In the play, is Hamlet a man of action or a man of thought? Does that change throughout the play? Why or how?

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Hamlet greatly laments at several points that he is not the man of action that he wishes he could be. After seeing Fortinbras fighting for "a little patch of land" that has no real "profit but the name," Hamlet laments that he cannot be more like Fortinbras in this regard:

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Hamlet greatly laments at several points that he is not the man of action that he wishes he could be. After seeing Fortinbras fighting for "a little patch of land" that has no real "profit but the name," Hamlet laments that he cannot be more like Fortinbras in this regard:

How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unused. (IV.iv.34-41)

Hamlet feels that his sense of revenge has been dulled, and he is ashamed that he cannot be moved to passionate acts himself. He feels that God created him to do more than simply eat and sleep, yet he spends much more time thinking about the revenge he seeks (and, indeed, about whether he needs to seek revenge at all) than committing to plans of action. Hamlet goes on to say that he believes that he's one part wisdom and three parts cowardice—too much a coward to act.

When Hamlet hears Claudius confessing to everything the ghost accused him of, he has a perfect opportunity to take action. Again, we see Hamlet stalling instead of acting:

And am I then revenged
To take him in the purging of his soul
When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?
No!
Up, sword, and know thou a more horrid hent.
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in th’ incestuous pleasure of his bed,
At game a-swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in ’t—
Then trip him. (III.iii.88-97)

Hamlet once again decides that the time isn't right for action. He needs to find a better time for killing Claudius—one when Claudius is in the midst of further sinful acts.

In the end, he decides to fence with Laertes primarily to resolve the conflict between them, unaware that Laertes is working closely with his uncle. Hamlet both receives a deadly blow from Laertes and inflicts one upon his opponent, quite as an accident of sport. It is not until he realizes that Claudius has effectively killed them both as well as Gertrude that Hamlet is suddenly moved to speedy action to take the revenge that he's been considering for most of the play.

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Hamlet is definitely a man of thought rather than a man of action for the majority of Shakespeare's play. Hamlet even laments in some of his lines that he cannot or will not make decisions that would lead him to act. Instead, he tends to be more introspective. He delivers soliloquies in which he expresses his feelings of anger and betrayal about Claudius and Gertrude, and he delivers soliloquies about his grief over his father's murder. Later in the play, Hamlet observes Claudius praying. Hamlet knows he could murder Claudius easily and avenge his father's murder (Claudius was the culprit). However, Hamlet considers the situation further and decides he does not want to act because he does not want Claudius to have the advantage of being killed while at prayer (Hamlet thinks he will less likely be damned, as Hamlet believes he deserves).

Hamlet does take some action in the play, but his actions are usually somewhat passive or subtle. For example, he organizes the play within a play, staging what he thinks happened to his father, in order to gauge Claudius's reaction and therefore his guilt. This is not the same, however, as taking an overt action, like accusing Claudius to his face. When Hamlet stabs Polonius, he does not even know who he is killing, so that cannot even really count as a deliberate action. Eventually, Hamlet gets his revenge, but he also is killed. Despite some of the actions he takes, Hamlet is usually more caught up in his thoughts than he is in acting on them.

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I agree that Hamlet is a man of thought throughout the play; he never takes any real action on his own or without prompting by someone else. The one thing he does accomplish is confirming what the ghost tells him: that Claudius did, indeed, kill his own brother, Hamlet's father, the old King Hamlet. However, even that one accomplishment seems to fall into his lap when the acting troupe happens to show up at Elsinore. Only then, once they have arrived, does Hamlet actually take some action. In the end, he does not act; he simply reacts. When he enters the duel with Laertes, he has no intention of killing his opponent. The death of Laertes is purely accidental; Laertes tipped his own sword with poison. When the men switched swords during the duel, Laertes was wounded with his own sword. Hamlet only kills Claudius when he learns that Claudius has poisoned the wine that killed Hamlet's mother and worked with Laertes to murder Hamlet. Therefore, he seems less like a man of action and more like a man of reaction!

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Through almost the entire play, Hamlet is tied up in his own head. He struggles with the decision to continue living, given the suspected murder of his father and the flight to "incestuous sheets" when his mother marries Claudius so soon after Hamlet Sr. is killed. He suspects that Claudius is behind his father's death, but he can't prove it and so he can't decide whether to kill Claudius or not.

When it becomes clearer that Claudius did in fact kill his father and Hamlet has the opportunity to kill him while Claudius is praying, he cannot do it as he again debates the effectiveness of killing a murderer while he is communing with God. He struggles as well with what to do about Ophelia. He has feelings for her but cannot pursue them given that he is so tied up in knots about his father's murder and everything else.

His change to a man of action comes only at the very tail end of the play as the certainty of what Claudius did becomes clear and Claudius murders his mother. At this point he takes revenge upon Claudius but is killed in the process, perhaps suggesting that his change to a man of action came far too late.

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