Hamlet’s Tragic Flaw

Hamlet’s Tragic Flaw

by Jack McHugh


In a story, what makes a character interesting?  Usually it is a character’s flaw that makes them interesting. In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Hamlet has a tragic flaw.  There are many thoughts on what Hamlet’s flaw might be. I have searched for a tragic flaw that can be supported. Hamlet’s flaw is the inability to act.

From the very beginning of the play Hamlet sets out to avenge the murder of his father by killing his own uncle, King Claudius.  He has many chances to act on killing the King, but fails to.  In Act III the King is kneeling down in penance for his murderous act.  Even though part of Hamlet knows he should kill him, he convinces himself not to kill a man in such a holy time as giving penance to God.  Hamlet decides it would be better to kill the King when he is engaged in a less holy activity.  When Hamlet walks away, the King says aloud that his penance was false and he is not sorry for his acts.

Another example of Hamlet’s inaction is when Hamlet sets up a scene in a play the King is watching to look just like how the King killed his father.  He does this to make sure the ghost he saw of his father was telling the truth.  Hamlet sees the King become tense and nervous during the scene and becomes convinced of his guilt, but still Hamlet does not act.  Again, he misses his chance to avenge his father’s murder and this shows Hamlet’s inability to act.

A third example of Hamlet’s inability to act is in Act III when Hamlet delivers his “To be, or not to be…” soliloquy.   In the speech he is talking to himself about what will come in the future.  Will he die? Will the King die? Does he want to die?  Will he choose murder or suicide?  This shows a severe  psychological state where he cannot come upon a decision. This inner dilemma cripples him.  Again, he continues to not act on his goal to kill the King.  He questions if he should, even though the evidence is right in front of him and his ability to kill the King is never questioned.

The outcome of Hamlet’s failure to act was indeed bloody.  His mother,  his girlfriend Ophelia and her brother Laertes all die because of this. Most importantly, Hamlet himself is slain as a result. Killed by his own failed actions. If he had just killed the King when the his father’s ghost told him to all of these people would have been spared unhappiness, madness and death.  Hamlet’s inaction produced an outcome worse than he ever could have imagined.

I think Hamlet is one of the most interesting characters I have read about.  Not only is he funny, mysterious, sarcastic and sharp, he also has a tragic and major flaw.  He is a brilliant character thought up by Shakespeare’s brilliant mind.

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