Problems in Hamlet

What is Hamlet's Flaw

..."Nor to any one is he known to have a defect. No one ever ventures to speak of him slightingly or critically. Why does not the King, Laertes, or Fortinbras despise him for a scholar and dreamer, at least, instead of taking him as they all do for the worthy son of his warrior sire? Why does not the Queen once sigh, or Horatio sadly shake his head? He is a courtier, soldier, scholar, the expectancy and rose of the fair state, cries Ophelia, and there is no suggestion that she is saying it as one who does not know. It is the accepted opinion. The King fears him, and shrinks from bringing him to account for Polonius' death, he says because of the great love the general gender bear him. The sinful Queen quails under his rebuke, and yet loves him too well to betray his confidence. And as often in Shakespeare's tragedies, at the end of the play judgment to the same effect is pronounced on his character by a disinterested party. (Fortinbras)...

...Here, or somewhere, one would have expected comment on Hamlet's shortcomings, his weakness or tragic fault. Instead, there is only praise from his friends, fear and hatred from his enemies. How is it possible, then that a tragic fault or weakness could have been intended? Not only do Shakespeare's heroes know their faults, like Lear at the beginning, or Othello at the end as Hamlet says he does not (and would seem to have none to know), but their friends and enemies know them too. The Fool and Kent know Lear's, Lady Macbeth her husband's... but Horatio, Ophelia, Gertrude, Laertes, Fortinbras, who at the end avers that as a king he would have proved right royally, even Claudius himself, find in Hamlet no weakness at all! Only Horatio, of course, who alone is aware of the secret of the murder, could know of the procrastination or suspect it. He does not even hint at it...

... The charges, then, which Hamlet brings against himself are not though they might well be, confirmed or substantiated. In fact the evidence points the other way. (Elmer Edgar Stoll "Hamlet's Fault")


1. What is the main point of the article by Elmer Edgar Stoll?

2. In what way can this be said to be a problem of the play?

3. Do you agree with his basic thesis about Hamlet's fault?

4. Are there some weaknesses to the argument? If so, what are they?

5. In your opinion who is a greater tragic hero Lear or Hamlet? Explain fully.

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