English 161 H
January 24, 2013
“Why put off today what can be done tomorrow?”: An Analysis of Hamlet’s Hamartia
Hamartia, also known as the tragic flaw, is a shortcoming in character that leads to the downfall of the protagonist of a story. There is a debate on what Hamlet’s hamartia is in the Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, but there is one clear answer to the question. Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his inability to act and to avenge his father’s death which leads him, as well as many others to their bloody graves.
At the beginning of the play, Hamlet promises to act urgently on his desire to avenge his father’s death when he meets a ghost that looks just like his dead father. This apparition reveals that Old King Hamlet, Hamlet’s father, was killed by Claudius who put poison in his ear. The ghost, who is either the actual ghost of Old King Hamlet or a demonic apparition, tells Hamlet to seek revenge on his father’s death and to spare his mother, Gertrude. In this scene, Hamlet says to the ghost, “Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial, fond records, all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, that youth and observation copied there, and thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain, unmixed with baser matter.” (Hamlet Act I. Scene v. ln 103-109) This is Hamlet promising to the ghost that he will avenge his father’s death immediately. He says that he will think of nothing until he has accomplished his plans to seek his revenge. By agreeing to do so, Hamlet is also promising to keep his mother uninvolved in his vengeance.
Shortly after his meeting with the ghost, Hamlet already begins to allow his procrastinating ways show through. In the very next scene that Hamlet is a part of – Act II, Scene ii – he begins on his quest to delay accomplishing his goals. Instead of acting immediately on his promise to the ghost, he devises a plan to act crazy in hopes that his uncle,...