Hamlet is the prince of Denmark who is obsessed with avenging the murder of his father who was king. Additionally, he is angry with women, particularly his mother whom he accuses of quick remarriage after his father’s death. The protagonist, who is also the title character, is roughly 30 years old, and his studies are interrupted after the murder of his father. Hamlet is cynical as evidenced by the numerous puns that he uses when talking with some characters he loathes such as Claudius. In addition, the protagonist as a dynamic personality since he is mostly indecisive and hesitant to avenge his father’s murder although he has the evidence to incriminate the uncle. He is also prone to impulsive acts when being emotional. Undeniably, Shakespeare manages to represent Hamlet in a more humane manner – an aspect that manages to elucidate the extent to which he possesses a rather complex personality despite his original disposition as a tragic hero in the play, Hamlet. As illustrated by his narcissistic obsessions with avenging the death of his father, his cynicism, his indecisiveness, and susceptibility to impulsivity, Hamlet possesses a hesitant personality problem.
Shakespeare portrays Hamlet as a coward who is not confident in his abilities, which makes him hesitant to take action to avenge his father’s death. For instance, he admits that he perceives himself as a slave who lacks the courage to bring justice to the people of Denmark and his family (Marongiu, & Newman, 2012 p. 5). Although he is the protagonist of the play, his hesitation makes him not to appear heroic. For this reason, Shakespeare insinuates that Hamlet is less likely to avenge since he perceives himself as not being up to the task to punish those who have harmed his family as Hercules in the Greek mythology. In particular, he states, “The king is My father’s brother, but no more like my father/ Than I to Hercules” (Cantor 6). Additionally, he also claims that he is a peasant slave. This fact indicates that he has low self-esteem, which contributes to his indecision when he ought to take action against his uncle.
Hamlet expresses his hatred for his father’s brother through satirical puns. For example, he claims that although he is related to his uncle twice, there are no gestures of kindness that they share (Cantor 6). The surface meaning of the quote is that the character is a relative to the new king who is his uncle and his stepfather by virtual of the marriage to Hamlet’s mother. Moreover, the protagonist also uses paradox to indicate that the marriage happened fast and was of no consequence (Bayanova 6). In particular, he claims that the only reason why the queen has ventured to take such a step is wastage of food served at the funeral and it suggests that the affairs of Denmark and the royal family would be adversely affected as indicated by the serving of the cold meat for more than a month, “Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats/ Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” (Cantor 5). Horatio’s name is referenced to an ancient exclamation that was used in black humor to indicate condemnation (Cantor 6).
From the onset of the play, Hamlet is portrayed as a character that persistently plans but does not execute the strategies to avenge his father’s death by killing the current king. Some scholars claim that he is hesitant since he depends chiefly on his moralistic convictions (Marongiu and Newman 5). For instance, in the first scene of the play, he mocks his mother for not symbolizing that she is grieving for her late husband. Shakespeare used black attires to indicate that Hamlet is still grieving over the death of his father. However, despite this fact, the character has been hesitating for a long time before exercising his vengeance, “I have that within which passed show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe” (Cantor 3). Hamlet needs to analyze the evidence that can make him confident of Claudius’ guilty before he takes some action. While the aspect of hesitation may comprise a flaw for Hamlet, it is possible that it is significantly related to his own discipline, specifically his inability to execute vengeance on basis of his sentiments or emotions. In the play, Hamlet is a moralistic, smart, and laidback character. As such, he is capable of restraining himself in an effort to facilitate rational thought and actions, which are not founded on emotional aspects. In this respect, Hamlet’s hesitation – despite being viewed as a negative trait of his personality – is essential to the development of the plot since it facilitates the resolution of the truth hence proving its imperative nature within the play. For that reason, Hamlet may be considered as a hesitant and indecisive character since he delays in executing revenge against the uncle that he passionately hates.
The protagonist also refers to death several times. This fact indicates that he is afraid of it or is contemplating suicide. Moreover, it suggests his obsession with heaven and hell. It also demonstrates that he is hypocritical about faith since those who believe in God are afraid of neither death nor hell since they are certain that they will end up in heaven. Hamlet’s confusion is further increased by the appearance of his father’s ghost who tells that he is being punished by God by fire due to the sins he has committed. Moreover, the conversation is appropriate in indicating that his father is afraid of his name being forgotten by the people whom he loves, including his brother and wife. Finally, the moral fear of ending in purgatory makes the protagonist take action against his uncle after he has determined beyond reasonable doubts that Claudius is guilty of the murder of his father.
“I am thy father’s spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night
And for the day confined to fast in fires
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.” (1.5.14-19)
Moreover, his contemplation of the supernatural world is expressed in other dialogues indicating his fear of ending up in hell that makes him hesitant to revenge the murder of his father until he determines that he is guilty beyond any doubts. Several scholars have argued that the main reason making the character hesitant of taking action is his intention to commit suicide (Garber 16). For instance, in the first scene of the act, he claims that he is troubled by the recent events in his life that he wished that his skin would melt away (Garber 16). However, he is reluctant to commit suicide because he recognizes that it is a sin against God. Consequently, religion, particularly the fear of disobeying God’s commandment, makes the protagonist hesitant to make such a decision. Accordingly, the assertion of the protagonist indicates that he is weak since instead of avenging his father he is contemplating about committing suicide.
that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God,” (1.2.129-132).
The protagonist is also bothered by the nature of mortality that makes him reluctant to take action against the current king for the murder of his father. For instance, Hamlet at first only considers his own mortality that makes him reluctant to commit suicide. In addition, the character is troubled with what happens after death. However, towards the end of the play he questions why despite the suffering that the people endure they are reluctant to commit suicide. For that reason, the obsession of the character with analyzing the motivation of other people’s lives reduces his desire to take action to avenge his father’s murder.
To be or not to be—that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them. (3.1.64-68)
The soliloquy that Hamlet delivers in the play places further emphasis on his disposition as a mortal person. Despite feeling the need to commit vengeance on his uncle, Claudius, for the demise of his father, Hamlet rationalizes and tries to weigh his actions as well as the consequences that will be derived from them depending on what he does. For instance, in the soliloquy, Hamlet attempts to weigh the value of life, – which according to him – is innately comprised of evils and tribulations against the wages of death, which he concludes will ultimately end the problems in question. Such questions clearly illustrate his willingness to consider his mortality as an inherent part of his indecision to avenge his father.
Consequently, the personality of Hamlet indicates that he does not stick to the decisions that he makes since he is always thinking and analyzing instead of taking actions. For instance, the character has the opportunity to kill Claudius when he was praying but he hesitates. In particular, he contemplates that killing the king may make him go to heaven since he is praying at the moment. Accordingly, he decides that he will kill him when he is sinning. Some of the scholars have affirmed that Hamlet is a weak character that lacks the courage to kill the murderer of his father. If he was courageous and strong, he could have used the opportunity to avenge his father’s murder and would not have let the fear of the heaven or hell to distract him.
However, anger makes Hamlet take action indicating that he is not fit for politics since kings are supposed to be calm and calculating. For instance, in the course of the play Hamlet fails to execute his plans mainly due to lack of passion, morality, and religion (Ham, Jung, Park, Ryeo, and Ko 50). However, the death of the queen after she drinks poisoned wine while Hamlet and Laertes are fencing compels the protagonist to take action. Scholars claim that the primary motivation that drives the character to kill Claudius is his realization that he intended to kill him
because he was the one who was meant to drink the poison (Ham, Jung, Park, Ryeo, and Ko 50). Consequently, he acts out of the fit of rage and manages to kill his father’s murderer. As a result, all his plotting turns out to be useless in the end. This fact indicates that if Hamlet had killed Claudius soon after his father’s death, he would not have lost his mother, Lacerates, Poloniums, and Aphelia.
Consequently, Shakespeare depicts Hamlet
as a coward protagonist who is hesitant to take action against his father’s
murderer. For instance, he makes the character to indicate that he is
contemplating suicide, which shows that he is incapable of avenging his
father’s murder. Moreover, his analysis of the morality to kill Claudius
without being sure that he is the culprit compels him to postpone his plan.
Additionally, as Hamlet fears purgatory and hell, he puts off his plan to
ensure that he kills the king when he is sinning without giving him a chance to
repent, which may guarantee that the enemy will end up in hell. Consequently,
religion, morality, fear of heaven and hell, and cowardice make the protagonist
a hesitant character.
Bayanova, L. F. “Vygotsky’s Hamlet: The Dialectic Method and Personality Psychology.” Psychology in Russia: State of the Art, vol. 6, no. 1, 2013, pp. 6.
Cantor, P. A. Shakespeare: Hamlet. Cambridge UP, 2004.
Garber, M. (2009). Shakespeare and Modern Culture. Anchor, 2009.
Ham, J., C. Jung, J. Park, J. Ryeo, and I. Ko. “An Artificial Emotion Model for Visualizing Emotion of Characters.” Proceedings of World Academy of Science: Engineering & Technology, pp. 50.
Marongiu, P., & G. Newman. Vengeance: The Fight against Injustice. BookBaby, 2012.
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