Edward Armstrong Mr. Gallagher Fatal Flaw Throughout Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Hamlet uses his emotions to manipulate people. He fools Ophelia into believing he is madly in love with her, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern into thinking that he is depressed and Polonius into thinking that he is insane. While his controlled array of emotions makes Hamlet appear emotionally stable, they are instead simply an outward display of Hamlet’s tremendous acting ability. In reality, Hamlet is emotionally volatile and uncontrollable. He is unable to find equilibrium and is forced to extremes. Hamlet is either active or passive, moral or amoral.
Throughout the play, Hamlet struggles to become proactive, and seems to be willing to sacrifice anything to reach this extreme. His quest to become active causes the downfall of Hamlet’s virtuous self. Passivity is not a productive trait for a man in Hamlet’s position. For the majority of the play Hamlet employs circuitous routes in order to murder Claudius. Hamlet hatches a plan to find out if the king was the murderer through a play, in which his father’s murder was reenacted. Hamlet waits for the king to admit his guilt before he can get past his passivity and build up the courage to declare revenge.
Hamlet is, however, unable to make the transformation into a killer upon Claudius’s admission of guilt. His plan, however crafty, fails to take into account his inability to act. Unfortunately for Hamlet, there is no easy, passive way to kill a king. While Hamlet despises the corrupt ways of his uncle, Shakespeare suggests that Hamlet will have to become more like the king to commit the deed. To murder Claudius , Hamlet needs to shed his old passive ways in exchange for the psyche of a stone cold killer . For Hamlet there is no in between. There is no way he can retain his virtuous ways and murder his uncle.
It takes Hamlet the full duration of the play to become corrupt and immoral enough to kill his father. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet was thoughtful, moral, and passive. A new, barely recognizable Hamlet emerges at the end. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet has numerous page-long soliloquies, and as the play progresses these become less frequent. The decline in speeches made by Hamlet marks the loss of his thoughtful, contemplative side. As Hamlet becomes more thoughtless, he commits immoral, and dangerous deeds. This very lack of thought causes Hamlet’s demise.
Hamlet’s lack of foresight is displayed in an incident in which he is confronted with a dangerous situation. Instead of appealing to Horatio’s reasoning, Hamlet enters a situation that he admits seems like a trap. He defends his decision to fall for the king’s trap with the following logic: “Not a whit. We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come— the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be”(318).
While his actions are proactive, they are also stubborn. Through his disregard of feeling in favor of fatalism, Hamlet has made the ultimate sacrifice – his brain and reasoning – to kill the king. Shakespeare uses Laertes as a foil to exaggerate Hamlet’s drastic inaction. While Laertes is active, Hamlet is extremely passive. By using these two extremes Shakespeare comments on the inabilities of humans to find equilibrium. Both extremes lead to an equally unpleasant end point. Although moderation would be the best for both of them, they are unable to, and this inability leads to their downfalls.
When Laertes learns of his father’s murder he storms into the castle with an army of soldiers shouting “To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation: to this point I stand, that both worlds I give to negligence, let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father”(246). Laertes challenges the king, an act of treason, based on gossip alone. Laertes is however brave to a fault. While his actions seem far superior to Hamlet’s, Shakespeare suggests that they are just as futile and ill-fit for the situation as Hamlet’s passiveness.
By directly attacking the situation, Laertes is exposing his raw emotions to the king and Hamlet. Therefore he leaves himself vulnerable to the king’s manipulation. While Laertes thought he wanted to kill Hamlet, he was purposely tricked by the king into committing the king’s heinous act. His desire for action hindered his thought process. It was in those weakest moments, magnified by Ophelia’s insanity, that the king coddled Laertes and told him “be patient and I’ll work to satisfy to the fullest extent your deepest need for revenge” (250).
His thirst for blood blinded him from the degree that he was being used. Hamlet and Laertes are in similar situations, they both want revenge for their deceased fathers, both had the same passion. Laertes and Hamlet both experienced extreme guilt after their fathers’ deaths. Both were victimized by the king. While Laertes was dying, he realized that he was rushed into killing Hamlet. His last words were “He got what he deserved. He mixed that poison himself. Please forgive me as I forgive you, Hamlet. You’re not responsible for my death and my father’s, and I’m not responsible for yours”(330).
His last words were an admission of his fatal flaw. He allowed for his extreme need for revenge to ruin not only his world, but also Hamlet’s. As the scene goes on, the body count increases. Hamlet dies a martyr, but only after killing the king. Hamlet’s death is unfortunate as it could have been avoided if only Hamlet had dealt with the immoral king with more force. Shakespeare uses Fortinbras as his very own pawn, to serve as a role model for the perfect human. While Hamlet is riddled with emotional instability, Fortinbras appears to be completely in control of his emotions.
While the majority of the characters throughout Hamlet are unable to achieve this, Fortinbras effectively achieves a balance between passivity and action. Fortinbras is passive at times, even intellectual. However, when he needs to he can turn into a merciless soldier. On the battlefield, he kills anyone who gets in his way. However, when placed in a sensitive situation he is sympathetic. When faced with Hamlet’s death he proclaims “Let four captains carry Hamlet like a soldier onto the stage. He would have been a great king if he had had the chance to prove himself.
Military music and military rites will speak for his heroic qualities”(336). Fortinbras’s abilities allow him to succeed in all facets of life. While some characters are limited to one role, for example Hamlet’s as a scholar , Fortinbras appears to fit well under any title. Fortinbras’s versatility contrasts and highlights Hamlet’s lack of flexibility. Fortinbras’s qualities would suit Hamlet best in his revenge request, sadly he is unable to acquire them. Hamlet’s inability to be flexible renders him corrupt and delegates the Danish kingdom to be ruled by more capable outsiders.
Throughout the play, Hamlet tries to be something that he is not. He often struggles to act bravely. He does not value his own natural demeanor, but instead detests it, hoping to possess a more “manly” persona. He wants to be able to kill a man without his hand shaking. Hamlet knows that this is not natural for him, yet he tries anyway. Hamlet, like most human beings, is incapable of mixing opposite emotions. He in unable to be both a scholar and a soldier, both a Christian and a slaughterer. Shakespeare suggests that Hamlet should not try to be something that he is not. He should simply “let be”.