the King Hamlet who tells his son the secret of his death. On the contrary, Macbeth sees three witches, they are sisters. Thus, Macbeth faces three times more evil, than Hamlet does. For the more, the ghost, Hamlet’s father, is visible only to Hamlet and once Marcellus and Bernard, Hamlet’s servants could see the ghost as well (Shakespeare, line 60-61). Meanwhile, in Macbeth everyone who meets three witches sees them.
Talking about the role of kings in the plays, the reader may trace the connection between King Claudius, the uncle of the main character Hamlet. On the other hand, there is no direct family connection in Macbeth between King Duncan and Macbeth.
Taking into consideration personal features of the characters of the main heroes, Hamlet appears to be rather slow, he thinks a lot about the revenge and hesitates about it. It takes him much time to actually revenge for the death of his father which Hamlet promised to do to his father’s ghost. Although Macbeth acts rather quickly and rashly and is presented as a man of action, he does not care about the consequences of his murders, and never regrets about his evil plans and deeds. He kills Duncan without any hesitation as soon as he receives the first appropriate moment for the murder.
Probably the most striking difference between Hamlet and Macbeth is the end of the tragic flaws of the main characters. Hamlet is more positive character than Macbeth. He managed to fulfill the promise he had given to the ghost of his father, but eventually he was killed. His death is depicted in the play as an honorable heroic death. On the contrary, Macbeth has committed so many murders for his own benefit that even his death on the battlefield was not heroic at all. Macbeth’s death is a predictable avenge for the evil that he made starting from the beginning of the play Macbeth till its end.
Shakespeare developed a strong story line which served him as a powerful tool to create masterpieces. That story line can be easily traced in many tragedies that he implemented into his works; that is why there are so many similarities. The tragedies Hamlet and Macbeth appear to be different to the reader because the story lines are complicated and various, but at the same time they are rather similar due to the relatively close personalities acting as the main characters and themes of the plays.