How can the reader argue for or against this statement about the Prince of Denmark in Hamlet? "Hamlet falls not because of the commonly accepted factors but because he is too rash, too overweening,...

How can the reader argue for or against this statement about the Prince of Denmark in Hamlet?

"Hamlet falls not because of the commonly accepted factors but because he is too rash, too overweening, too heedless."

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a play of ponderous soliloquies and nearly 4,000 lines, one can hardly consider Hamlet, the skeptical and charismatic Prince of Denmark, too rash, or too heedless, or even too overweening.

  • Hamlet's deliberations are intricate, deep, and lengthy

Often considered as a divided consciousness, Hamlet exhausts himself with introspection and debate.  His seven soliloquies are, in fact, what move the plot. In each of these self-debates Hamlet considers his personal situation, the effect that this position will place the political state and his potential for leadership.  In the first soliloquy, for instance, after his father's death, Hamlet expresses his disillusionment with his world that is an "unweeded garden," one filled with corruption.  And, in his ambivalence on how to act after having seen his father's ghost, Hamlet wishes to escape from life in his depression:

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! (1.2.132-133)

While Hamlet's encounter with the ghost of his father raises his ire and grief and he swears to act,

Now to my word:

It is ‘Adieu, adieu! Remember me.’
I have sworn't. (1.5.115-117)

Hamlet still does not rush out to avenge his father's death although he promises the ghost to avenge his death:

And still your fingers on your lips, I pray.
The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Nay, come, let's go together. (1.5.206-211)

There are other occasions in which Hamlet perceives opportunities to avenge King Hamlet's death; however, he holds himself back with deliberations of how his act of regicide will affect the state.  For, this is a serious crime and the ascension to the throne is not automatic in Denmark; instead, there is an elected monarch, so Hamlet must win the confidence of the Danes.  This is why he hesitates as he watches Claudius pray, along with his unwillingness to make this "villain" a martyr. 

It is not until the penultimate graveyard scene in which Hamlet unearths his identity and accepts it, declaring himself "Hamlet the Dane" (5.1.228) that he takes action.

  • Hamlet lacks confidence, and is not arrogant

Although he proudly declares himself "Hamlet the Dane," Hamlet is not overweening in this statement because his perception of himself is as Citizen of Denmark who must do his princely duty to rid the Danish court of its corruption and its politicians, who are those "that would circumvent God."

Certainly, he is humbled by the observation of the stalwart and loyal son Fortinbras, who assumes the objective of reclaiming lands taken from his father without a strong chance of winning. In awe, Hamlet observes that he must be part coward for not acting when he there are many a reason to act,

Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do,'
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, (4.4.47-48)

Further, as Hamlet observes the Norwegian, he notices the man's courage and is humbled,

Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. (4.4.53-55)

Hamlet is ashamed that he has not demonstrated more courage and determination as he observes Fortinbras.

How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,...
And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds....(4.4.58-62)

Thus inspired by Fortinbras, Hamlet finally vows to act, not with arrogance, but with filial pride.