OAC I

Problems in Hamlet

Hamlet's Character


..."The character of Hamlet stands quite by itself. It is not a character marked by strength of will or even of passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment. Hamlet is as little of the hero as a man can well be: but he is a young and princely novice, full of high enthusiasm and quick sensibility-the sport of circumstances, questioning with fortune and refining on his own feelings, and forced from the natural bias of his disposition by the strangeness of his situation. He seems incapable of deliberate action, and is only hurried into extremities on the spur of the occasion, when he has no time to reflect, as in the scene where he kills Polonius, and again, where he alters the letters which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are taking with them to England, purporting his death. At other times, when he is most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided, and sceptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost, and finds out some pretence to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again. For this reason he refuses to kill the King when he is at his prayers, and by a refinement in malice, which is in truth only an excuse for his won want of resolution, defers his revenge to a more fatal opportunity, when he shall be engaged in some act 'that has no relish of salvation in it.' "...His ruling passion is to think, not to act: and any vague pretext that flatters his propensity instantly diverts him from his previous purposes. (William Hazlitt, "Characters of Shakespeare's Plays")

Questions:

1. What is the point of this extract from Hazlitt?

2. Do you agree with the basic thesis presented?

3. Are there any weaknesses to the argument? If so what are they?

4. Is there anything from the play to substantiate the argument? Explain.

5. Is there anything in the play to prove Hazlitt wrong? Explain

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