Comment on the indecisive character of Hamlet in Shakespeare's play Hamlet?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare portrays Hamlet as a scholar and an intellectual who is perpetually lost in his own thoughts and thereby prevented from acting decisively. The play is unique in having so many long soliloquies by the protagonist, suggesting strongly that this is habitual with him and that there are many other times during his waking hours when he is indulging in the same kinds of mental activity as he articulates in his seven soliloquies. He only acts decisively when he doesn't have time to think. A good example is when the ship that is taking him to England is attacked by pirates and, as he tells Horatio in his letter:

Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled valor, and in the grapple I boarded them. On the instant they got clear of our ship, so I alone became their prisoner. (IV.6)

Hamlet actually boarded a pirate ship single-handed. It would seem that the pirates pulled away because they were frightened by this one man's show of aggression. He is courageous and aggressive whenever he is forced to act spontaneously. In these instances he proves his noble nature as the son of the man he describes as possessing:

Hyperion's curls, the front of Jove himself,
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill--
A combination and a form indeed
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man. (III.4)

Hamlet only achieves his mission of killing Claudius when he is incensed from his violent duel and learns that the King has plotted with Laertes to murder him with the poisoned foil. But his indecisiveness and procrastination have been responsible for the deaths of all the principals in the play with the exception of Horatio.

Most of us can identify with Hamlet because it is human nature to procrastinate. As Shakespeare expresses this truth in Macbeth:

The flighty purpose never is o'ertook
Unless the deed go with it. (Macbeth IV.1)