Hamlet as a Tragic Hero
William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright of the English language,
wrote a total of 37 plays in his lifetime, all of which can be categorized under
tragedy, comedy, or history. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Shakespeare's most popular
and greatest tragedy, displays his genius as a playwright, as literary critics
and academic commentators have found an unusual number of themes and literary
techniques present in Hamlet
. Hamlet concerns the murder of the king of Denmark
and the murdered king's son's quest for revenge. Its main character, Hamlet,
possesses a tragic flaw which obstructs his desire for revenge and ultimately
brings about his death. This tragic flaw makes him a tragic hero
, a character
who is destroyed because of a major weakness, as his death at the end could
possibly have been avoided were it not for his tragic flaw. Hamlet's flaw of
irresolution, the uncertainty on how to act or proceed, is shown when Hamlet
sees a play and the passion the actors had, after Hamlet's third soliloquy, in
Hamlet's fourth soliloquy, and in Hamlet's indecisive pursuit in avenging his
First, Hamlet's flaw of irresolution is shown when he sees a play and
the passion one particular actor had. A group of players has arrived and Hamlet
arranges a personal viewing of The Murder of Gonzago with a small portion of his
own lines inserted. Hamlet then observes one portion of the play in which one
of the players put on a great display of emotion. Hamlet, besieged by guilt and
self-contempt, remarks in his second soliloquy of Hamlet of the emotion this
player showed despite the fact that the player had nothing to be emotional about.
Hamlet observed that he himself had all the reason in the world to react with
great emotion and sorrow, yet he failed to show any that could compare with the
act of the player. Hamlet calls himself a "rogue and peasant slave" and a "dull
and muddy-mettled rascal" who, like a "John-a-dreams", can take no action.
Hamlet continues his fiery speech by degrading himself and resoluting to take
some sort of action to revenge his father's death.
Next, Hamlet's flaw of irresolution is shown after his third soliloquy, the
famed "To be or not to be…" lines. Hamlet directly identifies his own tragic
flaw, remarking of his own inability to act. Hamlet, unsure whether or not the
his uncle Claudius was responsible for his father's murder, schemes to have The
Murder of Gonzago presented to the royal court, with a few minor changes, so its
contents would closely resemble the circumstances behind the murder. Reflecting
on his own guilt, he talks of death, referring to it as the undiscovered country,
and then continues by riddling his own feelings. He declares "conscience does
make cowards of us all" and that the natural ruddy complexion of one intent, or
resolute, on an action is "sicklied" over with the "pale cast of thought". This
makes an individual second guess his own actions and often times take no action
at all, due to his own irresolution. These statements not only applied to what
had occurred up to that point but also foreshadowed what was to occur.
Next, Hamlet's flaw of irresolution is shown during his fourth soliloquy.
Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, and his army have passed by Hamlet and his
escorts. Hamlet sees the action Fortinbras was taking in fighting and then
examines Fortinbras's efforts and bravery in an attempt to rekindle his own
desire for revenge against Claudius for his father's death. Hamlet remarks how
everything around him attempts to "spur my dull revenge", yet he takes no action.
He notices how he thinks "too precisely on an event" and that he has "cause,
and will, and strength, and means" to get revenge and how the evidence pointing
to Claudius as his father's killer is as evident as earth itself. Hamlet
finally decides "my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!" He has finally
decided he must take action against Claudius in some form or fashion.
Last, Hamlet's indecisive pursuit in avenging his father's death is shown
as evidence of his tragic flaw. Hamlet encounters numerous opportunities to
kill Claudius, yet he always comes up with some excuse preventing action. After
first hearing of the crime from his father's ghost, Hamlet immediately sets out
to take action. Hamlet then began to think that perhaps his father's ghost was
conjured by the devil in an attempt to make Hamlet become irrational and kill
Claudius, who might happen to be innocent, which would forever damn his soul.
Hamlet then schemes to determine Claudius's guilt through the play. Claudius
views the play and becomes very uncomfortable with the situation to the point of
stopping the play and leaving. This confirms Claudius's guilt to Hamlet, and
Hamlet again sets out to avenge his father's death. Hamlet then catches
Claudius in prayer, a rare time he will find Claudius alone. Hamlet, again,
begins to think how Claudius will have had his sins forgiven and that he wants
to damn Claudius's soul. Hamlet resolves to wait and kill Claudius at another
time. Claudius, through all of this, realizes Hamlet knows of his crime and
plots to have Hamlet killed by first sending him to England and then having him
murdered. Hamlet escapes this ploy and Claudius plots again to have Hamlet
killed in a fencing match. At the fencing match, Hamlet is wounded by a
poisoned strike with the foil. Hamlet, in a dying act, kills Claudius by making
him drink poison. Hamlet's flaw of irresolution essentially destroyed him, as
his failure to act in previous situations led to his own death.
Hamlet's irresolution is obvious in his actions after viewing the emotion
of the actors, after his third soliloquy, in his fourth soliloquy, and in his
indecisive pursuit of revenge for his father's death. Hamlet was able to avenge
his father's death, but his own death due to his irresolution labels him as a
tragic hero. The Tragedy of Hamlet
masterfully shows how the inability to act,
however noble the intentions, can be detrimental to character.