In his book Poetics, Aristotle writes that a tragic hero is a great man who is neither a paragon of virtue and justice nor undergoes the change to misfortune through a real badness or wickedness but because of some mistake. Thus, a tragic hero is neither a villain nor a model of flawlessness he is good and decent. Such a person falls through a weakness of character, an error of sorts.
As shown by his actions in Shakespeares play Hamlet, the character of Hamlet is a prime example of an Aristotelian tragic hero. Hamlets tragic flaw is his uncertainty on how to act or proceed. Shakespeare makes it known to the reader that Hamlet has not come to terms with the death of his father at the very beginning of the play. The marriage of his mother to Claudius clearly makes Hamlet suspicious of Claudius motives and character in general.
Hamlet does not see a point to living. This is shown when he says, How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world, and this is carried on throughout the play. Hamlet cannot bring himself to actually commit suicide because he does not know what awaits him after death. This presents the large flaw that makes Hamlet such a tragedy. Hamlet is rather fickle and is in constant conflict about what he wants to do about what is making him so conflicted. Hamlet speaks of his fathers tragic flaw that ultimately led to his death, but it applies equally well to himself.
So, oft it chances in particular men,That for some vicious mole of nature in them,As, in their birth, wherein they are not guilty(Since nature cannot choose his origin),By the oergrowth of some complexion,Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,Or by some habit that too much oer-leavensThe form of plausive manners–that these men,Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,Being natures livery, or fortunes star,Their virtues else, be they as pure as grace,As infinite as man may undergo,Shall in the general censure take corruptionFrom that particular fault. The dram of evilDoth all the noble substance of a doubtTo his own scandal. (I. iv.
23-38)Hamlet speaks of the one defect that is in particular men from birth, and the fact that that one defect is his particular fault. Hamlet says that this fault a tragic flaw will corrupt the man. Later, Hamlets flaw of irresolution is shown when he sees the passion one particula r actor has in a play. A group of players arrives and Hamlet arranges a personal viewing of The Murder of Gonzago with some of his own lines inserted. When one of the players puts on a great display of emotion, Hamlet is besieged by guilt and self-contempt. Hamlet observes that he himself has all the reason in the world to react with great emotion and sorrow, yet he fails to show any that could be compared with the act of the player.
Hamlet calls himself a rogue and peasant slave and a dull and muddy-mettled rascal who, like a John-a-dreams, can take no action. Hamlet continues his fiery speech by degrading himself and resolving to take some sort of action to avenge his fathers death. Next, Hamlets flaw of irresolution is shown after the famed To be or not to be soliloquy. Hamlet directly identifies his own tragic flaw, remarking on his own inability to act. Hamlet, unsure whether or not his uncle Claudius was responsible for his fathers murder, plans to have The Murder of Gonzago presented to the royal court, with minor changes to make its contents closely resemble the circumstances behind the murder. Reflecting on his own guilt, Hamlet talks of death, referring to it as the undiscovered country.
He declares conscience does make cowards of us all and that the natural ruddy complexion of ones intent on an action is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought. This makes an individual second-guess his own actions and oftentimes take no action at all. These statements not only apply to what occurred up to this point, but also foreshadow what is to occur. Hamlets tragic flaw is again shown during his fourth soliloquy. Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, and his army have passed by Hamlet and his escorts, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Hamlet sees the action Fortinbras takes in fighting and then examines Fortinbras efforts and bravery in an attempt to rekindle his own desire for revenge against Claudius. Hamlet remarks how everything around him attempts to spur my dull revenge, yet he takes no action to defy those obstacles. He notices how he thinks too precisely on an event and that he has cause, and will, and strength, and means to get revenge. He also notices that the evidence pointing to Claudius as his fathers killer is as evident as earth itself. Hamlet finally decides my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth He must take action against Claudius immediately.
Hamlets irresolution is evident 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 fathers death. Hamlet is able to avenge his fathers death, but his own death along the way labels him as a tragic hero. Hamlet masterfully shows how the inability to act, however noble ones intentions, can be detrimental to character.