Willy Loman and Hamlet, two characters so alike, though different.
Both are perfect examples of tragedy in literature, though for separate
reasons and by distinct methods. The definition of a tragedy, in a
nutshell, states that for a character to be considered tragic, he/she must
be of high moral estate, fall to a level of catastrophe, induce sympathy
and horror in the audience, and usually die, and in doing so, re-establish
order in the society. Hamlet follows this to a “T”. Death of a Salesman
does not fall within these set guidelines but is still considered tragic
for reasons, though different, somewhat parallel those of Hamlet’s.
Hamlet, a rich young price of high moral estate suddenly has his
joyous life ripped away from him when his father, Hamlet Sr., suddenly
passes away. Though originally thought to be of natural causes, it is
later revealed to him through his father’s ghost, that dear old dad was
murdered by his Step-Father, and also his Uncle, Claudius. Vowing revenge
upon his Uncle/Dad, Hamlet begins to mentally falter and eventually, is in
such a wild rage that he accidentally kills Polonious believing him to be
his father. Hilarity ensues.
Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest, commits suicide/dies (that’s up
for debate elsewhere) after going slightly mad from the impact of her
father’s death, then Laertes, Polonius’ son, arrives on the scene enraged
and ready to kill Hamlet for what he’s done, and just when you thought
things couldn’t get any worse, unbeknownst to Hamlet, Claudius has been
plotting to kill him. Talk about your bad days.
A duel takes place between Hamlet and Laertes where Laertes, using
a poison-tipped sword, cuts Hamlet, thus giving way for his impending
death. Hamlet eventually gets hold of the sword and kills Laertes, then
kills King Claudius. Just as the play ends, Hamlet takes his last breath
of air, appoints Fortinbras Jr. as the new King of Denmark, and dies.
In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, a salesman who believed
himself to be a powerful man, has his life unravel before him as he loses
his job, his sanity and the respect of those around him. Many years before,
Willy had an affair. This “dirtied” his appearance to his son Biff, though
his wife never found out. Biff later went on to become a drifter of sorts,
dabbling in one low-paying profession after another until finally settling
on a farm.
After Willy was fired, for being too old, too inept or both,
supposedly, Willy pretends he’s still working and doesn’t let his wife in
on the bad news. Too stubborn to accept a job from his next-door neighbour,
Willy is forced to lie to his family.
Through visions of his older brother Ben, coupled with the
degradation of his mind, Willy eventually commits suicide to ensure his son
Biff’s career through the Life Insurance policy. Willy dies an empty,
Hamlet and Willy are both considered tragic. The Classical
Tragedy’s definition was tweaked with to make it a more general encompassor.
A common man’s injured sense of dignity, coupled with forces beyond his
control and/or ability to comprehend, displace him from his perceived place,
causing the audience to recognize such and prepare itself for the
inevitable finale in which the hopelessness and defeat are more poignant
than the actual death.
Willy and Hamlet both fell from grace, both commited morally
bankrupt acts and evetually died, giving way to a re-establishment of order.
Tragic men, for different reasons, bound together through their demeanor
and their deaths.