According to the Aristotelian view of tragedy, a tragic hero must fall through his or her own error. This is typically called the “tragic flaw”, and can be applied to any characteristic that causes the downfall the hero. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark can be seen as an Aristotelian tragedy and Hamlet as it’s tragic hero. Hamlet’s flaw, which in accordance with Aristotle’s principles of tragedy causes his demise, is his inability to act. This defect of Hamlet’s character is displayed throughout the play.
In the opening scenes of the play, the Ghost of old Hamlet reveals the truth about his death to his son, and tells Hamlet to avenge the murder. Hamlet’s first response is one that sounds of speedy action, saying “Haste me to know’t that I with winds as swift? May sweep to my revenge.” (p. 34 lines 29-31) Unfortunately, Hamlet’s inability to act on his father’s extortion has him reluctant to kill King Claudius by the end of that very scene, when he says, “This time is out of joint, O cursed spite, that I was ever born to set it right.” (p. 41 lines 190-191)
As the play goes on, Hamlet still has yet to act on his murderous task. In act II, scene 2, Hamlet decides that, before he can avenge his father’s death, he must make sure that the Ghost was telling the truth. This simply gives Hamlet more excuse to procrastinate-he gets to put off killing Claudius until after the “play within a play”, Mousetrap, is preformed. Not surprisingly, Hamlets inability to act gets the best of him even after he has obtained his proof that Claudius is guilty, and he can only contemplate the act.
Further evidence of Hamlet’s tragic flaw can be found in act III, scene 3. At this point, Hamlet is sure of Claudius’ guilt, and has even declared that “Now could I drink hot blood and do such bitter business as the day Would quake to look on.” (p. 99 lines 406-408) He comes to find King Claudius alone, and recognizes it as an opportunity to act, but almost immediately talks himself out of action on the bases that the King is praying, and will therefore go to heaven. He decides yet again to delay avenging his father’s murder, this time until he can kill the King while he is in a vile condition, such as “When he is drunk asleep; or in his rage; Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed.” (p. 103 lines 89-90) Hamlet has failed to act for so long that the Ghost soon comes back to remind him of his duty.
In the end, we see that Hamlet’s inability to act indeed causes his fall, and that his failure costs him not only his life, but also his mother’s. In the final scene, Hamlet duels with Laertes, who has conspired with the King to kill Hamlet. In the King’s attempt to kill Hamlet, he accidentally poisons the Queen. Laertes delivers the fatal wound to Hamlet with a sword dipped in a deadly poison and it is only with his final life breath that Hamlet finally kills the King. This does not mean that Hamlet has finally acted-he has only reacted to what is happening to him. If Hamlet had initially carried out his dead father’s wishes, the King could not have conspired against him, thus establishing that the play is indeed an Aristotelian tragedy, and that Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his inability to act.