Coleridge and the Argument of ActionSamuel Taylor Coleridge, in his essay, "On Hamlet" argues: "Shakespeare wished to impress upon us the truth, that action is the chief end of...

Coleridge and the Argument of Action

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his essay, "On Hamlet" argues: "Shakespeare wished to impress upon us the truth, that action is the chief end of existence -- that no faculties of intellect, however brilliant, can be considered valuable or indeed otherwise than as misfortunes, if they withdraw us from, or render us repugnant to action, and lead us to think and think of doing, until the time has elapsed when we can do anything effectually."  Do you disagree or agree with Coleridge?  On what grounds? 

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malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is true that many lives would have been spared had Hamlet just killed Claudius when he had the chance.  But to do so would have gone against not only Hamlet's nature as a thinker, but also his belief (and a medieval/Renaissance/Catholic belief) of what happens when someone dies.  Hamlet truly believed that Claudius was praying and that if he killed him then, Claudius would sail up to heaven, no problem.  This was completely repugnant to Hamlet, who could not help but remember his father's spirit talking about how he was killed without benefit of last rites:

"Now might I do it pat, now 'a is a-praying;
And now I'll do't. [He draws his sword.] And so 'a goes
to heaven,
And so am I revenged.  That would be scanned:
A villain kills my father, and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge." (3.3)

To give Claudius such an easy end would never have sat right to Hamlet, and I don't think Hamlet would have been very believable if he had performed such an unthinking piece of "revenge."

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I adore the way wrote it and agree with him wholeheartedly! I think this is exactly what Shakespeare was trying to impress upon the audience. Hamlet is a very intelligent man, but it didn't matter. He over-thought what he set out to do that he did it in the most ineffectual way. He accomplished his task, but at the death of so many including himself! Had he acted when he had the opportunity as Claudius was trying to pray he would have proved more to the audience, but instead he allowed his intellect to over run the reigns and in turn the play is tragic beyond the audience's imaginations because everyone in it dies. Hamlet could have saved the lives of many had he simply acted, his intellect proved not to valuable to him or those around him in any way, his intellect proved to be the death of all.