In Hamlet, is Hamlet prudent or foolish? Is his inablity to act decisively his downfall or it what makes him a hero?In Hamlet, is Hamlet prudent or foolish? Is his inablity to act decisively his...

In Hamlet, is Hamlet prudent or foolish? Is his inablity to act decisively his downfall or it what makes him a hero?

In Hamlet, is Hamlet prudent or foolish? Is his inablity to act decisively his downfall or it what makes him a hero?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my personal opinion, I find Hamlet to be a bit foolish.  Prudence could be attributed to his hesitation to kill his uncle, but how he goes about being careful is so foolish, ridiculous, and harmful that it cancels out the prudent intent.  Sure, it's good to know if his uncle is actually guilty of the crime that a phantom ghost accused him of.  But, to act insane, rant and rave against your girlfriend and mother, isolate and alienate your friends, mope about alarming everyone, stage elaborate plots to determine your uncle's guilt, and then, when you are sure of it and have a chance to kill, to pass it up with lame excuses, and then to over-hastily kill some random guy behind a curtain.....?  All of those things are pretty foolish to me.  Take the "not killing Claudius when given a chance but then killing someone--you know not who-in the spontaneous heat of the moment" incident alone.  That is incredibly foolish.  How can he, moments before, have justified not killing his uncle when he could have, and then moments later, without thinking at all, stab aimlessly at someone whose identity he hasn't confirmed?  That is not wise; it's a combination of cowardice and rashness.

Then, think of his entire plan to put on an "antic disposition" in order to throw everyone off.  Why not just go about carefully?  Why not just suck up to the king so that the king isn't suspicious?  That seems more prudent and clever to me.  Instead, he acts like a foolish clown as a way to vent his anger and throw everyone off.  Very foolish and bizarre.

Lastly, Hamlet is not a hero because he doesn't act decisively--his indecision is his downfall.  Most critics agree with this point, that if Hamlet had acted sooner instead of being a clown, then intermittently moping about over-analyzing everything, then he could have avoided the entire "everyone in the entire play dies" scenarios.  I hope that those thoughts helped a bit; good luck!

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In accord with post #2, Shakespeare's portrayal of a depressive personality is clearly the cause of Hamlet's indecision and other inexplicable actions.  This play is another testimony to the incredible insight that William Shakespeare had into the human heart and psyche.  Rather than having arrogance as a tragic mistake, Hamlet has the indeciveness of the depressed person as his flaw.  In the end, however, he is heroic because he does act, and he rids Denmark of the corrupt and morally degenerate court.  Like a true leader, he has saved his kingdom.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps we should consider the way Hamlet pursued revenge. He could have achieved revenge in a number of ways. He could have killed Claudius, and that’s the course he ended up taking, but he could also have revealed Claudius to the court. He could have revealed Claudius to Gertrude earlier in the play. He could also have forgiven. Any of those things would have fit better with his “morals” and made him a more sympathetic hero.

epollock | Student

Hamlet is extremely prudent. His indecisiveness is always misunderstood as his actions are reasonable in the time constraints of the play. His refusal to kill Claudius while Claudius is praying shows how his understanding of the soul and that he doesn't want Claudius's soul to go to heaven.  He can not kill him while he is praying.

vveritasv | Student

In my opinion, he is neither.  While Hamlet claims to "put an antic disposition on" he really is suffering such deep mental anguish that he touches on real, and not merely feigned, madness.  His apparently foolish behavior is easily explained if he is bi-polar or severely depressed. If Hamlet had not been unbalanced before the death of his father, the emotional shock (including seeing a ghost!) of what he found upon his return from Wittenburg might be enough to push him over the edge.  I think Hamlet was aware of this possibility and feared a real madness. If must have been very lonely for Hamlet, no one, not even Horatio, could converse with him on his level, or comfort him.  If you consider some of his bizarre behavior: his cruelty to Ophelia (though she had cruelly betrayed HIM), the way he changes his tone after seeing the ghost the first time (from awe to silly taunting), the leap into the grave at the end, the inexplicable surprise he feels at Laertes anger in Act 5 (surely he remembers killing his father) it makes more sense. Before the fatal duel, in the beautiful "There is a certain providence..." speech, he shows he is ready.  Hamlet is not a hero because he murders or exacts justice.  He is a hero because he grapples with his own mind and inner self and comes out in control.