In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, what is Hamlet's greatest fear?

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A university intellectual, Hamlet finds himself immersed in a world motivated by revenge, lust, envy, and cupidity--carnal desires against which the cerebral prince is ill-equipped.  Thus, Hamlet is dubious about battling against them, and his greatest fear is that of taking wrongful action and, as a result, then being humiliated.

  • Hamlet worries that ...

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A university intellectual, Hamlet finds himself immersed in a world motivated by revenge, lust, envy, and cupidity--carnal desires against which the cerebral prince is ill-equipped.  Thus, Hamlet is dubious about battling against them, and his greatest fear is that of taking wrongful action and, as a result, then being humiliated.

  • Hamlet worries that the ghost may have not been real and that his killing of Claudius be unjustified; for, after all regicide is a serious matter. If found guilty of this charge, Hamlet will be terribly humiliated.
  • When he does decide to kill Claudius, Hamlet sees him praying; again he fears wrongful action, worrying that he may inadvertently make Claudius a martyr and, thus, humiliate himself as a "rogue and villain,"

A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.(80)
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge! (3.3.78-81)

The renowned critic Harold Bloom writes,

Hamlet...cannot strike us as a likely avenger because his intellectual freedom, his capaciousness of spirit, seems so at odds with his Ghost-imposed mission.

Further, Bloom contends, Hamlet feels it is humiliating that he should be asked to set a world right, "How all occasions do inform against me." Fearing this humiliation, Hamlet deliberates, procrastinates, and philosophizes all the while remaining in a perpetual state of melancholy because his knowledge of the futility of life deters action--"To be, or not to be...."

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