What is a summary of Hamlet's tragic flaws?


Quick Answer

In William Shakespeare's "Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," the title character suffers from a number of character flaws, but the most prominent one in the play is procrastination. By delaying his vengeance on his uncle Claudius, Hamlet becomes responsible for the deaths of several other major characters, including his lover Ophelia and his mother Gertrude.

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Full Answer

The tragic flaw (or "hamartia") is an idea derived from Aristotle's "Poetics," which states that every tragic hero must have a major flaw that leads to his downfall. Shakespeare's "Hamlet" creates a character whose flaws can be difficult to determine because they change over the course of the play. In addition, it is difficult to tell from the text alone whether some of the character traits are genuine or how many might be the product of his feigned insanity. However, the worst consequences in the play could have been softened or even averted had Hamlet acted quickly instead of waiting and debating. Actor Lawrence Olivier calls "Hamlet" "the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind."

Hamlet is an educated, artistic and philosophical man who is struggling to accept the death of his father, and he spends a great deal of time analyzing and contemplating every decision he makes. Hamlet deals with a lot of conflicting emotions, such as pride and self-doubt or brazenness and timidity, and all of the internal conflict keeps him from effectively exacting his revenge the new king, Claudius. Hamlet has a perfect opportunity to kill Claudius in Act 3, but he talks himself out of it. Later in the same act, he thinks he notices Claudius spying on him, so Hamlet panics and stabs the eavesdropper, who turns out to be Polonius. By waiting too long and acting at the wrong time, he inadvertently causes the deaths of both of Polonius' children, his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, his own mother and himself in order to kill Claudius in the final scene.

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