An interesting question was asked of me during a Face Book Comic Con forum, “Does Eric Magnus Linshier (Magneto) qualify as a Shakespearean tragic character?”
In all honesty I believe, I began to answer the question too quickly without enough consideration to all the applicable facts. So, why not; in my book I pursued the definition of a Super Villain and those characters that may qualify as such by running them against a model, to test their virtue as such. Hence I intend to do the same here for Magneto, and we will place him against the greatest of all Shakespearean tragic heroes, Hamlet.
I’ll begin with the most obvious of all things that we may use to disqualify Magneto; he is not of royal blood. Hamlet was royalty, so was Romeo, Macbeth, and in the classic Greek tradition this is a “requirement” to be a truly tragic character. Even Willy Lowman (Death of a Salesman) was a prince according to his son. So is Eric royalty, he is after all the leader of many mutants and one of the most powerful, but has he ever been referred to as a prince or king. The answer to my knowledge is a resounding “No” with a possible exception coming from the “House of M” story arch but I would question its place in larger canon. I would also place little faith in the ability of manifested dreams to truly endow someone with royal distinction.
Another requirement for tragic character status is that you have to be “dead”. This means in no uncertain terms as long as Eric is walking around he’s not tragic “yet”, call me for a re-evaluation when he kicks the proverbial bucket.
But all these facts aside what do Hamlet and Eric have in common? Well not a whole lot really. Eric’s character flaw or tragic mistake is his general condemnation of all humans for the sins of a few. This view of humanity leads to a calculated series of confrontations and events that undermine his goals, create a stream of unhappiness in his life.
Hamlet’s tragic end is not because of a conscious hatred of a large number of people, but the desire for revenge against the exact individual who killed his father. Hamlet’s mistake is not one of calculated action but the misfortune of oversight. Accidents that he never meant to occur. The same is true for Romeo in causing the death of Marcutio and Tibelt, which eventually leads to his tragic death.
We don’t pity Magneto, we empathize with him. On the other hand we pity Hamlet, Willy, and Romeo. This is the hallmark of a tragic character, and why Eric misses the mark.
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