Hamlet: Character Analysis
Thesis: Hamlet’s character flaws of thinking too much, being run by his emotions and being a very moral person all have a heavy influence on the tragic development of the play
Hamlet is one of the plays written by William Shakespeare that has been regarded as one of the best examples of tragedies. In a number of tragedies, the hero often suffers and even dies at the end of the play. In the play, Hamlet is the character who plays the role of a tragic hero who experiences a downfall because of the tragic flaw of his personality. His tragic flaw accrues from his inability to respond to issues and specifically, in the vengeance of the death of his father. The ghost of his dead father appeared to him and gave the responsibility of avenging his most foul murder. Hamlet accepts to take up the challenge. Generally, the tragedy in the play ‘Hamlet’ displays immense tragedy mainly because the tragedy could have been avoided on several occasions.
Hamlet’s Character Flaws
Hamlet has several opportunities in the play to murder Claudius; however, he does not utilize these opportunities. While at the beginning of the play, Hamlet is willing to take up the challenge of avenging his father’s death, we find that he does not fulfill that promise. Apparently, as the play progresses, we find that; Hamlet experiences difficulties fulfilling the promise of avenging his father’s death. In particular, he finds it difficult to undertake a murderous task. Due to the difficulties he experienced in murdering Claudius, he decided to act as though he was crazy. This causes Claudius to send Hamlet to England (Evans 86). Evidently, in this instance; Hamlet depicted procrastination.
In addition, Hamlet does not avenge his father’s death as he had promised and uses delaying tactics to avoid killing the murder of his father. This was apparent when he devised a scene dabbed ‘mousetrap- scene’. In this scene, the troupe actors were instructed to play a scene that is similar to the act where Claudius murdered King Hamlet his brother.
Hamlet himself accepts that he is not responding to issues as he should. In Act 2, Scene 2, (p.128), Hamlet says, “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I”. This shows that he is not doing anything instead; he is taking too much time thinking about what he should do rather than doing it. He also thwarted with Fortinbras to depict that he was involved in more thinking and less action.
There are a number of opportunities that were available for Hamlet to kill Claudius but his thinking preoccupied him until the opportunities slipped- off of his fingers. For example; in Act 3, Scene 1 to 4, Hamlet is busy thinking but not acting i.e. “… to be or not to be”. Largely, he thought of to or not to; e.g. love Ophelia or not to, to agonize on how to kill his uncle or to murder him immediately, to offer protection to his mother or to reprimand her (in Act 3, scene 1, p.142) The other example of too much thinking instead of acting is when he found Claudius praying. Rather than killing him and fulfilling his promise, he started thinking and told himself that he did not want to send him to heaven. Hamlet sought to undertake an ideal murder but then this was the cause of his tragedy because; he did not do what his mind thought.
By and large, hamlet lacked the ability to act in response to the murder of his father hence he was not able to avenge the death of his father and eventually this resulted to him, and several other people dying.
Hamlet as the Tragic Hero
Like every tragic play, Hamlet in this play is the tragic hero. He has good traits but it is only one major flow that causes his tragic end. In the ace of Hamlet, his flaw was in his trait of procrastination. Hamlet is depicted as a brave and courageous character. For example; he travels to England and this exhibits an act of bravery because; he was taking a huge risk. This is due to the reason that, if his plan could not have worked, then he would have faced execution. The other good trait of Hamlet is loyalty. He was very loyal to his father and this is depicted by his anger towards the murderer of his father Claudius and also towards his mother. Hamlet was intelligent. He thought to fake that he was crazy so that he could information about Claudius (Marra, 2009).
Despite the fact that he had these good traits, he had a flaw that led to his tragedy. He could not take a step. For instance; although he was a full-grown adult, he still went to school in England. He dated Ophelia for a long duration of time but he could not take the step of marrying her. The delay led to a tragic end of Ophelia in such that, she ended up committing suicide just because Hamlet did not do what he should have done e.g. proposing marriage to her and marrying her (Evans 87). At the same time, he could not take a step and stop grieving about the death of his father. This is attributed to the reason that he did not want to close that chapter in his life. Even after he eventually accepted the loss of his father, he could not step up and kill the person who murdered his father. Although he was sure that Claudius had killed his father, he continued to pretend that he was crazy instead of avenging his father’s death like he had promised (Marra, 2009).
He thought too much instead of exposing the guilt of his uncle early enough. He postponed exposing Claudius’ murderous act of killing King Hamlet. According to Evans (p.87), Hamlet may have been afraid that Claudius would have killed him if he had exposed him. It can, therefore, be said that Hamlet let emotions rue over rational thinking and consequently his actions.
There are several other occasions in the play where Hamlet’s emotions took control of his rational thinking. In Act 1 scene 2, Hamlet exhibits his “first soliloquy”. Rather than confronting his mother about his feelings in his pursuit of happiness, he just moans and groans. If he had spoken to his, mother and expressed his emotions, he would have addressed the situation and be done with it hence it would not have influenced how he performed activities. Chiefly, Hamlet is emotional in the play and this hinders him from acting rationally resulting in the tragic end of Ophelia and his life as well.
Apart from letting emotions lead to tragedy, he also allowed morals play a big role in his decision making. In Act 3, scene 1 (p.122); he prefers Ophelia going to nunnery than letting her become the ‘breeder of sinners’. This is an indication that he has a sense of wrong and right and due to the high level of moral standards that he had, he preferred protecting Ophelia from the world of sin by encouraging her to be a nun.
The other effect of his moral traits is that it caused him to think twice before deciding on killing his uncle. He wanted to be sure that his uncle Claudius was the one who killed his father first before avenging his father’s death. The morals of Hamlet are what triggered Hamlet to be certain about Claudius being the actual murderer of his father before taking any action against him. He believed that he should not kill a man if he was moral (Marra, 2009). In Act 2, Scene 2 (p.558), it is noted, “Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” In this scene, Hamlet’s morals are guiding him on how he should act in response to his thoughts regarding the murderer of his father.
Conclusively, Hamlet has played the role of a tragic hero in the play. Like all the other tragic heroes in the plays by William Shakespeare. Hamlet had good traits but the flaws in his character caused his tragedy. In most plays, pride is the flaw that causes tragedy to the hero, however, for Hamlet, his flaw was procrastination. He could not step up and move on or handle issues on time. He had the free will of killing the murder of his father, Claudius, but he could not do it. He postponed the vengeance of his father’s death by pretending to be insane and engaging in other activities e.g. devising a scene in a play that illustrated how his father was murdered. In all these acts, Hamlet lost the chance to avenge his father’s death and eventually, he was killed before he could accomplish the promise he made to his father.
Evans, Scott. Tragic Flows. New York: Xlibris Corporation, 2008
Marra, Dana. Hamlet’s Ambition and Tragic Indecision. 2010. Accessed September 13, 2011, from, http://www.ayjw.org
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare. Published by Hayes Barton Press