Downfal Essay, Research Paper
A Tragic Flaw Leads to a Tragic Downfall
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet concerns the murder of the king of Denmark and the murdered king’s son’s quest for revenge. Its main character, Hamlet, possesses a fatal flaw that obstructs his desire for revenge and ultimately brings about his death. This tragic flaw makes him a tragic hero, a character who is destroyed because of a major weakness. If Hamlet did not possess this flaw his death at the end could have possibly been avoided. Hamlet’s fatal flaw mainly consists of the fact that he is uncertain on how or when to act. Throughout the play there are a plethora of examples of Hamlet’s flaw. Four of these specific instances are when Hamlet sees a play and notices the passion an actor has, after Hamlet’s third soliloquy, in Hamlet’s fourth soliloquy, and in Hamlet’s indecisive pursuit in seeking revenge for his father’s death.
First, Hamlet’s flaw is shown when he sees a play and the zest one particular actor has. A group of actors have arrived and Hamlet arranges a personal viewing of “The Murder of Gonzago” with a small portion of his own lines inserted. Hamlet then observes one scene of the play in which one of the actors puts on a great display of emotion. Hamlet, besieged by guilt and self-contempt, remarks in his second soliloquy of the emotion this actor shows despite the fact that the actor had nothing to be emotional about. Hamlet observed that he himself had all the reason in the world to react with great emotion, yet he failed to show any that could compare with the act of the actor. Hamlet calls himself a “rogue and peasant slave” and a “dull and muddy-mettled rascal” who chooses not to take any form of action. Hamlet continues his fiery speech by degrading himself and decides to take some sort of action to revenge his father’s death.
Secondly, Hamlet’s flaw is illustrated after his third soliloquy, the famed “To be or not to be ” lines. Hamlet directly identifies his own tragic flaw, remarking on his own inability to act. Hamlet, unsure whether or not his uncle Claudius is responsible for his father’s murder, plans to have “The Murder of Gonzago” presented to the royal court, with a few minor changes, so its contents would closely resemble the circumstances behind King Hamlet’s murder. Reflecting on his own guilt, he talks of death and how no one really knows it. He declares, “conscience does make cowards of us all.” This quote illustrates the point that individuals second-guess their actions and often times take no actions at all. These statements not only apply to what has occurred up to that point but also foreshadow what is going to occur.
Next, Hamlet’s fatal flaw is portrayed in his fourth soliloquy. Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, and his army pass by Hamlet and his escorts. Hamlet sees the action Fortinbras is taking in fighting and then examines Fortinbras’s efforts and bravery in an attempt to seek revenge against Claudius for his own father’s death. Hamlet remarks how everything around him attempts to “spur my dull revenge”, yet he takes no action. He notices how he thinks “too precisely on an event” and that he has “cause, and will, and strength, and means” to get revenge and how the evidence pointing to Claudius as his father’s killer is very much so evident. Hamlet finally decides “my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” He finally decides he must take action against Claudius in some form or fashion.
Last, Hamlet’s indecisive pursuit in avenging his father’s death is shown as evidence of his tragic flaw. Hamlet encounters numerous opportunities to kill Claudius, yet he always comes up with some excuse for not taking any action. After first hearing of the crime from his father’s ghost, Hamlet immediately sets out to take action. Hamlet then began to think that perhaps his father’s ghost was conjured by the devil in an attempt to make Hamlet become irrational and kill Claudius, who might happen to be innocent, which would forever damn his soul. Hamlet then schemes to determine Claudius’s guilt through the play. Claudius views the play and becomes very uncomfortable with the situation to the point of stopping the play and leaving. This confirms Claudius’s guilt to Hamlet, and Hamlet again sets out to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet then catches Claudius in prayer, a rare time he will find Claudius alone. Hamlet, again, begins to think how Claudius will have had his sins forgiven and that he wants to damn Claudius’s soul. Hamlet resolves to wait and kill Claudius at another time. Claudius, through all of this, realizes Hamlet knows of his crime and plots to have Hamlet killed by first sending him to England and then having him murdered. Hamlet escapes this ploy and Claudius plots again to have Hamlet killed in a fencing match. At the fencing match, Hamlet is wounded by a poisoned strike. Hamlet, in a dying act, kills Claudius by making him drink poison. Hamlet’s flaw essentially destroyed him, as his failure to act in previous situations led to his own death.
All in all, Hamlet’s fatal flaw is obvious in his actions after viewing the emotion of the actors, after his third soliloquy, in his fourth soliloquy, and in his indecisive pursuit of revenge for his father’s death. Hamlet was able to avenge his father’s death, but at the cost of his own. The tragedy of Hamlet successfully shows how the inability to act can easily lead to a downfall.