The Wages of the Anti-Hero and the Almost-Hero Part 2

This is the continuation of a post that began here. I highly suggest reading that first.

The next plot point is “meeting the mentor,” and here is where things truly become fascinating. In the Hero’s Journey, the mentor is supposed to be the one who pushes the hero and gives him the resolve to finally do the right thing. In both Hamlet and Macbeth, this is turned on its head. The mentor in Macbeth appears to be Lady Macbeth. But Lady Macbeth doesn’t push Macbeth to do the right thing, though she does give him resolve. She pushed him to do the wrong thing, and therein we see Macbeth inverting the plot structure. Macbeth’s call to action is finally being fulfilled at the urging of his mentor–and the fulfillment of it is dark and evil.

Hamlet is an interesting case, since there doesn’t appear to be a mentor figure, per say. There is an event, however, that fulfills the same purpose as the mentor would, and that is the play that Hamlet puts on. In this play that Hamlet ensures Claudius is watching, someone is murdered in a way similar to how Hamlet imagines Claudius would have killed his father, if he did at all. Claudius reacts with guilt to the play, and Hamlet’s resolve is given to him. The play seems to act the part of the mentor, providing the push necessary for the rest of the plot, and the rest of the Hero’s Journey. For both Hamlet and Macbeth, they have crossed the threshold, which is the next part of the Hero’s Journey, according to Bronzite. They have both committed to their actions, and are now seeking to fulfill their calls. There is no turning back.

At this point the heroes have crossed the threshold, and are now in the thick of the plot. The next part in the archetype is what Bronzite calls “tests, allies, and enemies.” This is what most of us think of when we think of the middle of a story. Hamlet and Macbeth face many obstacles–Macbeth must find a way around the King’s guards, and must throw off any suspicion that he was the murderer. Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius and is sent away to England, making it difficult for him to fulfill his call.

The Hero’s Journey archetype now calls for “the approach to the inmost cave,” in which the hero must finally confront the enemy he has been trying to defeat. For Macbeth, the inmost cave appears to be the final battle, when his castle comes under siege. His perceived call to fulfill the prophecy is reaching its climax–will he remain King? For Hamlet, the inmost cave is slightly easier to pin down. Hamlet returns from England–literally “approaching” the inmost cave–and agrees to fight Laertes. He knows that King Claudius will be there and he has not forgotten his call. It doesn’t appear, based on a first reading of the play, that Hamlet necessarily believes that he will kill Claudius here, but from a bird’s eye view, this scene represents the inmost cave.

Next, the Supreme Ordeal takes place. This is the actual final battle, and it is easily found in both plays. For Hamlet, this is the fight with Laertes, his mother’s death, and his killing of Claudius. For Macbeth, this is the battle for his castle, in which he kills many characters, and survives up until the very end. It’s a brutal ordeal for them both, but they are both fulfilling–or seeking to fulfill–their accepted calls. Hamlet kills his enemies and avenges his father by killing Claudius, but not before he is poisoned himself. Macbeth survives till the end and it appears that the prophecy might come true. But then the structure is truly turned on its head.

Directly after the Supreme Ordeal, the reward, or what Bronzite calls the “seizing of the sword” is supposed to occur. The hero triumphs, his call fulfilled, and obtains his reward. The reward is meant to be triumphant–truly rewarding.

But where the reward should be, what do we find for both our “hero’s?” We find death. Hamlet survives the Supreme Ordeal, taking his revenge and thus fulfilling the call–and his reward is death. Macbeth’s fulfillment of his perceived call ends in his beheading. The reward is death.

There are actually three other parts to the Hero’s Journey, according to Bronzite. “The road back,” the “resurrection,” and the “return with the elixir.” It doesn’t appear that any of these happen in either Hamlet or Macbeth. The Supreme Ordeal leads to the Reward, and the story ends. Why? Because taking the place of the reward is death.

These are, without doubt, chilling endings. It’s fascinating that both of these stories follow the Hero’s Journey, albeit in their own twisted ways, up until this point where everything goes wrong. The hero is supposed to be triumphant, but the anti-hero of Macbeth and the almost-hero of Hamlet are not. What does this tell us? That is almost another paper in itself, but several questions are certainly raised. What happens when one is not the hero? What happens when the call to action is a call to evil? When the Supreme Ordeal is a bloody and brutal moment? Is the reward always death to these types of people?

Hamlet and Macbeth show us two version of the Hero’s Journey, it seems. And I cannot help but ask one question that, to me, overshadows all the others. Especially considering the Bronzite-named “Reward,” one must realize something. Viewed strictly through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, the reward of Hamlet and Macbeth is death. What am I getting at? Both Hamlet and Macbeth do evil in their stories. This leads me to one final question: do the anti-and-almost-Hero’s Journeys of Macbeth and Hamlet reaffirm the Apostle Paul’s words? Are the wages of the almost-hero and the anti-hero death?

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