What is the crux of Hamlet's dilemma in the play and why is he so stuck between paralysis and action? 

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The will to act becomes the crux of Hamlet's dilemma.  From this, Shakespeare is able to weave a powerful portrait of what the individual does when they are besieged with information, impulses, and condition that are devoid of totality to tell them what to do.  Hamlet is confronted with the death of his father, needing to take revenge, and embracing a path beyond his capacity. This state of being is where Hamlet's paralysis lies.  He is a character that is poised between equally challenging courses of action in which there can be no permutation.  

Consider the dualities that he brings out in his "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy.  The speech finds Hamlet struggling with the condition of being in the world.  While it might be read as a exploration of the need to commit suicide or live through pain, one can also find the root of Hamlet's paralysis: "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/ And by opposing end them?"  The crux of Hamlet's dilemma is evident here for he really does not know what path to take.  Interestingly enough, Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's most intelligent creations.  Hamlet is smart enough to understand that the crux of his dilemma is that no matter what action he takes, there is no chance of him being happy. Consciousness is thus defined as a constant and perpetual state of insecurity and doubt.  Being so intelligent, Hamlet articulates what everyone else in both drama and audience feels.  The "calamity of so long life" and "the grunt and sweat of weary life" fails to provide any release.  Hamlet recognizes this condition of being as a cursed one:

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of disprized love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns 
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?

For Hamlet, such a condition of being is pain- ridden no matter what path one takes.  This becomes part of the reason that Hamlet finds it so difficult to act.  Hamlet has come to the painful realization that there is no external force that can provide guidance and a guarantee that all will be well.  There can be no condition that permits "sleep" in the most blissful of connotations.  Hamlet's pain lies in that there is no release from pain caused by insecurity and doubt.  This becomes the crux of his dilemma.

It is for this reason that Hamlet is stuck between paralysis and action.  Even when he strives to reinvision himself as "Hamlet the Dane," it is clear that Hamlet is trapped between paralysis and action because he recognizes the lack of external validation and release from pain and doubt.  Hamlet's intelligence enables him to understand that "Time is out of joint" and that he is ill prepared to "set it right." Hamlet recognizes that consciousness in the modern world, like Denmark itself, is a "prison."  It is one in which the individual is trapped.  This condition of being trapped is one where individuals are "pigeon-livered and lack gall."  Like Hamlet, individuals can articulate their condition of forlorn while being able to do little to avert it.  These conditions that Hamlet articulates throughout the drama form the crux of his dilemma, and help to explain why he is poised in difficulty.