In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the death of a character is a frequent occurrence. Although many people lose their lives as a result of their own self-centered wrong-doing, there are others whose deaths are aided by manipulation from the royalty. This is the case with
Polonius' family. Tragedy means a downfall; a person usually begins high and ends low. The real tragedy of Hamlet that most seem to miss, is that of
In the beginning Polonius's family was alive and a family. Then they became involved in schemes of Claudius and Hamlet and these actions of their own and the royalty resulted in their downfall, which was death. The first character to die in Hamlet is
Polonius. Although Polonius often acts in a deceitful manner when dealing with Hamlet, it is only because he is carrying out plans devised by the King or Queen to discover the nature of Hamlet's madness. The King is trying to decide whether to send Hamlet to England or not when he says to
Polonius, "It shall be so: Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go."(1002) Being the King's Lord Chamberlain, it is his duty to obey the King and queen's wishes and it is this loyalty that eventually proves to be fatal for him. Polonius says to King, "And, as you said, and wisely was it said, Tis meet that some more audience than a mother." (1011) The King thinks Hamlet is mad and wants to send him to England but
Polonius' wants to make sure so he tells the King he will hide in the queen's room to see what happens when Hamlet confronts her. His involvement in this scheme is to help himself look good in the King's eyes,
as well as to help the King find out if Hamlet is truly mad. The King is the one who created the problem in the first place by killing Hamlet's father. His involvement in this scheme with the royalty results in his death when Hamlet stabs him while he is hiding behind the arras in Gertrude's room. This shows how
Polonius, a man trying to better himself in the King's eyes, is unaware of the true nature of
his situation. If he had known that the King had killed Hamlet's father, then he would
have consciously been able to make a decision on whether he wanted to spy on Hamlet. He is killed by a member of the royalty during the execution of one of their schemes. This makes
Polonius' 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 the situation. Ophelia says to Polonius after her encounter with Hamlet, " He took me by the wrist and held me hard; Then goes he to the length of all his arm; And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow, He falls to such perusal of my face."(983) Hamlet does this to Ophelia only to make her think he is mad. This way if she thinks he is mad, then she tell his family what happen and they will think he is truly mad. Ophelia explains to Polonius how Hamlet has scared her, causing Polonius to draw the conclusion that Hamlet is truly "mad". The fact that he scares her and does not try to alleviate these fears
means that he is simply using her to help spread word of his madness throughout the kingdom via
Polonius. In Act III, scene IV, Hamlet kills Polonius while he is hiding behind the arras in the Queen's room. This event causes Ophelia to become insane and leads to her eventual death in a river in Act IV, scene VII. It can be seen how the combined scheming of Hamlet and Claudius concludes in her death. Claudius' killing of Hamlet's father brings about Hamlet's scheme to make people think he is mad which brings about the death of Polonius which leads to Ophelia's death.
The passing of Ophelia is a tragedy because she does nothing deserving of death, she is merely used by other people for their personal gain. It can be said that she did not need to remain in that situation with Hamlet being abusive to her and could have chosen to left but in that time period I think it was very unlikely. Plus the fact that a person she loved kills her father it can been seen why she might want to commit suicide. The last member of
Polonius' family to die is Laertes, Ophelia's brother and Polonius' son.
Laertes' death is tragic because, although he kills Hamlet, he is avenging his father's death. The difference between Hamlet and Laertes is that Laertes does not use others to attain his goals and his revenge is in part due to the pressure put on him by Claudius. This makes
Laertes' murder of Hamlet excusable and his death a tragedy.
An example of how Claudius uses Laertes to try and murder Hamlet can be seen when the Claudius says:
"Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or are you like the painting of a sorrow, A face without a heart?" (1033) Claudius says this to Laertes so that he can manipulate him into a plan to kill Hamlet. Claudius then assures himself that Laertes will kill Hamlet when he asks him, "Hamlet comes back: what would you undertake, To show yourself your father's son in deed More than in words?" (1034) Laertes replies, "To cut his throat I'
th' church."(1034) It can be easily seen how Laertes in the heat of his anger, influenced by Claudius, could conspire to murder Hamlet and it is in this attempt that Laertes loses his own life to the very poison he kills Hamlet with. Once again, a member of
Polonius' family loses his/her life as a result of a conflict between Hamlet and the King, making
Laertes' death a tragedy as well.
Contrary to popular belief, the tragedy associated with Hamlet is not just about Hamlet or his family. It is, also, about the tragic fate of
Polonius' family, whose deaths are the result of trying to better themselves in the eyes of the King.
Unfortunately they are unaware that they are being manipulated by Hamlet and Claudius.
This family goes from being a family to losing all of their lives for a scheme
in which they participated but were not the main benefactors. The death of
Polonius' family stands out as being the most tragic.