Character is Destiny in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Shakespearean tragedy presents the tragedy of a hero in terms of tragic flaw in the character of the hero. Shakespeare himself lays emphasis on this fact: "the fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves and not in our stars," Lear is a man of remarkable qualities, but he lacks discretion and wisdom, the ability to distinguish between the right and the wrong, the just and the unjust. Othello is a great and noble man, but he is jealous and impractical and he falls.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Macbeth is a brave and noble man, but he is ambitious. His vaulting ambition overleaps itself and brings about his fall. Hamlet too meets with a tragic end because of his irresolute nature and inability to accept the role ordained by nature for him.

Hamlet is a man of remarkable qualities. He is a noble-hearted scholar, an eminent soldier, 'the observed of all observers.' In spite of all these noble qualities he suffers from the fatal defect of indecision. He is reflective by nature and speculates over his actions. If he acts quickly, he does so on impulse. But it is not only his tragic flaw which accounts for his downfall; the external circumstances or the Supreme Power of Fate also plays an important role in the tragedy of the hero. Fate has an important role in the downfall of the character of Hamlet. The very appearance of the Ghost strikes the note of some ominous power of Fate. It is Hamlet's fate that his father has been murdered by his uncle and his father's Ghost reveals the secret and lays the task of taking revenge upon Hamlet-a task which Hamlet feels inadequate to accomplish. The Ghost appears for the second time only to emphasize Hamlet’s delay in carrying out his task. However, it is really the ominous atmosphere built up by Shakespeare rather than the Ghost itself, which gives us a sense of supernatural power in the universe.

Fate intervenes in the form of accident for it is a mere accident that the ship in which Hamlet travels to England is attacked by the pirate vessel and subsequently he returns to Denmark to meet his tragic death. It is fate that he has to end his life in Denmark and fulfil the Ghost's desire of avenging his father's death. Or else he might have gone to England never carrying out the entrusted task successfully. Again, it is a fateful chance that Polonius is murdered by Hamlet and is to be avenged by his son. Thus, the revenger becomes the victim of revenge; the punisher becomes the punished. It is an accident that Hamlet arrives at the graveyard, just when his beloved is to be buried; that Gertrude drinks the glass of poisoned wine which was meant for Hamlet and dies, which the foils get exchanged in the duel, and both Laertes and Hamlet die. However, though chance events are there, the over-all feeling we get on seeing Hamlet is that the tragedy is primarily due to character.

Character is Destiny. Hamlet by nature is prone to thinking. He analyses his action and sees whether there is justice in it or not. This kind of brooding nature often restrains him from doing his action and he becomes less a man of action. His soliloquies are the best examples to prove his analyzing nature. In these soliloquies he chides his delays in action. Still, he is incapable of translating his thoughts into action. His thoughts become as futile as that of a dumb dreamer. He is fully aware of his vacillating nature and in every meditation, he makes up his mind to be active in the future, but when action is demanded he retreats.

Hamlet is not able to come to terms with life or death at the beginning of the play. That is why he regrets having been born to set the time right. He is reluctant to accept the role he is ordained to perform. He is torn between appearance and reality, between passion and reason, between what is expected of him and what his moral scruples revolt against. It is his mistake that he does not accept his position, but seeks to escape from it. But by the end he realizes that there exists a mysterious power in the universe. Thus, he speaks of the divinity that shapes all things and, observes: "The readiness is all." This is not a passive fatalist's meek acceptance, but a mature mind accepting the necessity of acting without thinking too much. To sum up, both tragedies of character or a tragedy of fate interact and produce the overall effect of tragic loss as well as the glory of man.

Hamlet Study Center

Procrastination in Avenging the Murder of Father in Hamlet