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What is Hamlet's tragic flaw?

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erich12 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 6, 2007 at 11:01 AM via web

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What is Hamlet's tragic flaw?

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lcassidy | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted June 6, 2007 at 11:04 AM (Answer #2)

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A tragic hero is a character who suffers a downfall from a tragic flaw in personality. Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his inability to act - to avenge his father’s death. When the ghost of his dead father appears to him and charges him with the arduous task of avenging his most foul murder, Hamlet accepts the challenge. As the play progresses, however, Hamlet finds it difficult to execute such a murderous task. In order to delay killing Claudius, Hamlet plans to act crazy, which forces Claudius to send him to England. He also devises the “mouse-trap scene” where he asked a troupe of actors to play a scene similar to how Claudius murdered his brother (King Hamlet). Simply said, Hamlet’s inability to act and to avenge his father’s death has led him, as well as many others to their bloody graves.

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blueeyes1991 | Student , Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 6, 2008 at 4:09 PM (Answer #6)

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A tragic hero is a character who suffers a downfall from a tragic flaw in personality. Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his inability to act - to avenge his father’s death. When the ghost of his dead father appears to him and charges him with the arduous task of avenging his most foul murder, Hamlet accepts the challenge. As the play progresses, however, Hamlet finds it difficult to execute such a murderous task. In order to delay killing Claudius, Hamlet plans to act crazy, which forces Claudius to send him to England. He also devises the “mouse-trap scene” where he asked a troupe of actors to play a scene similar to how Claudius murdered his brother (King Hamlet). Simply said, Hamlet’s inability to act and to avenge his father’s death has led him, as well as many others to their bloody graves.

Replace "Polonius" with "Claudius" in this paragraph.

Polonius was the father of Opheila and Laertes.  Not Hamlet's uncle.  Claudius killed King Hamlet and so Hamlet (Junior) tries to get revenge.  Hamlet, however, does kill Polonius thinking it was Claudius spying on him in the curtain.

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jumiry | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted August 26, 2011 at 8:56 PM (Answer #23)

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As many have said, Hamlet's tragic flaw is hesitation.  In the opening moments of the film version with Laurence Olivier, the unattached voice says, "This is the story of a man who could not make up his mind."  While it is true that he hesitates, Hamlet's flaw is not one single thing.  In addition, Hamlet is fated to his own destruction.  When he says "O wicked spite that ever I was born to set it right," Hamlet is acknowledging that he is fated to the act and tragic consequences of that act.  His other "flaw" is hubris, the sin of thinking oneself godlike.  Watch Hamlet when he has the golden opportunity to kill Claudius in the chapel, shortly after Hamlet has the proof he sought of Claudius' guilt.  He can act, and if this is the right thing to do, he should act.  But he does not.  Why?  Hamlet wants to ensure that the soul of Claudius goes to hell.  At that moment Hamlet dooms himself.  Any human being could take the life of another; taking the soul of another? That is God's province, and when Hamlet decides that he will be God in this instance, he has completed the circle which will lead to his own destruction.  His fatal flaw then is threefold: hesitation, fate, and hubris.

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ajprincess | Student , Grade 10 | Valedictorian

Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:23 AM (Answer #47)

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Shakespeare's Hamlet is a play written to make the reader or director think for himself and create what he thinks to be Hamlets tragic flaw come alive. Any argument could be well supported or demolished on quotes and actions from the text and one's interpretation of these. The bottom line is not what is Hamlet's tragic flaw, but what tragic flaw can best be supported by the reader.

Hamlet's tragic flaw is his inconsistent approach to problems. In the scenarios that may call for quick, decisive behavior, Hamlet ruminates. An example of this is seen in Act III, iii when Hamlet has his knife over the head of Claudius, prepared to murdered him, and he talks himself out of it. Another example of this is the play put on by Hamlet in Act III, ii when he wants to have proof of his father's murder by Claudius. In reality, all Hamlet needs to do is act on the ghost's words.

In those scenarios that require thorough contemplation, Hamlet is impulsive. An example of this is seen when hears a "rat" listening in on his dialogue with his mother in Act III, iv. Without the necessary thought, Hamlet draws his sword and kills Polonius. Another example to support this premise is in Act I, iv when Hamlet threatens his friends and follows the potentially dangerous ghost into the forest without any contemplation

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hidrofilnavata | Student , Graduate | eNoter

Posted December 3, 2013 at 7:15 PM (Answer #49)

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I would approach this subject from a different angle. Procrastination is not his flaw, it is a symptom of his flaw. As I see it, Hamlet's moral "compass" is in a discord with his time and that is the reason why he delays his revenge. Hamlet is a man who had an elite education away from his home, and his uniqueness stands out as he comes home from the University. Upon his arrival it is obvious that Hamlet is an extremely delicate and sensitive intellectual whose view of morality and obligation differs immensely from that of his surroundings'. The rules of the society he originated from demand that he kill his father's murderer, but his inner morality opposes this instinct. Hamlet finds himself stuck between social mores and his own sense of what is right. To choose to cast away society's rules is to choose to be completely isolated and that is the worst punishment for any man (even God did not kill Cain, he even forbade others to harm him because banishment and isolation are worse than death). Only upon seeing Fortinbrans' passion when it comes to ruling, Hamlet understood what kind of person he needed to become and it was only then that he accepted his place within his people and his obligations that come with his birthrights.

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arjun | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted August 12, 2007 at 2:38 AM (Answer #3)

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The play deals with Hamlet’s suffering and tragic end. Hamlet, like the other tragic heroes of Shakespeare, belongs to upper or royal class. He follows Aristotle`s definition of tragic hero. He has exceptional qualities like graceful personality and popularity among his country that is eminent. His tragic flaw is his delay in action and irresolution that depends on the nature of self analysis. Coleridge words: "His enormous intellectual activity prevents from instant action and the result is delay and irresolution."

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 28, 2008 at 1:23 PM (Answer #5)

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This question has had several interesting answers. Click the links below to see them:

What is a tragic flaw? What is the tragic flow of Hamlet and is Hamlet destroyed by his flaw?

Does Hamlet realize his tragic flaw?

It seems that Hamlet has had a slight change of heart at the end of Act II. Is he serious or is he merely expressing his tragic flaw?

You might want to also visit our free, online lessons on Hamlet which address your question. Just go to the Lit101 course on Hamlet. There you can view complete discussions of each scene, browse our questions and answers or contribute questions on your own and receive answers.

Thank you for using eNotes! 

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lsumner | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted May 24, 2011 at 9:35 AM (Answer #14)

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Hamlet's tragic flaw is his inability to believe the worst. He is not certain that Claudius has killed his father. It is often hard to believe that anyone could kill your father. This is an error on Hamlet's part. He does not want to believe something as terrible as the murdering of his father, especially not by his Uncle. Hamlet's delay to avenge his father's death causes his own downfall. His Uncle Claudius acts upon his instincts and banishes Hamlet, plotting to have Hamlet murdered. While Hamlet's inabililty to act and avenge his fathers death could be considered honorable, especially since he is not certain that Claudius has killed his father, his delay gives Claudius time to act and ultimately set up the murdering of Hamlet. Hamlet's honorable characteristic of not believing the worst leads to his own downfall.

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simsimsim | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 9, 2011 at 7:57 AM (Answer #15)

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I believe that the Shakespearian tragic hero is driven to his downfall because of a defect in his personality. Hamlet was hesitant and he kept delaying fulfilling the duty given to him by his father's ghost, which is killing his uncle Claudius who had killed his father. He had got many "good" chances to avange himself against Claudius but he did nothing and "paid" a lot for this. In a world, Hamlet's tragic flaw is hesitation.

I believe that the Shakespearian tragic hero, as it were, is driven to his downfall because of a defect in his personality. Hamlet was hesitant and he kept delaying fulfilling the duty given to him by his father's ghost, which is killing his uncle Claudius who had killed his father. He had got many "good" chances to avenge himself against Claudius but he did nothing and "paid" a lot for this. In a word, Hamlet's tragic flaw is hesitation.

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amymc | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:03 AM (Answer #17)

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Another angle you might want to consider is that Hamlet is an anti-hero.  He tried to be the hero, but ultimately, he falls short.  This failing is not based upon a tragic flaw such as greed, pride or envy, it is a flaw of simply NOT being heroic.  He is intellectual; he is sensitive; he is philosophical.  None of these qualities mesh with the quick, violent action needed to aveng his father's murder.  We all have personality modes that lend us toward certain careers, activities, and goals.  A meek, non-competitive person would not survive on Wall Street or as an NBA player.  A competitive and aggressive person would not suffer committee planning very well.  Perhaps the tragedy here is simply that Hamlet is not the man for the job.  And that he is the only man for the job.

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ybrant6712 | College Teacher | Honors

Posted August 1, 2011 at 1:08 AM (Answer #20)

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In reply to #1    Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' is one of his most puzzling plays in that Hamlet possesses all the qualities required by a tragic hero -he hails from a lofty family and commands respect,his suffering  is exceptional  and inspires pity awe and terror .His multifaceted nature is revealed through the use of metaphoric language- he is at home with terminology derived from law,falconry, classical mythology,or theatrical imagery.Thus the attributes of a 'courtier ,soldier and scholar' are impressed  very early upon the mind of the reader ;but Hamlet the intellectual and sensitive  hero is caught in a web of deceit ,introspection and procrastination.Despite having an advantage over a guilty Claudius his uncertainty and pangs of conscience prevent him from taking action .He thus  fails to avenge his father's death,time and again.

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authorpd | College Teacher | eNoter

Posted September 7, 2011 at 2:36 AM (Answer #25)

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Psychologists say that "no living human is perfect". That means everyone has a flaw / some flaws in his personality. Circumstances and the emotional state of mind at that perticular moment brings this flaw out of the hidden recesses of  mind and start dominating the personality of the individual. Shakespeare's tragic heroes have this trait. That way they are mentally crippled to the extent of their flaws. Hamlet suffers from 'indecision'. That's his flaw. He cannot take a firm decision - right or wrong - at the moment of killing Polonius. He rather finds comfort in excuses and hence delays the action of taking revenge of his father's murder by Polonius. This indecision and consequent delay make him impotent for action. And that brings his downfall leading to death in the fencing match vs Polonius.

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loraaa | Student | Valedictorian

Posted January 1, 2012 at 5:33 AM (Answer #35)

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This topic is very great, thank you very much for this good effort.
I have benefited a lot from it.
I wish everyone to benefit from this excellent topic.
Thank you again....

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bibabitza | Student , Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 1, 2012 at 9:48 PM (Answer #36)

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First the features of the tragic hero are:
1- Belongs to a high rank (Hamlet was a prince)
2-He need to be Well known and well loved (Hartio and Ophelia loved him beside he is well known )
3-Weakness point (Hamlet was hesitant and couldn't take an action when he knew the murder of his father)
4- Commited sins (Hamlet killed polonius with no kind of reasons )
5- Suffering (Hamlet couldn't enjoy his life as a young prince he also didnt prove wether Claudius guilty or innocent  )
6- Downfall (  He was killed by a poisoned sword )
I think all this make him a tragic flaw ....

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bobdarwish | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted January 8, 2012 at 6:57 PM (Answer #37)

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Hamlet's tragic flaw is indeed his inability to act. He promised to avenge his father's death but he could not do it. He had the chance to kill Claudius when he was in his chamber praying, but he kept making excuses for why he could not kill him. It is this indecisiveness that leads to his demise—his downfall. Claudius sends him to England and he has to go through a number of ordeals before his tragic flaw leads to Claudius, Gertrude and his own death.

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rishakespeare | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 11, 2012 at 1:22 PM (Answer #38)

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My take on his flaw is somewhat different than the obvious " indecision and lack of timely action" flaw.  This is true, but I think the play fairly plays out that his biggest flaw may have, in fact been his greatest strength.  Hamlet is a moral individual, an idealist who believes the earth is a wonderful place, and man is the pinnacle of the universe.  He is forced, however, to accept a decaying, filthy world in which morality is realtive.  His greatest flaw is his inability to readily accept the world and humans as essentially flawed.

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misslacey | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 17, 2012 at 1:20 AM (Answer #39)

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What is Hamlet's tragic flaw?

What is Hamlet's tragic flaw?

I would say that Hamlet's tragic flaw is his indecision and that his famous "To be or not to be" soliloquey is a perfect example of this. Hamlet spends so much time thinking through whether or not he should act (avenge his father's death), that he misses multiple ample oppertunities to do so. I believe he does this out of fear. As a result, he ends up acting impulsively at inoppurtine times (when he accidently stabs Polonius from behind the curtain, for example). It is rash events like this that eventually lead to his tragic downfall.

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georgejijo | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 20, 2012 at 11:28 AM (Answer #44)

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in a single word it is procrastination which leads to Hamlet's own destruction. when we discuss about the tragic flaw of characters, we should recall the Aristotlean concept of a tragic hero;The tragic hero is a man of noble stature. He is not an ordinary man, but a man with outstanding quality and greatness about him. His own destruction is for a greater cause or principle. in the case of Hamlet, he is a noble character who defecit in decision making and that leads to his tragedy. we can see in a scene where Hamlet is getting a chance to revenge Claudius but he hesitates there and giving an irrational reason or which can be considered as superstitious. it is because of some psychological matters he frequently postpone his reveng. he thinks bravely but act cowardly. by procrasting his deed, unknowingly he invites his own doom. he could simply take his reveng on murderers of his beloved father, some how he takes his revenge but because of procrastinative tendency the same leads to his own destruction too..

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hadijaved | Student | Honors

Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:04 PM (Answer #48)

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Best Answer - Chosen by Voters

Hiii. His tragic flaw is in his heart. He is a clever person because he makes devious plans to find out if King Claudius actually murdered his father or not so there is nothing wrong with his head. The problem is in his heart. he is hesitant to carry out the revenge on King Claudius. He lacks passion and willpower. :]
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xmeganaliciax | Student , Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 30, 2008 at 8:27 AM (Answer #8)

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Hamlet's flaw is procrastination.

He keeps putting things off as he does not necessarily want to do them.

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fortinbras | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 11, 2009 at 10:19 AM (Answer #9)

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Hmmm, would it be fair to categorize Hamlet as an Aristotelian tragic hero?  Shakespeare didn't really follow Aristotle's ideal of the tragic hero.  Certainly his flaw was his inability to act, but he lacks hubris and a sense of commitment, which are part of Aristotle's tragic hero.  I think we might want to be careful to just bundle him on with the Aristotelian tragic hero.

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lolololololololololololololololololololololol | Student , Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 23, 2009 at 6:31 AM (Answer #10)

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Another example would be, Hamlet refuses to kill Claudius when he is praying in the church. This is because he fears it will give him a direct route into heaven.

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berny | Student , College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 23, 2009 at 8:50 AM (Answer #12)

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  1. In reply to #6: what was the meaning of that task
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somadina | Student , Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 22, 2010 at 8:09 AM (Answer #13)

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oedipus is a tragic hero of error.discuss

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pnil10swa | Student , Undergraduate | Honors

Posted June 26, 2011 at 7:51 PM (Answer #18)

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PRINCE HAMLET ALWAYS THINK ABOUT MORAL THINGS WHENEVER HE DECIDES TO TAKE REVENGE OF CLAUDIUS.THAT'S WHY DELAYED IN ACTION AND HIGH THINKING ARE TRAGIC FLAWS OF HAMLET.

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adibuddyboy | Student , Grade 9 | eNoter

Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:57 PM (Answer #19)

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hamlet was quite an extreme personality. He was very deeply affected by his father's tragic death. To take his father's revenge he makes a plan. now another great flaw was that he was quite a suspicious and unsure character.

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rosemeri | eNoter

Posted August 1, 2011 at 8:12 AM (Answer #21)

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Hmmm, would it be fair to categorize Hamlet as an Aristotelian tragic hero?  Shakespeare didn't really follow Aristotle's ideal of the tragic hero.  Certainly his flaw was his inability to act, but he lacks hubris and a sense of commitment, which are part of Aristotle's tragic hero.  I think we might want to be careful to just bundle him on with the Aristotelian tragic hero.

As Marchette Chute noted in Stories from Shakespeare, Shakespeare didn't appear to know anything about Greek or Roman history (because honestly, how did Theseus become Duke of Athens?). In my opinion, he may never have had a Classical education, which would have included reading Aristotle.

It's quite possible that Shakespeare never read Aristotle's Poetics at all and therefore lack of any idea of the formalized tragic hero of Aristotle.

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kazmig | College Teacher | eNoter

Posted August 22, 2011 at 7:07 AM (Answer #22)

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I do not believe that Hamlet posesses any tragic flaw in his character. It is said by the majority of the critics that the " deley in action " was the tragic flaw in Hamlet. But in the play his every delay is justified by a cojent reason.so we can,t associate this flaw to Hamlet.He was a man of action we see when he was in graveyard he did not made any delay.He just delivering a famous speech took the charg of the situation.

I loved Opehlia fourty thousand brothers, could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum.

Where is the delay of action in Hamlet,s personality.

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syedisha | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 29, 2011 at 1:13 PM (Answer #24)

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Procrastination is Hamlet's tragic flaw.

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aik87- | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 15, 2011 at 7:16 PM (Answer #26)

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I think as royal person. He was unablr to understand his motives. he is confused

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wffef3 | Student , College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 25, 2011 at 12:57 AM (Answer #27)

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What is Hamlet's tragic flaw?

What is Hamlet's tragic flaw?

His tragic flaw is basically his obsession with revenge, which ultimately consumes him and leads to his downfall (ie. death). Think that the tragic flaw is what always leads to the downfall.

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isthatjamesjoyce | Student , Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 18, 2011 at 3:51 PM (Answer #28)

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I tend to agree with #21 in some respects. Hamlet, stemming from Danish family of noble roots, has all the qualities to be a hero. He is clearly a man of action, who is forced into a world that is contaminated. His action is not as easily accessible due to the moral, religious and family restrictions in place. His desire for action can be seen in his interest in the Warriors who are up in arms at by the side of their Prince for glory. As a product of his position he is forced into a role where action is impossible, that is his tragic flaw.

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purplepandaress | Student , College Freshman | eNoter

Posted November 12, 2011 at 3:14 AM (Answer #29)

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Hamlets tragic flaw may be that underneath his 'antic disposition' and wittiness there is a vulnerability, that may have initated from the betrayal of his mother and uncle, but he is unable to avenge his father sooner. He does not take the opportunity to kill claudius while he prays yet claudius effortlessly plots against him in a cowardly attempt to kill him during the fencing. His flaw may be that he feels the pain of life that is a hinderance to his performace of revenge.

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jgansauer | Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 17, 2011 at 11:26 AM (Answer #30)

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Hamlet's flaw is procrastination.

He keeps putting things off as he does not necessarily want to do them.

 A Shakespearean tragic flaw is one that under other circumstances would be considered a positive quality, but in unique circumstances turns against the tragic hero.  "Procrastination" could never be considered a positive quality to begin with.

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jgansauer | Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 17, 2011 at 11:31 AM (Answer #31)

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In any other circumstances Hamlet would be praised for his careful deliberation.  Could we ever criticize someone who thinks too much?  In the case of Hamlet, over-deliberation seems to plague him, as evidenced especially in his "To be or not to be" speech in which the hero himself recognizes his own problem. I would suggest that had Hamlet acted quickly and without much over-thinking he might have saved himself, Ophelia, Laertes, Polonius, even his mother.

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gwynhwyfar | Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 18, 2011 at 12:05 AM (Answer #32)

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A more modern take on Hamlet's tragic flaw is his neurotic over-attachment to his mother. His understandable reaction to his father's murder is complicated by the motives for it. Is he truly enraged or more likely, more disappointed that he does not now have his mother all to himself (in strictly Freudian terms)?

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brady4 | Teacher | eNoter

Posted December 22, 2011 at 4:51 AM (Answer #33)

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hamlet's refusal to kill claudius in church shows his belief in the hereafter

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brady4 | Teacher | eNoter

Posted December 22, 2011 at 6:17 AM (Answer #34)

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ll hi or most of themhamlett is a man whose heart rules his mind. hee is an emotional man with a conscience  when he finally acts it i    is with descsion  with calculated thought that is with emotional thought  his major flaw may be his inability to trust his felt thougght process.

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nanthinii-mohan | Student , Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted January 27, 2012 at 6:42 PM (Answer #40)

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Hamlet's tragic flaw is "procrastination" (postponing a work) and his

inability to act when occasion calls for it.

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lyndaa | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted February 9, 2012 at 10:59 PM (Answer #41)

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What is Hamlet's tragic flaw?

What is Hamlet's tragic flaw?

Many believe that Hamlet's tragic flaw is his inability to make a decision, which leads to his inability to act.  His questioning of himself as well as others leads to not only his demise but the demise of others involved.

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anetakurdi | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 10, 2012 at 12:10 AM (Answer #42)

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i think Hamlet's tragic flaw is hesitation. after performing the play,he became sure that his uncle had murdered his father but why  didn't  he kill him in that point???that is his weakness.

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tyler-k | Student , Grade 12 | eNoter

Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:20 AM (Answer #50)

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Hamlet's tragic flaw is his "final task." He is so set on avenging his father that he loses sight of his own well being and what really matters. He had the potential to be great, but he didn't know how to prevent Claudius from stealing his mother and his power. Hamlet had no way of saving himself from his own desire to kill his father's murderer.

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dragonxneo | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 20, 2009 at 4:33 PM (Answer #11)

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dancedan | Student , Grade 9 | Honors

Posted February 19, 2012 at 10:11 PM (Answer #43)

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A tragic hero has the potential for greatness but is doomed to fail. He is trapped in a situation where he cannot win. He makes some sort of tragic flaw, and this causes his fall from greatness. Even though he is a fallen hero, he still wins a moral victory, and his spirit lives on.

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