Hamlet's Greatest Flaw

By | January 25, 2019

Hamlet is sometimes referred to as the story of a man who could not make up his mind. Written by William Shakespeare, the play follows a young prince named Hamlet and how he takes revenge upon his uncle for killing his father, the King of Denmark. Throughout the play, Hamlet experiences many mental and emotional challenges, and is very confused about what he should do. Hamlet’s inaction also causes the death of several other innocent people. Furthermore, if Hamlet had acted earlier he may have avoided his own tragic fate. Therefore, Hamlet’s greatest flaw is his inaction.

The first reason why Hamlet’s inaction is his greatest flaw is that it causes him to experience many mental and emotional problems. Over the course of the play, Hamlet is overwhelmed with inner conflict. He faces many challenges and becomes confused and even suicidal. His ambition tells him to kill his uncle, but his conscience questions the possible consequences. Hamlet demonstrates the extent of his grief through the line: “To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Hamlet 3.1.57), as he is contemplating suicide. Being a scholar is one reason behind Hamlet’s delaying action because he is wise enough to question that Claudius did in fact murder his father. As a result, he plans to re-enact his father’s murder in a play while Claudius watches and gauge his reaction to prove his guilt. To further his problems, everyone thinks Hamlet is insane and he has little support including that of his mother. This can be very depressing as the only person who he trusts is Horatio. Horatio is the only person he tells of his intentions as the text states: “there is a play to-night before the king; one scene of it comes near the circumstance which I have told of my father’s death… observe mine uncle: if his occulted guilt do not unkennel in one speech” (Hamlet 3.2.74-80). Hamlet’s delaying of action significantly contributes to several mental challenges that he faces causing him much anguish.

Another way in which inaction is Hamlet’s greatest flaw is that it causes the death of several other people who are innocent to a degree. If Hamlet had acted promptly, many people may not have been killed including his own mother. The list of people who died as a result of Hamlet delaying action includes Gertrude, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern Laertes, and Ophelia. Hamlet has an opportunity near the beginning of the play to kill Claudius while he is praying as the text states: “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven; And so am I revenged” (3.3.74-76). This incident occurs before anyone else is killed in the play. Subsequently, several innocent people meet their death by the doing of Claudius or related causes. One example is when Polonius is hiding behind the curtain and spying on Hamlet and Gertrude. Hamlet believes that it is Claudius and stabs him through the curtain. Therefore if Hamlet had acted when Claudius was praying, than Polonius and everyone else would likely have survived.

The most definitive reason why the inability to act is Hamlet’s greatest flaw is that his death comes as a result. If he had acted at an earlier time he would have likely not been killed. Hamlet had multiple opportunities to kill Claudius; however, his hesitation results in his death. One opportunity is the previous instance in which Claudius was praying. Hamlet also stated: “When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage… Then trip him” (3.3.90-94). Hamlet means that he would kill Claudius when he is sleeping or at another time, however he does not follow through on his word. In the final scene of the play Hamlet is poisoned, but manages to kill Claudius and Laertes before reaching his demise.

Hamlet’s delay of action causes him and multiple others severe harm. He drives himself and Ophelia insane, consequently leading Ophelia to commit suicide. His lack of action also results in the death of several other people who are guilty of nothing, including his mother. Lastly, Hamlet does not act until he is on his deathbed, showing that underneath he is a coward. Evidently, Hamlet’s greatest flaw is his inaction.

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