In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the death of a character becomes afrequent event. Although many people lose their lives as a result of theirown self-centered wrong-doing, there are others whose deaths are a resultof manipulation from the royalty. This is the case of Polonius’ family.The real tragedy of Hamlet is not that of Hamlet or his family but ofPolonius’ family because their deaths were not the consequence of sinfulactions of their own but rather by their innocent involvement in theschemes of Claudius and Hamlet.
The first character to die in Hamlet is Polonius. Although Poloniusoften acts in a deceitful manner when dealing with Hamlet, it is onlybecause he is carrying out plans devised by the king or queen to discoverthe nature of Hamlet’s madness. Being the king’s Lord Chamberlain, it ishis duty to obey the king and queen’s wishes and it is this loyalty thateventually proves to be fatal for him. An example of how Polonius’innocent involvement with the royalty results in his death can be found atthe beginning of Act III, scene iv, when Hamlet stabs him while he ishiding behind the arras in Gertrude’s room. This shows how Polonius, a manunaware of the true nature of the situation he is in, is killed by a memberof the royalty during the execution of one of their schemes. This makesPolonius’ death a tragedy.The next member of Polonius’ family to die is his daughter Ophelia.
Ophelia’s death is tragic because of her complete innocence in thesituation. Some may argue that Polonius deserves his fate because of hisdeceitfulness in dealing with Hamlet while he is mad, but Ophelia isentirely manipulated and used by Hamlet and the king for their own selfishreasons. An example of how Ophelia is used by Hamlet takes place in ActII, scene i, when Hamlet uses her to convince his family he is mad. Opheliaexplains to Polonius how Hamlet has scared her, causing Polonius to drawthe conclusion that Hamlet has an “antic disposition”.
Although this issubject to interpretation and many believe that this is simply Hamlettaking one last look at Ophelia before he becomes engaged in his plan tokill Claudius, the fact that he scares her and does not try to alleviatethese fears points to the conclusion that he is simply using her to helpword of his madness spread throughout the kingdom via Polonius. In ActIII, scene iv, Hamlet kills Polonius while he is hiding behind the arras inthe Queen’s room. This event causes Ophelia to become insane and leads toher eventual death in a river near the castle in Act IV, scene vii. It canbe seen how the combined scheming of Hamlet and Claudius concludes in herdeath. Claudius’ scheme brings about Hamlet’s scheme which brings aboutthe death of Polonius which leads to Ophelia’s death.
The passing ofOphelia is a tragedy because she does nothing deserving of death, she ismerely used for other people’s personal gain.The last member of Polonius’ family to die is Laertes, Ophelia’sbrother and Polonius’ son. Laertes’ death is tragic because, although hekills Hamlet, he is avenging his father’s death, an act, with reference tothe moral climate of the 1600s, that would have been condoned by the peoplewho saw the play. The difference between Hamlet and Laertes is that Laertesdoes not use others to attain his goals and his revenge is in part due tothe pressure put on him by Claudius. This makes Laertes’ murder of Hamletexcusable and his death a tragedy. An example of how Claudius uses Laertesto try and murder Hamlet is seen in Act IV, scene vii, lines 108 to 110.
Claudius and Laertes are discussing Hamlet when Claudius says:Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or are you like the painting ofa sorrow, A face without a heart?He is asking Laertes whether he is really sorry about his father’s death orif he is just acting mournful without feeling mournful. Claudius usesthese lines to lead Laertes into a plan to kill Hamlet, asking him what hewill do to prove his love for his father in Act IV, scene vii, lines 124 to126.Hamlet comes back; what would you undertake To show yourself in deedyour father’s son More than in words?It can be easily seen how Laertes, influenced