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Hamlet’s Tragic Flaw Leading To His Demise

William Shakespeare’s tragedy plays have fascinated people from the time of the renaissance to present modern times. All his tragedy plays are five acts long, and the climax of the play occurs in the third act. In each and every tragedy play there is a tragic hero who bears a tragic flaw. Every tragic hero usually possesses valour characteristics such as bravery, honesty, intelligence, and so on. In the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet, the tragic hero is Hamlet. He is an emotionally scarred young man trying to avenge the murder of his father, the king. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to Hamlet, telling him that he was murdered by his brother, Claudius, who has now become the king. Claudius has also married Gertrude, the old king’s widow and Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet’s tragic flaw is caused by his intelligence, intellect, and excessive contemplation of his actions entirely too much, that it becomes too good for his own good.

In the end, his flaw of procrastination resonates clearly, after he meets his demise. Given the situation that Hamlet finds himself in. He controls his grief and bitterness, when in the eye of the public. However, when in private he lashes out in a passionate soliloquy-revealing that his heart is nearly broken from his mother’s hasty remarriage to his uncle. In this emotional pain, Hamlet contemplates suicide to resolve the pain that he must suffer while on this earth. But, he realizes that his religion forbids suicide- “His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God! O God!” (I, ii, 132). Here, Hamlet double thinks of his action of committing suicide and ends up not following through because it is against religious law.

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The second time he procrastinates is during the end of the second act. From the first act, the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to Hamlet, telling him that he was murdered by his brother, Claudius. Hamlet ignores this knowledge that he knows, and still wants to prove Claudius’ guilt. He decides to devise a trap for Claudius, forcing the king to watch a play whose plot closely resembles the murder of Hamlet’s father. If the king is guilty, Hamlet thinks, Claudius will surely show some visible sign of guilt when he sees his sin re-enacted on stage. Then, Hamlet reasons, he will obtain definitive proof of Claudius’s guilt. “The play’s the thing,” he declares, “wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (II.ii.581-582). All this thinking and obsessing over proving Claudius’ guilt, again stops him from focussing on his purpose. As a matter of fact, a whole act is used to plot this play out, and even then, the play is not executed until the third act.

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The third time he procrastinates is during the beginning of the third act. The most famous line in English literature “To be, or not to be: that is the question” (III.i.56) is declared by Hamlet, and this marks the start of another soliloquy. In this soliloquy again he contemplates suicide and death, to rid his pains of living on earth, similar to the first soliloquy. Basically, Hamlet is asking “Should I kill myself?” .Again he double thinks this question and is not willing to kill himself because he of “the dread of something after death” (III, I,78). Hamlet is unsure of what the afterlife brings and would rather “bear those ills,” “Than to fly to others that we know not of” (III, I, 81-82). In this instance, he overthinks his actions and does not build up the courage to follow through with his thoughts. He even boldly points out that the “conscience does make cowards of us all,” (III, I, 83).

This part of the soliloquy adequately describes Hamlet’s own conscience and the inner workings of it. This quote foreshadows that when Hamlet gets the opportunity to act on his purpose to kill Claudius, he will consult his conscience and there will be some reason that he does not kill Claudius. The fourth time that he procrastinates; the most fatal compared to the rest of the times, is at the end of the third act. After the play, Hamlet uses to gather evidence of Claudius’ guilt, Hamlet is triumphant – his plot has worked, and Claudius convicts himself, by stopping the play – during the second scene when the murderer has poisoned the victim. Claudius’ secret is known -‘O, my offence is rank (rotten), it smells to heaven;’ (III, iii, 36)- and he reveals this to the audience and recognizes the rightness of Hamlet’s cause. He is in the church praying and asks God to ‘Forgive me my foul murder.” (III, iii,52) Hamlet is right there in the church and has the perfect opportunity to kill Claudius, but he remains puzzled, undecided, and sceptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost, and finds out some pretence to decline into indolence and thoughtfulness again.

Hamlet passes up this opportunity to kill Claudius because he begins to argue with himself that this would not be true revenge for his father’s murder simply because the ghost has told him of its suffering in Purgatory, but Claudius would avoid these if he were to die as he is kneeling when he is in a state of grace. So Hamlet waits until Claudius is engaged in some act “That has no relish of salvation In’t,’ (III, iii, 92). Just as his previous soliloquy foreshadows, Hamlet over thinks and fails to act, fearing that his uncle will go to heaven if he kills him in the church while he is praying. It is this at this point in the play where, due to his failure to act, there is a chain reaction of events that occur quickly mapping a direct route to his death.

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After he misses out on this perfect opportunity to kill Claudius, he enters into Gertrude’s chamber where he talks to her while Polonius is eves dropping on the conversation, hidden behind the arras (curtains) (III, iv). Hamlet is aware that there is someone behind the arras, and runs his sword through the tapestry, thinking that it was the King, but he kills Polonius. Here, when Hamlet is supposed to stop and think about his actions, he does not. Since missing his ‘perfect opportunity ‘, and feeling very passionate about killing Claudius he makes a fatal mistake of killing Polonius instead. His actions will now become the object of another revenge plot.

Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter, is mad with grief. Her father is dead, murdered by the man she loves. Laertes, Polonius’ son, has returned from France, is anguished with the news of his father’s death and sees his sister has gone crazy; in turn, it drives him into more enraged anger. Now he seeks to avenge his father, and if ‘Hamlet comes back;’ (IV, vii,123) Laertes would even, ‘cut his throat I’th’ church.’ (IV, vii,126) to avenge his father. At this point, it is crystal clear that while Hamlet struggles to act on impulse, Laertes is exactly the opposite of that. Laertes would act immediately and knows that ‘revenge should have no bounds.’ (IV, vii, 128). Which is something Hamlet should have learned before setting out to avenge his father’s death.

Since Hamlet did not capitalize on the opportunity (III, iii), it gives Laertes and the present King enough time to conspire against him. Meanwhile, there has been word that Ophelia has committed suicide and drowned in the pond. This news nearly pushes Laertes over the edge, and it becomes even more urgent that he avenge his father. Ophelia’s death was indirectly caused by Hamlet, because Hamlet killed Polonius, and denies his love for Ophelia. The indirect actions that cause Ophelia to commit suicide, had nothing to do with plotting against Claudius. It was simple, just a big waste of time. Finally, in the fourth act, the example of Young Fortinbras, engaging in such a battle over a matter of honour, serves as a reproach to Hamlet for his own inactivity and strengthens his resolve to act. Hamlet is disgusted with himself for having failed to gain his revenge on Claudius and declares “from this time forth, My thoughts are bloody or are nothing worth.” (IV, iv, 66).

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Hamlet is already away from the castle of Elsinore, heading to England with his escorts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It is rather too late for Hamlet to declare that his “thoughts be bloody” because Claudius and Laertes have already planned for his death. When Hamlet returns from England, Laertes and Hamlet duel each other. The rapier that Laertes holds has a poisonous tip that accidentally gets in the hands of Hamlet. There is also, which the Queen drinks. Laertes cuts Hamlet with the poisonous rapier, and Hamlet cuts Laertes with that same rapier. Suddenly the Queen falls and dies. Laertes confesses the poisoning of the weapon and the wine, blaming it on the king – “The King – the King’s to blame.” (V, ii, 356). Hamlet, seeing concrete evidence, now goes after his uncle and forces him to drink the poisonous wine.

In the end, Hamlet, Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern are dead. If Hamlet could have acted decisively, seven innocent people would survive the play, and one guilty man would have gone punished. At a broader level, he thinks when he should act, and acts when he should think. It is clear that Hamlets inability to act caused by overthinking the situation and being too smart for his own good, aids in his habit of procrastination. His procrastination brought unnecessary bloodshed and death to innocent characters. By the time he realized that he should have acted on his purpose sooner than later (III, iii), it was already too late to save himself from the inevitable death he was bound to face in the end.

Works Cited

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  • Dunn, Susan. The Tragic Flaw and Emotional Intelligence. 7 Jan. 2005 <!sdtragic.html>
  • Eras of Elegance, Inc. A Brief History of the Arts. 7 Jan. 2005. <>
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  • Hazlitt, William. Hamlet Characters Analysis. 7 Jan. 2005. <>
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Hamlet's Tragic Flaw Leading To His Demise. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from