Hamlet, the story of a young prince who seeks to revenge his father’s death by killing his uncle, Claudius, is one of the most favorite and complex Shakespearean tragedies. Hamlet is unsettled by Claudius taking over the throne and his mother’s hasty remarriage but does nothing except verbalize this discontent. Encountering the ghost of his dead father, who tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius, gives reason to Hamlet to seek revenge; however, Hamlet continually postpones his actions and, this being his tragic flaw, leads to his downfall.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the classic example of a tragedy as defined by A. C. Bradley. Bradley says that a Shakespearean tragedy is the story of a hero who encounters significant suffering. The hero, a man of high status and an “exceptional being” who inspires “fear or calamity” in others, often compares himself or his situation to happier times and struggles with an internal dilemma. The tragic hero brings about his own downfall through his actions, or his tragic flaw, and his destruction affects those around him.
Shakespeare also occasionally uses abnormal conditions of the mind, such as insanity, and includes the supernatural, such as ghosts. The supernatural elements are always placed in close relation to the hero and only confirm existing movement. Hamlet’s character is disturbed and unsettled by the recent events in his life. He is encouraged to “cast thy nighted color off” by his mother, Gertrude. He seems to be the only one mourning his father’s death; the rest of the kingdom is celebrating the wedding even though a funeral has passed less than two months ago.
Hamlet slowly crumbles and we wonder if he has truly gone insane or is an extremely successful actor. Hamlet’s first soliloquy shows his discontent with his situation as he pleads, “O God, God, / How weary, stale, flat , and unprofitable/ Seem to me all the uses of this world! ” He no longer finds joy in living and needs to find a way out. His psychological development, or degradation, is traced through his soliloquies, thus allowing the audience to understand Hamlet’s perception of himself. Hamlet even questions the reasons for Rosencrantz’s and Guildenstern’s visit. He admits that he has “of late…
lost all [his] mirth, forgone all custom of exer-/ cises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition/ that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile/ promontory. ” Hamlet knows that he has not been himself lately; he is able to play the sane and insane character amazingly well. The inclusion of a supernatural element here is in line with Bradley’s description of a Shakespearean tragedy. The ghost is Hamlet’s father, therefore is in close relation to the character, and offers insight into the situation. As the ghost comes Hamlet exclaims, Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell Be they intents wicked or charitable, Thou com’st in such a questionable shape (I. iv. 40-44) Hamlet is unsure about the identity of the ghost since he cannot know what is beyond death. He says to Hamlet that “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life/ Now wears his crown. ” Claudius has indeed killed him Hamlet’s father, thereby confirming Hamlet’s suspicions, and demands revenge. Hamlet’s internal dilemma, arising from being forced into a role of avenging his father’s death, must be solved before Hamlet will be able to take action.
His inner turmoil is obvious as he proclaims himself “a rogue and peasant slave” who could not “force his soul so to his own conceit. ” He is unable to carry out revenge. Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Act III also confirms his internal dilemma as he ponders suicide to end his pain. He questions himself asking “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer” or to end life by suicide. He has a plan to test Claudius by asking the players “to play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle. ” He will observe the reaction of Claudius to the plot and then decide his next action.
Hamlet’s internal dilemma, and his capricious state of mind, is further demonstrated during his confrontation with Polonius. He refers to Polonius as a “fishmonger” and seems to be talking nonsense. It can be argued that Hamlet feigns madness here because he is very logically able to deal with the players later when he decides to frame Claudius. Hamlet’s tragic flaw become painfully obvious here as he procrastinates until he is absolutely sure of Claudius’s guilt; it is not enough that the ghost confirmed Claudius’s guilt.
He keeps waiting for some signal that never appears; in this way, Hamlet’s methodical ways only help lead to his downfall. His fatal decision to not kill Claudius in Act III, Scene III because he does not wish to send Claudius to heaven is the climax of the play and ensures Hamlet’s eventual demise. He want to murder Claudius when “he is drunk asleep” or “in th’ incestuous pleasure of his bed” so that “his heels may kick at heaven, / And that his soul may be as damned and black / As hell, whereto it goes.
” Perhaps Hamlet has trouble with just the thought of killing another being and therefore delays in avenging his father’s death. Claudius, because of Hamlet’s inaction, now has the upper hand. After hearing of Polonius’s murder, he realizes Hamlet could have killed him had he been behind the curtain. He makes immediate plans to get rid of Hamlet by sending him to England, where he will be executed; this frees Claudius of any threat represented by Hamlet. This certainly is the first apparent step which leads to Hamlet’s downfall.
Hamlet continues to reflect upon his inaction in Act IV where he realizes that “thinking too precisely on th’ event” is “one part wisdom and ever tree parts coward. ” Hamlet sees himself as a coward for not killing Claudius in Act III. Hamlet, however, by a turn of fate, returns to Denmark, where Claudius concocts a final plan to get rid of Hamlet. Hamlet’s death is spurred by a duel, between himself and Laertes, where the sword is poisoned. All characters end up dead as the deceit ends.
Hamlet has reached his end because of his tragic flaw. Hamlet’s irresolution destroys him and he was unable to avenge his father’s death. The tragedy of Hamlet shows how the inability to act and “thinking to precisely on th’ event” can be detrimental to some. Hamlet remains an enigmatic character throughout Hamlet in spite of the reader’s attempts to understand his multidimensional complexion. In this way, Shakespeare makes yet another statement about human condition in this tragic tale of revenge.