Death Note: Shakespearean Tragedy?

Hello!  I was out in Milwaukee on Sunday.  Had fun hanging out with my Grandma.  We played two rounds of Scrabble.  I won both for once!  It was nice.  We also visited my Great Aunt who is in the hospital.  She’s doing better than she has the past few days.  I’m glad.

I appear to have some sort of cold/cough thing.  It is obnoxious.  At least I can still sleep, though.  I would be more irritated if I wasn’t able to sleep.  Hopefully this will pass in the next couple days.

I’m also looking for a job in town that will make me feel a little more financially secure.  The transcription job is great when you don’t think about how much you’re actually making.  $25/audio hour sounds amazing at first.  Until you realize that it takes at least two times the length of the file to complete the typing.  And then you have to listen to it.  This breaks it down to $8.30/hour.  If you can complete the typing in twice the length of the file – often times it takes closer to three or four times.  So now you’re making under minimum wage!  Yay!  In short, I’m looking for another job, just part-time even, to get me money.  That way I don’t have to worry about money so much.

Also!  National Poetry Writing Month!  (NaPoWriMo) started today!  I will post later with my poem.  Hopefully.

Death Note

Death Note started coming out quite awhile ago.  I remember hearing about it while I was in high school.  I didn’t start reading it until my freshman year of college.  Death Note follows the story of a prep school student by the name of Light Yagami finds a Death Note on the ground outside of his school. Upon reading inside the notebook and discovering that it allows a person to kill another person with only the knowledge of their name and face, Light decides to try it out and confirm the notebook’s powers.  ****This blog contains spoilers for Death Note**** Once he does this, the true owner of the Death Note, Ryuk, a shinigami, or rather, death god, appears to Light and scares him half to death. After realizing that it does, indeed, kill people, he takes it upon himself to rid the world of evil and become the new world’s God. His decision to use the Death Note in that manner eventually leads to him being found out and his eventual demise.

Shakespearian Tragedies

I’ll try to keep this shorter than my original paper on this subject.  Shakespearean tragedies have some pretty specific points.  We’ll start with the obvious of a tragic hero.  The tragic hero is the main character of the tragedy.  He is an exalted person in the society, or is respected.  The tragic hero possesses a tragic flaw.  The tragic flaw is what brings about the actions of the story, it is a limitation or weakness in the character.  It causes the fall of the tragic hero.  In MacBeth it was his action, in Hamlet it was his inaction, in Othello it was his jealousy.  Just to give a few examples.  There is a tragic error – an act that is committed against the laws of nature which needs to be corrected.  At the end of the play there is a catastrophe, which initiates the denouement, or falling action, of the play.  The audience goes through catharsis – feelings of pity and fear at the end.

So how does Death Note fall into that criteria?

Lets take a look at Light Yagami.  He is  a very intelligent high school student.  He has scored high on his practice college entrance exams.  While he isn’t the usual tragic hero, he still fits the bill.  In a high school setting, he is very respected.  As the story progresses, he gets more respect by working on the Kira case with L. Throughout the series he gains more and more respect which, in turn, sets up his fall.

Light has several traits that could be considered his tragic flaw because they all lead towards his fall.  One is his ambition to become the God of his new world.  His desire to become a God leads him to using the Death Note, which leads to L figuring out that whoever is killing everyone is in a specific area of Japan, which leads L to Light.  From there on out, Light has to use more and more convoluted plans to keep his identity safe.  Another trait that could be considered a tragic flaw is his ruthlessness.  At the beginning of the series, Light decides that he would only kill criminals in order to make the world a better place.  Who is he to judge a criminal?  What if they were falsely imprisoned?  What if the charges against them were wrong?  It drives him to worse decisions throughout the series.

Tragic error.  Light’s tragic error is probably making the decision to kill criminals via the Death Note.  As I said before,what gives him the authority to do so?  Why is his judgment so much better when in reality, he is just a teenager?

Catharsis.  I suppose this would be more of a personal thing than completely expected.  But I felt pity at the end of Death Note.  Light was a kid who really could have gone far in the world, yet he chose to try and ‘make a new world’.  I definitely went through catharsis at the end.


There are other points that make a stronger case for a Shakespearean tragedy, but I think I’ve made my case strong enough.  I would be in danger of rambling all day if I continue with my points.

Thanks for reading!


Anyone else think Death Note falls into the category of Shakespearean tragedy?  What about any other anime?  Let me know what you think!

Image found on Google Image Search.


7 thoughts on “Death Note: Shakespearean Tragedy?

  1. I really think there is something in this. I sort of had a brain wave today over comparing anime conventions and elements to plays and even novels, probably from watching and reading about Code Geass.

    I don’t believe it is just shakespeare because if we look back to the ancient Greeks, they believed in the idea of committing hubris or self-arrogance (a convention Shakespeare did use), which Light certainly does, by calling himself a god. Im going to keep looking for these patterns and parralells, but thanks for the insights here!

    • Thanks for reading!

      I’ve started to notice the pattern more and more often. Not just in anime, either. It can be applied in movies as well, some TV shows too!

      I went with Shakespeare because this is based off of a paper I wrote in college comparing Death Note to Richard III (though I could have used Hamlet, Othello, or Macbeth as well). I ended up concluding that while there were a great deal of similarities between Richard III and Death Note that it really was a tragedy that stood on its own. But I agree that it does go back to Greek tragedies.

      Thanks again!

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