What is Hamlet's hamartia?
Hamartia, also referred to as a tragic flaw, is a personal error in a protagonist's personality which results in their unfortunate downfall. One could consider Hamlet's indecisiveness and inability to act upon his instincts to be his hamartia. Following Hamlet's interaction with his father's ghost, he begins to contemplate his revenge. However, Hamlet is a sensitive, insightful, perceptive individual, who struggles to act violently. Despite the fact that Hamlet utterly detests Claudius—and his mother's decision to marry his father's killer—he cannot bring himself to murder Claudius. Unlike his foil Fortinbras, Hamlet delays taking action until he can prove that Claudius murdered his father. Even after witnessing Claudius' reaction to the play, Hamlet does not murder him while he is praying. Hamlet talks himself out of killing Claudius by saying,
"Now he is a-praying. And now I’ll do ’t. And so he goes to heaven. And so am I revenged.—That would be scanned. A villain kills my father, and, for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven" (Shakespeare, 3.3.69-80).
Hamlet also contemplates committing suicide several times but decides against it out of fear that his soul would be doomed. Hamlet's indecisiveness—directly and indirectly—leads to the deaths of Ophelia, Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius. In the end, Hamlet's revenge does not go as planned, and nearly all the important characters in the play tragically die. The audience can sympathize with Hamlet's hamartia, which makes him one of the most well-rounded, enigmatic, and complex characters in all of literature.