The Archetypes In Hamlet by William Shakespeare



Hamlet, as a character, is nothing out of the ordinary for being the protagonist in a Shakespearean tragedy as he shares a fatal flaw alongside all other protagonists who have featured in any of Shakespeare's tragedies. Going into depth, as much as Hamlet's fatal flaw is attributed to his role in a Shakespearean tragedy, it is also just a mere quality of an archetype. Hamlet quite literally lives in a world of archetypes. King Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, portrays the king archetype, asserting himself as the man in power throughout the play. Queen Gertrude represents the archetype of the mother, and the ghost of Hamlet portrays the ghost archetype. While the list of archetypes in Hamlet can be thoroughly expanded to relate one to each relevant character undoubtedly, the most important character in the play is Hamlet. Hamlet's personality consists of a tragic flaw that destinies his fate, hamartia, and a point in which there is no return, peripeteia, which occurs in the middle of the play. Hamlet's peripeteia is another representation of Aristotle's tragic hero archetype, but this archetype is not the only one Hamlet's character is built around. With evident influence from Carl Jung's works, Shakespeare embedded his works within Hamlet. Furthermore, Jung's child and trickster qualities are archetypes that Shakespeare has illustrated toward the character of Hamlet alongside Aristotle's tragic hero archetype to create the character of Hamlet for what he is, a character who contains a world of archetypes in his head. Hamlet as a character is illustrated to portray three common literary archetypes; Aristotle's tragic hero archetype and Carl Jung's child and trickster archetypes. It is evident that Hamlet lives in a theoretical world filled with archetypes, but one can argue Hamlet himself represents a world of archetypes.

The tragic hero archetype is featured throughout Shakespeare's works. Created by Greek philosopher Aristotle, the tragic hero is formed by taking the protagonist, in this case, Hamlet, and destining his or her fate to tragedy. To base a character's fate in the direction of tragedy, three literary components must be followed to create a proper tragic hero; hamartia, peripeteia, and catharsis. Hamartia is the element of the tragic flaw. In literature, the tragic flaw can be something the character was born with or a mistake the character makes throughout the story. In Hamlet, Hamlet's hamartia is procrastination. Following the play Hamlet had directed recreating Hamlet Sr's death, Claudius entered into a room to pray for his sins. Mid prayer, Hamlet enters the room and says toward himself, "Now might I do it pat. Now he is a-praying. And now I'll do' t. And so he goes to heaven" (III.iii.74-75). Hamlet then proceeds to draw his sword but then returns it after believing Claudius will go to heaven if he is killed while praying. This exact moment is the tragic flaw that leads in the direction of Hamlet's death. Had Hamlet killed Claudius at that moment, he would not have succumbed to a tragic fate. Furthermore, what is a tragic hero without peripeteia, the single event that leads to the downfall of the tragic hero. Hamlet's peripeteia occurred during the play he directed. In an attempt to prove his uncle's guilt, Hamlet orchestrates a play that dramatized Hamlet Sr's death, whom Claudius had killed. Hamlet created the play to invoke Claudius's reaction, a reaction Hamlet believes would be enough to prove his guilt. "The play's the thing," he declares, "wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king" (II.ii.581–582). In this scene, Hamlet completes his objective but at the cost that Claudius is now aware of Hamlet's knowledge. Following the play, Hamlet is ordered to be sent to England under Claudius's rule with a death order to be followed upon arrival. The final element of a tragic hero is catharsis, which invokes fear and pity after the hero succumbs to his fate. Hamlet's catharsis occurs following his sword fight with Laertes. Fortinbras makes an appearance after the bloodbath that happens in act five, stating, "Let four captains Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage, For he was likely, had he been put on, To have proved most royally. And, for his passage" (V.ii.397-401). This passage symbolizes sympathy for what had wrongfully happened to Hamlet, demonstrating the element of catharsis in Hamlet. To conclude, Hamlet is an accurate representation of Aristotle's tragic hero archetype as his character displays hamartia, peripeteia, and catharsis. 

Carl Jung is a Swiss psychoanalyst who founded and defined many different literary archetypal theories. The trickster is an archetype Jung applies to various literature characters, using these characters to form a definition. Jung compares the trickster to the shaman and the medicine man, claiming he plays "malicious jokes on people, only to fall victim in his turn to the vengeance of those whom he has injured" (Jung, Four Archetypes, 160). To understand the relevance of a trickster within the character of Hamlet, it is necessary to examine his similarities with the characters in which Jung claims to fall under this "trickster" archetype. Hamlet's primary evidence of the trickster archetype is shown during his peripeteia. The play that Hamlet made as a cover to determine his uncle's guilt can be perceived as a crude prank with underlying intentions. Returning to the shaman and the medicine man, Jung identified that malicious jokes caused the perpetrator to fall victim to the ones whom the perpetrator had "pranked." Essentially, Hamlet's play was a malicious joke. Recreating the scene of a death caused by a viewer in the audience in the form of a theatrical play demonstrates the trickster type of abilities that Hamlet possesses. Staying true to Jung's analysis, the trickster will fall victim to those he has injured. Applied to Hamlet, this is factual. Immediately following the play, Claudius orders Hamlet to be sent to England, saying to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, "I your commission will forthwith dispatch, And he to England shall along with you" (III.iii.3-4). Further on, Claudius intends to have Hamlet put to death upon arrival. While this attempt was unsuccessful, Hamlet eventually succumbed to his death at the hands of Claudius while in an altercation with Larates, thus connecting the character of Hamlet to an example of a trickster, proving the presence of Jung's trickster archetype in Hamlet's character. 

Carl Jung's works are also present within another archetype Hamlet possesses, the child archetype. The child archetype can be applied to the whole human race. Every person on this planet either is or was a child at one point in their lives. Jung describes the child in a way where he claims "the "child" is endowed with superior powers and, despite all dangers, will unexpectedly pull through" (Jung, Collected Works of C.G Jung, 170). Analyzing Hamlet's character, he is a child with a goal. Hamlet's goal is to take down Claudius; however, he is just a child, commonly referred to as "young Hamlet" in Hamlet. According to Jung, despite the dangers, the child will pull through. The danger Hamlet faces is ultimately death. Once Claudius was aware of Hamlet's knowledge, Claudius deemed him dangerous and started the effort to kill Hamlet. Returning to Jung, the child will pull through. In Hamlet's case, while Claudius had, unfortunately, killed him, Hamlet himself was responsible for the death of Claudius and has successfully avenged his father. Hamlet killed Claudius by forcing him to drink a poisoned drink, saying, "Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? Follow my mother" (V.ii.322-323). This occurred after Gertrude fell victim to one of Claudius's poisoned drinks, accidentally ingesting the poison. Hamlet successfully kills Claudius, and the child has pulled through despite the dangers. This shows how Hamlet is a representation of Carl Jung's child archetype.

In conclusion, Hamlet depicts three archetypes; Aristotle's tragic hero archetype, Jung's trickster archetype, and Jung's child archetype. Hamlet accurately displays a tragic hero's qualities by evidently showing hamartia, peripeteia, and catharsis. Hamlet further possesses a trickster's traits, as seen by his downfall being caused by the victim of his work. The last archetype Hamlet represents is the child archetype, as young Hamlet is divine and completes his task, that is, taking Claudius down and Avenging his father. Hamlet lives within a world created around literary archetypes, but Hamlet himself contains his own world of archetypes within his head.