Why Hamlet Cannot Act
After reading Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, one comes to the conclusion that Prince Hamlet is defined by his indecision. This indecision has a dire consequence, namely the inability to act, which ultimately leads to his death and the deaths of most of the other characters by the play’s end, thus becoming Prince Hamlet’s tragic flaw. Due to his tendency to over think, over analyze, procrastinate, and stagnate in deliberation, the majority of the play focuses not on the actual act of revenge, but on all the delays in the events leading up to it. For instance, at first Hamlet is incensed to kill King Claudius after his father’s ghost informs him of the King’s treachery, but then he comes to doubt the ghost’s integrity and thinks perhaps it is actually an apparition of the Devil. This leads him to concoct an entire plan in which he writes a scene in a play depicting similar treachery and plans for Claudius to watch it in order to gauge his reaction. He has Claudius watched, successfully gets the reaction he wants, yet he still does not kill him when he has the chance, coming up with another rationalization. Every time Hamlet has an opportunity to act, he counteracts it with a doubt or a reason for inaction. He spends too much time planning and not enough time doing. By that time, Claudius, a man of action, becomes suspicious. Hamlet spends too much time thinking of what to do or what not to do, while King Claudius makes a plan and executes it. Because of this, Hamlet and seven others are dead by the end of Act V. But why is it that Hamlet cannot resolve to undertake anything without becoming paralyzed with hesitation? While Prince Hamlet’s flaws, internal conflicts, melancholy, and pretended madness were all contributing factors, his inability to act and his indecisiveness, which ultimately played the key role in his tragic downfall, can both be traced to a combination of internal and external factors.
Some critics argue that Hamlet’s indecision is a result of his character, and that he has a propensity to over analyze because that is simply the way he is. Johann Wolfgang von Goeth supports his assertion that Hamlet’s inability to act indeed stems from his character by pointing to Hamlet’s peculiar response when charged with the task of revenge in scene v of Act I: “The time is out of joint, O cursd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!”
After his father’s ghost visits Hamlet, we do not see a son and a young prince thirsting to avenge his father’s murder and eager to claim his rightful place on the throne. Instead, we see bitterness, sadness and regret. As Goeth so eloquently puts it: In these words, so I believe, lies the key to Hamlet's whole behavior, and it is clear to me what Shakespeare has set out to portray: a heavy deed placed on a soul which is not adequate to cope with it. And it is in this sense that I find the whole play constructed. There is an oak-tree planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom; the roots expand, the jar is shattered. A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast away. (146) Goethe therefore affirms that Hamlet's indecision is a part of his nature, his fabric, his essence. Also note that Goethe does not blame the situation Hamlet is in, but the emotional weakness of his character, which is the cause of his inability to confront and deal with his situation. Additionally, Philip Goldstein also insists that Hamlet’s indecisiveness is a personality trait. Hamlet is a student at Wittenberg University, a thinker, scholar and philosophizer. He loves beauty, reason, honesty, balance, harmony, and thought; however, when he returns home, he is thrust into an environment of murder, lies, greed, stupidity, ignorance, hatred, and chaos. The world is painful, and no longer makes any sense to him. But, due to his...
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