Explain where in the play "Hamlet" where Hamlet's heroism is demanded of him and how he fails to be heroic?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hamlet, there is a time when Hamlet's heroism is demanded of him. He is expected to take on the role of a hero and avenge his father's death. When Hamlet speaks with his father's ghost, his father instructs him to seek revenge. Although Hamlet has specific instructions, he fails to be heroic immediately.  

Truly, the ghost of Hamlet's father speaks clearly as to who is responsible for his murder. The ghost of Hamlet's father demands Hamlet to avenge his death the moment he hears the truth of who murdered him:

So you are obliged to revenge, when you shall hear me

Again, the ghost insists that his young son Hamlet seek revenge for Claudius' murderous actions:

Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

Hamlet is given specific instructions. Upon hearing of Claudius' horrible deed, Hamlet is to seek revenge for what his Uncle Claudius has done to Hamlet's father. The ghost makes it clear that Hamlet is to pursue revenge:

If you have nature in you, don’t accept this,
Don’t let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, however you pursue this revenge,

Hamlet swears to his father that he will seek revenge immediately:

Tell me about it quickly, so that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May rush to my revenge.

However, Hamlet does not rush to avenge his father's death immediately. In fact, after Hamlet's father's ghost leaves, Hamlet curses about being chosen as the one to avenge his father's death:

There is so much out of whack in these times. And damn the fact that I’m supposed to fix it! Come on, let’s go.

Clearly, Hamlet is not happy about his new heroic challenge. He is upset that he has to bring justice to his father's murderer. Truly, Hamlet procrastinates when it comes to avenging his father's death. 

Hamlet is not hasty in seeking revenge of his father's death. He seems to be putting off his revenge. He fails to act heroically. Hamlet's indecisiveness becomes evident throughout the play. He questions whether he is a coward:

A dull and muddy-spirited rascal, shrink,
Like a dreamy fellow, not full of my cause,
And can’t say anything, no, not for a king
On whose kingdom and most dear life
Were all brought to nothing. Am I a coward?

No doubt, Hamlet is not pleased with his hesitation in avenging his father's death. While he criticizes himself for not acting immediately as the villain who is seeking revenge, he insults himself more so:

Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
O, vengeance!
Why, what an ass I am! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murdered,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, release the content of my heart with
words, and fall down cursing like a very drab,
Menial servant in the kitchen!
Shame on it! Argh! Change course, my brain!


Ultimately, Hamlet is confused about whether he should murder his Uncle Claudius or not. He is torn between living and dying. Hamlet is deeply troubled about life. He questions whether he should just let it go and live with the fact that his father was murdered or should he end his problems by fighting? 

To be, or not to be, that is the question.
Is it nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to fight against a sea of troubles,
And end them by fighting?