The story of Hamlet became known to Renaissance readers through a collection of "tragic histories*," one of many such stories--tragedies in the medieval sense--telling of the fall of the mighty from good fortune. Yet in the play itself, Hamlet muses in classical terms on the fate of the individual, who can be corrupted by one "vicious mole" in his personality.

Histoires Tragiques (1576) by the French writer François Belleforest.

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Is a simple fall from good fortune, or a single "fatal flaw," enough to explain Hamlet's death, or our feelings as he dies? Shakespeare's heritage of dramatic genre was complex, and included the classical, the medieval moral tale or romance, the moralities and mystery plays, and a flourishing native tradition. Is there one particular tradition that Shakespeare adopts from earlier models?

Footnotes

  1. Tragic Histories

    Histoires Tragiques (1576) by the French writer François Belleforest.