By Shakespeares time, the characteristics of tragedy in drama had been redefined. In the plays of the early Greeks, the tragic hero was a noble man who rose to the heights of success only to be plummeted to defeat and despair by his own tragic flaw, or hamartia. The plot structure in these early tragedies was relatively straightforward; the motive of the dramatist was to elicit pity and terror from the audience through empathy with the tragic hero. What once had been a relatively simple form was gradually altered by playwrights to allow for more depth in characterization, more flexibility in plot structure, and the element of comic relief.
Hamlets situation, for example, is considered a tragic one although it differs from the relatively simple plots found in the earlier Greek tragedies. He is a nobleman, revered by his countrymen, who strives to alter the world around him. Ultimately, he must forfeit his own life to see justice done. The plot that unfolds in Shakespeares drama includes politics, murder, and domestic strife, but still evokes pity and terror in the audience, precisely as intended by the early tragedians.
Students can analyze the elements of tragedy in Hamlet, comparing and contrasting Prince Hamlets plight with that of tragic heroes in Greek tragedies and in modern tragedies. Suggested modern tragedies for such a comparison include Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, and Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene ONeill. The play takes play in Denmark. Young Prince Hamlet has found out that his father Old King Hamlet had been killed by his uncle Claudius, who had taken the throne.
The wraith of his dead father pleads for him to revenge his death most foul. Hamlet under great pressure and stress becomes, or acts insane. He seeks evidence of the truthfulness of his fathers words. When Hamlet indeed finds out that King Claudius was the murderer of his father, he plans insidious ways he could seek revenge for Old King Hamlet. There are many twists and turns in the story, and certainly many deaths. But at last Hamlet does slay Claudius in his last breath. Making the story truly a tragedy.