To kill, or not to kill.. That is sort of the summary of Hamlet.. or The Half Blood Prince. Oh yeah, this is another post on Harry Potter and its resemblance to a more canonical work. This time, I take on William Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedy Hamlet.
As you may expect, I will not be writing about how Harry is like Hamlet; trying to avenge his murdered parents. No sir! This is about Draco Malfoy and the situation he was put in in the sixth book of the series. However, mind you, I will not be glorifying him nor justify his actions but merely comment on his terrible year.
Draco Malfoy was forced to join the Death Eaters simply because his father, who was in charge of retrieving the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries failed against bunch of teenagers. He was given this task of killing the greatest wizard of all times as a punishment to his whole family, to rectify his father’s mistakes-he was not supposed to succeed though, but that’s another story. You can guess now where I am going with this. Both Hamlet and Draco were forced into situations where they swore to avenge their fathers. Hamlet was quick to give his word to the ghost of his late father, but not so quick to act when he needed to, while Draco had no choice to take on the task set for him, quick to act but not really knowing what he was doing. When “my father will hear about this” card was taken away from Draco by Azkaban, he ended up being a scared, confused child who tried to do things way bigger than him. In his haste to complete the task, he put various people’s life in danger; as a consequence Katie Bell, Madam Rosmerta and Ron suffered. This also applies to Hamlet. Poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were sent to their deaths and Polonius was killed by Hamlet, albeit unintentionally. Both of these characters lack a stable father figure in their lives and without any guidance they struggle to keep going and continue making mistakes.
While we were discussing Hamlet in class, my professor told us that Hamlet was a true intellectual, though he was ambitious and wanted the throne as well, and because of that the scheduled murder of his uncle bothered him. Had he been a chivalrous prince, he would have slain the king, taken the throne and ruled over his subjects and probably not ended up dying. Hence, the whole play is the gap between the moment Hamlet agrees to kill his uncle and he actually does. He struggles to close this gap; he is stuck between acting and not acting. And when he acts eventually, it was initiated by forces out of his control. This applies to Draco as well. When he choses to use the cursed necklace and the mead, he cannot control the outcome, although he does not intend to Ron gets poisoned and Katie gets cursed instead of Dumbledore. It is clear that his heart is not in it, yet he is under immense pressure, causing him to break down in front of Moaning Myrtle. He wants to do well, so that Voldemort does not kill him and his parents and he blames Dumbledore and Harry for the downfall of his father. Such a teenage angst he’s got going in this book. What I like about Draco here is that, up until this book he has been such a privileged pain in Harry’s ass, throwing racial slurs at people and bullying Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs left and right, but now he has shouldered responsibility for the first time and he has changed because of that. No more taunting Ron and being mean to Hermione, rather he focuses on saving his family. That is the only redeeming quality about the Malfoys: they love one another so much so that a teenager accepts to kill a man, and a mother lies to the darkest wizard of all times. And still, Draco cannot kill Dumbledore after he disarms him. The love for his family and the desire to prove himself to the Dark Lord so that his father’s misdeeds would be forgiven are not enough to turn him into a killer. Like Hamlet. No matter how the throne does not belong to the king and how his uncle betrayed his father, both through regicide and fratricide which are regarded almost as holy, Hamlet cannot find in himself to kill his uncle but to defer the ultimate encounter.
When the dreaded encounter comes for Draco, Dumbledore is calm and welcoming, like the third brother from Beetle the Bard’s tales. He has accepted his death long ago, but he tries to save Draco’s soul from ripping apart and fragmenting just because Voldemort wanted him and specifically his father to suffer. He tries to reason with Draco, to make him see that there is a way out. When he says “Draco, Draco, you are not a killer” Draco does not object to that. He answers with “How do you know?” He also knows that he is not a killer, be it from his cowardice or good heart. Dumbledore continues to emphasise this. “I am more defenceless than you can have dreamed of finding me, and still you have not acted…” That single sentence reminded me of Hamlet on its own and made me think of the situation Draco’s in. Yes, Draco cannot act until he must act. Had he been a more vicious person who really wants to join Voldemort he would have tortured or even killed Dumbledore. But Draco does not want that. After seeing Voldemort’s way of punishing his most loyal servants, aka his father, and living with him in the same house gave him a new perspective on things. Hence he does not really identify the trio when they are brought to the Manor by the snatches. He wants nothing to do with the man who forced him into his breakdown and punished his father with the worst thing he can do: by taking away his wand, both emasculating and muggling Lucius. With Half Blood Prince, Draco realises that what he thought he wanted to be did not really correspond to the image in his head.
Although what he has done cannot be excused, it is good to know that Draco realises that there is something rotten in the state of Voldemort’s reign. He could have acted against him, but he is a Slytherin and a Slytherin always thinks of his advantage first. He was in a limbo in term of acting, like late Hamlet, but he was also in limbo in terms of ideology. He thought purebloods to be above everyone, yet he found out that it was not the case. So he almost stayed neuter in the war; he only meddled when he thought that he could save his family.
Hamlet and Draco were both forced into fates that they did not really want by their fathers. Hamlet could not prevail, nor did Draco. While Hamlet paid the price with his life for audience’s sake, Draco’s image of his father and what he had been teaching him as the ultimate truth had been shaken and challenged, and that changed and broke Draco. In that way, he is the tragic hero of the sixth book, our very own Hamlet; the prince of Slytherin.