Becoming Hero In William Shakespeare's Hamlet

1509 words - 6 pages

Becoming Hero in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

The hero; the most dominant of archetypes throughout time and culture, is represented in the following description of the basic unit of the monomyth by the mythic scholar Joseph Campbell, “ A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." It is in this light that we moderns as well as our ancestors have given life and formation to our universal struggles. By representing the greater tribe, community, country, etc… each story has within it, a character who leads and who undertakes that primordial journey toward a destination that will ultimately restore vitality or provide that elixir to her people, which is so needed. However complex, our world has brought forth several thousand variations on the hero itself, with as many problems and hopes as a people might have, so too does the heroic character of a culture embody them. Yet, as complicated and nuanced and non-traditional a society’s representative hero might be, the character of Hamlet seems to be the most unique in that more than creating an anti-hero who still provides in some way for his people, albeit in a way that bucks societies’ cultural norms, Shakespeare has created his story around a man who destroys rather than builds and a hero who subverts the archetype so much, that the basic tenants of heroic description must be altered in order to recognize him at all for what he seems to be.

In the traditions of the hero archetype, the journey of the hero follows a path that can be symbolized by the markers of departure, initiation and return. Within these three stages or acts, there are several sub-stages that engage the hero more precisely. It is in these more exacting circumstances that the nature of the hero is exposed for what it is, and forged into what it will become. During the phase Joseph Campbell calls, “Departure." the hero experiences a heraldic call to adventure by some force or character that serves to invite the hero into the story and to begin the task ahead. A willing and gallant hero, traditionally seen in action-adventure stories might readily accept this call outright, accepting its message and stepping outward onto the first leg of her mission. More often though, the hero initiate refuses this invitation, or delays it until they are more prepared: Luke Skywalker avoids his inner call to become a fighter pilot and assist Obi-Wan Kenobi until his aunt and uncle are killed, at which time the call has become a personal one and he undertakes his journey. It is in this reaction then, that the qualities of the character that will become the hero are first glimpsed and tested. By accepting the inner call of the psyche, the hero-to-be shows herself to be ready and connected to that instinct most avoid. To avoid the...

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