Do you think Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a problem play or a tragedy? Why?

Updated 28 August, 2023
"Hamlet" is often categorized as a tragedy due to its exploration of the downfall of its central character, Prince Hamlet. The play delves into themes of revenge, betrayal, and existential questioning, leading to a tragic resolution. However, some scholars also consider it a "problem play" due to its complex blend of genres, incorporating elements of tragedy, comedy, and ambiguity. The play's intricate characters and themes give rise to interpretative challenges, contributing to its classification as both a tragedy and a problem play.
Detailed answer:

The classification of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" as either a problem play or a tragedy has been a subject of scholarly debate for centuries, owing to its multifaceted nature and blend of different genres.

"Hamlet" is predominantly categorized as a tragedy due to its exploration of the downfall and death of its central character, Prince Hamlet. The play delves into themes of revenge, betrayal, and existential questioning, ultimately leading to the tragic demise of several characters, including Hamlet himself. The play follows the Aristotelian model of tragedy by presenting a noble protagonist whose tragic flaw leads to their downfall. In Hamlet's case, his indecisiveness and internal conflicts contribute to his tragic fate.

On the other hand, "Hamlet" also exhibits characteristics of a problem play. This genre is defined by its mixture of tragic and comedic elements, as well as its tendency to provoke intellectual and moral debates. "Hamlet" introduces humor through the interactions between characters like Hamlet and the gravediggers, and it also features complex themes such as the nature of madness, the intricacies of human relationships, and the uncertainty of life and death. The play's ambiguous ending, where multiple characters meet their demise, contributes to its classification as a problem play, as it prompts discussions about the moral and philosophical implications of their fates.

For instance, the character of Hamlet himself represents the complexities of a problem play. His wavering between action and inaction, his philosophical soliloquies, and his inner turmoil contribute to the play's intricate and sometimes perplexing nature. Additionally, the play's diverse tones, from moments of tragedy to moments of comedy, further blur the lines between its categorization.

In conclusion, "Hamlet" can be considered both a tragedy and a problem play due to its incorporation of tragic elements and its complex exploration of various themes. The play's multi-dimensional characters, intricate plot, and thought-provoking themes contribute to its classification as both a work of tragedy and a problem play, showcasing Shakespeare's ability to transcend conventional genre boundaries.


  1. 1. Shakespeare, W. (1996). Hamlet. Oxford University Press.
    2. Mullan, J. (2002). Can Hamlet be the problem? The Guardian. Retrieved from
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