The Weight of Indecision; Analyzing Hamlet’s Character
Let’s get classical. Let’s talk Hamlet.
I will be the first to say that the first few times I had to read Hamlet, I would get maddeningly frustrated by his indecision.
I would literally be sitting there, shaking my book, grumbling “Just do it, Hammy! Just do something!”
Despite my initial exasperation, there is a lot to Prince Hamlet’s character that puts him in a constant state of inaction.
I’m going to share the perspectives of some key literary critics as well as my own thoughts on the matter.
Prince Hamlet is a thoughtful young man who is cautious enough not to jump into dangerous situations too hastily. He ponders nearly his every move before acting and has many intrinsic motivations. He values morality and holds himself to a high standard of accountability, which makes him an honorable man despite his quest for revenge.
While his goal may be a bloody one, his reasons and the amount of thought he invests in his actions evoke a sense of sympathy from even the most moral reader.
Literary critics Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and A.C. Bradley compile theories and hypothesize on the exact reasons for Hamlet’s chronic indecision. Hamlet fails to act until it is too late because of a deep inner conflict born of his moral deliberation. This is something that I think we can connect with, to some extent, as modern readers. How often do you put off making a decision if things don’t feel quite right?
Bradley addresses Hamlet’s character by describing the importance of how “strength and weakness should be so mingled in one soul.” Bradley looks toward Hamlet’s melancholic attitude as one of the key reasons that he fails to act. This theory ties in with Hamlet’s moral inner conflict; he is surrounded by sinfulness. He perceives his uncle marrying his mother as an incestuous relationship, which adds to his misery in reaction to the death of his father.
Sadness and grief plague Hamlet’s every step, which lead to his melancholia. On top of that, his unhappiness with the state of his life makes it more difficult for him to act. Instead of…