hamlet knows he’s the hero of a revenge tragedy.
of course he knows he’s the hero of a revenge tragedy; it’s pretty obvious. he knows enough about the theater to identify the genre that best describes his life (and because he’s an overly simplistic teenager, he does describe his life as a story.) he spends the whole play referencing actors and acting, he consciously makes claudius into a villain and himself into the hero— he knows what he’s doing.
he’s playing the part, of course. when he fakes madness, that’s playing the part. when he makes up elaborate plans and schemes, that’s playing the part.
but revenge tragedies are called tragedies for a reason. it’s because at the end, even the hero dies.
hamlet casts himself as a hero doomed to die. hamlet identifies as someone who is going to die. hamlet knows he is going to die from the moment the play begins.
but a revenge tragedy only ends when the revenge has been had; a revenge tragedy only ends when not only the hero but the villain is dead.
it’s the great question of the play: why does it take hamlet so goddamn long to kill his uncle? what is the cause his indecision and inaction? why can’t he just get on with it and stab the man, for god’s sake?
hamlet doesn’t want to die.
hamlet isn’t ready to die. he can see the curve of his destiny approaching, and he doesn’t want it to. he wants to hold off that climax just a little longer, because he doesn’t want to die yet.
at the beginning of the last scene of the play, he’s invited to a duel organized by a man who’s tried to kill him already. hamlet figured out r & g were working for claudius in about five minutes; he knows this is sketchy, for god’s sake. and horatio tells him, horatio begs him, don’t go if there’s something that frightens you. be cautious. be afraid. don’t go, stay with me.
hamlet walks into his death with open eyes, because he is ready to fulfill his destiny, because he is ready to kill his uncle as his father told him, because he is ready to do the last thing the hero of a revenge tragedy will ever do. he knows how this story ends and he chooses this ending. he knows he will die and he chooses to die.
the rest is silence – it’s almost surprised. there’s nothing else. there’s no more to tell.
what do you say to children, once the storybook has been read and put away?
good night, sweet prince. flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
i’ll see you in the morning.
it’s always a strange moment when you see the contents of a critical essay expressed as feels on the internet
I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING