Harry Potter: The New Hamlet
May 14, 2008
The British newspaper The Daily Mail recently reported that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is now required reading for A-level English students, noting with a hint of horror that Harry “has taken his place alongside such greats of English literature as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.”
Literary snobbishness (ahem, Arts Board) aside, curricular progress, to many a modern student, means not just reading with which they can identify, but ways to make sure they don’t ever have to actually do said reading.
The exam will ask students to compare Harry Potter with another literary work, so FM decided to give English students a helping hand and prove that Harry stands alongside Hamlet as an integral part of the English canon.
Here’s a few helpful comparisons and contrasts to use while constructing the five-paragraph, thesis-driven, piece of lit-crit:
1) Both of these tragic heroes lose parents at a young age at the hands of antagonists striving to gain power. When Hamlet/Harry discovers the truth behind the death of his father/parents, he sets out to avenge his loved one(s); in one case, because a ghost tells him to; in the other, to save the wizarding world.
2) Both stories include elements of the supernatural, such as communicating with the dead, magic mirrors that can show the “inmost part” of someone or “the deepest, most desperate desire of [their] hearts,” and werewolves.
3) Both stories take place in Europe, though Harry is English and Hamlet is Danish. It’s also worth noting that Harry is entirely orphaned at the beginning of his book, while Hamlet loses only his father. Oh, and Hamlet can’t do magic.
4) The two stories also end on similar notes: just as Hamlet finishes with a pile of bodies left onstage, the final chapter of the Harry Potter anthology comes to a close over stacks of corpses killed in the Final Battle. Only, Harry Potter has an upbeat epilogue—the end of Hamlet is a bit of a downer.