What Is Hamlet’s Tragic Flaw?

What is Hamlet’s tragic flaw, or does he have one? I do not fully sympathize with Hamlet, in that I see him with few or no flaws but merely trapped by his circumstances. Nor do I view Hamlet as the play’s villain. Rather, I see him as a semi-sympathetic character for his human-like flaws of character, but, as such, he also possesses some serious flaws and is not altogether a sympathetic character for me.

These flaws are understandable, but not at all sympathetic. To me, Hamlet is a very dislikeable person. Many of his faults seem to spring from his single greatest imperfection which I perceive to be self-centeredness. Because of this self-centeredness, several qualities of Hamlet which would otherwise be commendable become corrupted.

Hamlet’s eagerness and ready ability to try his hand at any role offered him is essentially a good quality, but Hamlet’s selfishness creates a less-than desirable attitude. Hamlet does not assume roles because he wants to help people, or because he simply wants to do well for the inherent value of excellence, he wants to try roles and succeed in them for his own glory. This also has an influence on his perfectionism.

The desire for excelling at something is not in and of itself wrong, but when that desire to excel replaces one’s desire to achieve, it becomes harmful. It also often leads to selfishness because often personal glory or recognition becomes the consuming goal of the person. Hamlet seems to exhibit this by showing little concern for others but being very preoccupied with succeeding in several areas (the main one being of course, to revenge his father’s murder and become king) of things that, if successfully accomplished, would benefit him. Even if his desire to excel was simply for the inherent satisfaction that comes from succeeding, it is still selfish to place priority for one’s own desires over what is best for  a community of other people.

Hamlet also shows extremely rash judgment. He quickly agrees to do things, again this eagerness to assume various roles, when they seem to be to his best advantage to do so.

When he first talks with the Ghost, he immediately wants to know who killed his father, assuming that the Ghost is that of his dead father. He judges the credibility of the ghost and that his own killing of Claudius is the best course of action much too quickly it seems. He later hesitates, but not necessarily because of whether it is right or wrong, but because he wants to do it perfectly – at just the right time, in just the right way, in order that he might be the complete acknowledged victor.  He  also considers whether or not the Ghost is truly his father’s spirit, and how he can come out on top of the situation.

He also rashly judges Ophelia as being rude and cruelly makes fun of and betrays her. He uses the one example of his mother as basis for expressing his view of all women: “Frailty, thy name is woman.” This then is used to judge Ophelia with; he never considers that her family may be influencing her decisions.

However, Hamlet is not a villain. As humans, do not all of us often act impetuously, and out of sometimes unconscious selfish motives? And do we not also often judge erroneously, especially when circumstances pressure us to do so?

Therefore, I view Hamlet as certainly sympathetic. BUT, I cannot reconcile his incredible, repeated acts of self-centeredness, so he is not a hero, nor a completely sympathetic character in my mind.

4 Responses to “What Is Hamlet’s Tragic Flaw?”

  1. Alpha_Cluster Says:

    I had never before noticed how rash Hamlet seems to be. I have read it twice in the past I and I don’t believe anyone ever had pointed out how rash he is in immediately trusting the ghost. I think that you have a very interesting point here.

    • desrtkat Says:

      I see hamlet as rash in his ego protrayed but I don’t find him dislikeable for the day and time of his position he live in. Even today the revenge play is historical and the foundation and theme are duplicatedn in theatre today.

  2. Do you think that hamlets inability to act unless angered could be his flaw? I mean he hesitates with everything and the only time he killed was when he was mad and hot headed: polonius; he didn’t look for an explanation he just stabbed through the curtain in anger. He didn’t fight with laertes until he was angry about being the one to love her more. And lastly, he didn’t kill Claudius until he became mad about his mom drinking the poison from the cup… Does that make sense?

    • Yes, I think your idea is very sensible! I believe that you are correct, and Hamlet is both too rash and too hesitant because he overthinks himself into inaction, then when something happens to anger him, instead of rationally thinking through an appropriate response, he shuts off his mind in a way and just goes for whatever action he impulsively feels like taking. Great point; thanks for sharing it. :)

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