English Literature » Notes » Shakespeare’s Characterization of Hamlet

Shakespeare’s Characterization of Hamlet

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is without a doubt the best theatrical character ever produced. From the moment we encounter the humble prince we are entrapped by his graceful power. He meets the death of his father with rage and indignation yet he shows no emotion for the people that he kills. He uses the frail and naïve Ophelia as an avenue to vent his anger towards the queen, and cannot understand that his own bitter words have made her insane.

Hamlet’s character is filled with faults. By closely examining his faults, one is quick to notice that the faults are inborn. Throughout the play, Hamlet seems to carry in him a burden that is too big for him. Despite his attempt at bravery, he is weak willed and unable to make some important decisions.

When Hamlet learns in a dream that he is supposed to revenge the death of his father, he promises to do so “with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge.” To Hamlet, even his life’s dreams and destiny cannot be compared to this new pursuit.

Immediately after this discovery, Hamlet is at a loss as to why he has to be the one chosen to exert this revenge. This is the first indication we get that Hamlet has a weakness in his character.

Instead of seeking for ways to kill the person who murdered his father, Hamlet begins to wonder why a sane person can commit such an act. To a careful eye, this is something meant to procrastinate his revenge mission.

This is something that even Hamlet cannot seem to comprehend. Upon realizing that he is dreading carrying out his mission, he comforts himself by saying that he is no coward. Hamlet postpones this mission further by seeking to verify the words of the ghost. However, the trap that he sets to confirm this soon ‘snaps’ but he still cannot make a meaningful decision.

Even though Hamlet learns that his mother was an accomplice in his father’s death, she dissuades him from killing her. Although we might all conclude that Hamlet is overtaken by love for his mother, this is something that does not befit a hero.

A true hero should not let emotions come in the way of his assignment. Upon learning of his mother’s role in the death of his father, he knows that he has to punish the perpetrators regardless of their identity.

When he gets this opportunity to “drink hot blood, and do such bitter business as the day”, he fails to master the courage needed to achieve this. At this moment, his mind seems to be a battlefield. On one hand, he knows that he has to avenge the death of his father while on the other he has no courage to do it.

Hamlet promises to be “cruel, not unnatural and to speak daggers at his mother but act none.” This is a sign of cowardice on Hamlets part. In order to hide his true feelings from his mother, he decides to pretend that he is insane.

Immediately after the episode at his mother’s house, another opportunity presents itself for revenge. This time, it is only Hamlet and the king in an enclosed temple where there is no route for escape. Coincidentally, Hamlet goes behind the king and draws his sword ready to strike. In a real life event, this is the moment when we all draw our breath and close our eyes in anticipation of seeing fresh blood.

However, a few moments later, Hamlet brings us back to reality by claiming that “now might I do it pat, now he is praying; And now I will do’t: and so he goes to heaven.” Always having excuses to justify his procrastination, he tells us that he fears killing the king in a moment of repentance. This is a sign of weakness and indecision on Hamlets part.

If hamlet had been genuine about his desire to kill the king while he was in the process of committing iniquity, it is only right that we see this promise being manifested at least in one scene.

At one time, the ghost appears while Hamlet is talking to his mother. Even Hamlet himself knows he has procrastinated the revenge long enough but consoles himself by saying that he is no coward. In the monologue that follows his meeting with Fortinbras, he says that even being exiled to England would come as a respite.

In order to prove that he is no coward he promises “O, from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth.” This is a promise that we do not see Hamlet fulfilling anywhere in the play and hence our conclusion that he is weak willed and indecisive on what he should do.


Hamlet is one of the greatest theatrical characters that have ever been created. The character has different sides to him that make him hard to be understood.

However, one thing that comes out about his character is his weakness and indecision on some important issues. This makes him to keep on procrastinating revenge on his father’s death. By the time he gets to exert the revenge, he is so late such that the real motive for the revenge has been forgotten.

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