Hamlet the Passive Intellect

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The actions and events in Shakespeare’s Hamlet revolve around Hamlet’s inactivity. Without Hamlet's hesitation, constant thought, and internal deliberation, the plot would proceed directly from Hamlet’s meeting with the Ghost to his murder of Claudius. Hamlet’s philosophical strifeheightens the complexity of his life issues and intensifies the depth of his dilemma. Hamlet’s over-intellectualization coupled with his passive tendencies paralyzes his ability to act, locking him in an inescapable prison of his own inner consciousness.  

Hamlet's over-intellectualization begins with his questioning of the ghost's identity. When first told by Horatio that the ghost of his father haunts the battlements, Hamlet interrogates him obsessively to obtain every relevant detail to satisfy his intellectual curiosity. He fires a volley of questions at Horatio, ranging from whether his countenance is “pale or red” to how long it “fixed eyes upon [Horatio]” (1.2.250). His desire to dispel uncertainty and further his knowledge escalates in the physical encounter with the ghost. Rather than accepting his vision for granted, Hamlet examines the validity of his perceptions by debating whether the ghost of “a questionable shape” is “wicked or charitable” (1.4.45-46). Hamlet initially pronounces to the ghost that he will “wipe away all trivial, fond records, all saw of books, all forms, all pressures past, that youth and observation copied there,” declaring his resolution to act (1.4.108). However, when he reconvenes with his friends, he entreats them “never make known what you have seen tonight” (1.5.160). Instead of seeking for an immediate collective action to avenge his father’s “unnatural murder,” he chooses to prolong the process to devise an elaborate scheme within his own mind. He forestalls action—be it his friends’ or his own—to contemplate the implications of his experience. He concludes by cursing the fact that he “was born to set it right”  (1.5.211). The ghost’s...
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