A Common Theme Introduced: Hamlet's Inability to Act

William Shakespeare

A Common Theme Introduced: Hamlet's Inability to Act

When discussing the "tragic flaw" first taught by Aristotle, scholars love to fight about what Hamlet's tragic flaw might be.  Perhaps the most common possible tragic flaw mentioned and easily proved through the text is the flaw of inaction, or Hamlet's inability to act.  Scholars who point to this as Hamlet's flaw deem Hamlet to be the top procrastinator of his time.  Scholars who don't agree that inaction is Hamlet's tragic flaw must admit that Hamlet's inability to act is at the very least an important theme of Shakespeare's work. The reader doesn't even get out of Act I before this theme is being presented.  The ghost has just demanded revenge by way of Hamlet planning his uncle's murder, and Hamlet delays the action first by "testing" all of the characters by putting "an antic disposition on."  Instead of acting, Hamlet simply pretends to act crazy.  Procrastination at its finest.  Hamlet furthers the theme just a few lines later by saying, "The time is out of joint.  O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right."  In this very common allusion to the play, Hamlet admits that he does not want to take revenge at all.  He admits that even "time" is not on his side.  He does not want to set the divine order right again.  He considers it "spite" for him to have to do so.