Shakespeare's tragic family, sacrificers and victims from Cain to Hamlet

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Woolff, Nicola
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The "tragic family", like its counter-part tragic hero, suffers from a fatal flaw--a pre-disposition toward violence. In Hamlet, the two tragic families inevitably collapse because they cannot resist their "inner violence", and thus, turn to sacrificial rituals in an effort to maintain or restore order. As such, the play becomes as much about a tragic family as it is about a tragic hero. Shakespeare emphasizes the sacrifice or sacrificial scapegoating in the play by using biblical references to connect the past to the present. This thesis traces these biblical references back to Genesis and the Book of Judges, particularly focusing on the Cain and Abel parable and the story of Jephthah's daughter. By recalling the bible, Shakespeare emphasizes the first death in Judeo-Christian history--a death which also happens to be a violent murder. Looking closely at the biblical families we see that along with a deterioration of behaviour came a tolerance for violence and a manipulation of rituals to provide outlets for such violence. Over time, we have learned to replace this violence and practice of sacrificial rituals with more humane and acceptable rituals. Shakespeare's tragic families, however, fail to resist their own violent instincts and finally destroy themselves. The only survivor in the play is Horatio who has no family to corrupt or sacrifice him. As such, Horatio remains a respected and trusted friend to both Hamlet and the audience.