by Peter J. Leithart
In her 1959 study of Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, Lily Campbell treats the four main tragedies of tragedies of passion. Shakespeare places characters of different humor in similar circumstances, and depicts how the characters react. Hamlet is a tragedy of grief, Othello of jealousy, Lear of old-age wrath, Macbeth of fear.
To see how this works in Hamlet, it's necessary to realize that Hamlet is not the only son who has lost a father. Laertes and Fortinbras do as well: “each is called upon to mourn the death of a father, each feeling himself summoned to revenge wrongs suffered by his father. Grief in each for the loss of his father is succeeded by the desire for revenge. But each must act according to the dictates of his own temperament and his own humour (109).
Hamlet and Laertes feed their grief, which enslaves them. Letting their grief run free, they are dominated by it, and their excessive grief feeds fantasies of revenge that end in destruction for both of them.
The survivors of the play - Fortinbras and Horatio - survive because their passions are properly subordinated to reason: