Monday, August 04, 2008

Harry Potter v. Hamlet (again)

I like this comparison of Harry Potter and Hamlet, which basically comes down to "JK Rowling had one of the grandest tragedies ever written shaping up, until she lost her nerve."


Alan K.Farrar said...

Right about the Shakespeare, wrong about the genre!
Potter is in a comedy, not a tragedy - obligatory marriage and children.

Emsworth said...

But that was my point, Alan -- the "comedy" ending of the Harry Potter saga, in which nothing irrevocably bad happens to the main characters, everything is smoothed out, the characters get married to one another, and life returns to normal, doesn't go with the tragedy Rowling had written through six volumes. A work can't be defined as a comedy simply because a "comedy" ending is engrafted onto a tragedy. -- Regards, Emsworth (

Alan K.Farrar said...

But we are talking Shakespearean comedy here - like 'The Merchant of Venice', and 'All's Well that Ends Well' - like 'Measure for Measure' and 'The Tempest'.

Not exactly a belly laugh a minute.

(Unlike Hamlet which IS risible)

Emsworth said...

I agree that the Harry Potter saga resembles the problem comedies like All's Well and Merchant of Venice to the limited extent that the forced-marriage endings of those plays simply don't follow from what has come before. In fact, they tend to be jarring.

But the plots and dynamics of these Shakespearean comedies, if you want to call them that, aren't at all like the main plot of the Harry Potter series. Not only does Rowling's long story have the general characteristics of a tragedy (with a hero aligned against a malign force, etc.), but the authoress actually set out to write a tragedy. You can't seriously argue that the Harry Potter saga has any characteristics of a comedy other than its coda (with the marriages and the kids).

Alan K.Farrar said...

But I can seriously argue it - there is a 'limited' view of what it means to be a Comedy in Shakespearean terms - all those plays were clearly labelled that and any 'problem' was not seen at the time (nor do I have a difficulty with the term either). The marriage ending is certainly one aspect of it but not the only. We did discuss Shakespeare comedy in an earlier thread.

Also the term tragedy being exploited doesn't seem very Shakespearean .. bit too much Classical and over influenced by the academic.

It is not only in the end of the Potter series the 'comedy' label lies - there are countless moments throughout the series.

Emsworth said...

You are quite right -- in suggesting that the Potter saga was a tragedy that Rowling aborted in the final volume, I wasn't using the term "tragedy" in a uniquely Shakespearean sense at all. I cited King Lear, Othello, and Hamlet in my post merely because they're the best-known tragedies in all literature.

Yes, of course I know that Shakespearean comedies have defined characteristics and are different from belly laugh comedies like Caddyshack. But I’d be interested in your thoughts as to which of those Shakespearean comedy characteristics appear in the Potter saga -- and why you feel that they predominate over "tragedy" characteristics.

Anonymous said...

Literature does NOT have to follow a set of guidelines. Just because it was written a certain way does not mean it must end that way! A style of writing similar to that of an earlier work is not abided to have a similar ending, that is the beauty of literature! It is whatever you choose to make of it. An author's work is directly connected to his/her personality, and should not be persecuted because of it.