Is Hamlet a Coward Analysis

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3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 540|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

William Shakespeare's play Hamlet has been the subject of much debate and analysis since its first performance. One of the recurring questions that arises is whether Hamlet can be considered a coward for not enacting his revenge with more haste. Throughout the text, there are several instances where Hamlet's actions, or lack thereof, can be interpreted as indicative of cowardice. This essay will explore these instances and argue that Hamlet's hesitation is not a sign of cowardice, but rather a result of his complex character and the circumstances he finds himself in.

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One of the key moments where Hamlet's alleged cowardice is brought into question is when he has the opportunity to kill Claudius while the latter is in prayer. This scene takes place in Act III, and Hamlet is fully aware that Claudius is responsible for his father's murder. However, instead of acting impulsively, Hamlet contemplates the consequences of his actions. This moment is crucial in understanding Hamlet's character, as it reveals his moral dilemma and his desire for justice rather than revenge. As scholar John Dover Wilson argues, "Hamlet's hesitancy can be seen as a result of his desire to ensure that Claudius faces the consequences of his actions in a just manner."

Furthermore, Hamlet's hesitation can also be attributed to his analytical and introspective nature. In Act II, Hamlet famously delivers his soliloquy, in which he ponders the nature of existence and the meaning of life. This soliloquy showcases Hamlet's deep thinking and his contemplative nature. Rather than rushing into revenge, Hamlet takes the time to consider the implications of his actions and the potential consequences for himself and those around him.

Additionally, Hamlet's delay in enacting revenge can also be seen as a strategic move rather than an act of cowardice. In Act III, Hamlet decides to stage a play that mirrors the circumstances of his father's murder, in order to gauge Claudius' reaction and confirm his guilt. By taking this approach, Hamlet ensures that he has sufficient evidence to justify his actions and prevent any potential backlash. As scholar Harold Jenkins notes, "Hamlet's delay can be seen as a calculated move to gather evidence and strengthen his case against Claudius."

It is also important to consider the external factors that contribute to Hamlet's perceived cowardice. Throughout the play, Hamlet faces numerous obstacles and threats, including the ghost of his father, the machinations of Claudius, and the political turmoil within the kingdom. These external pressures weigh heavily on Hamlet and contribute to his cautious approach. As critic Stephen Greenblatt suggests, "Hamlet's hesitation can be seen as a response to the overwhelming challenges he faces, rather than a sign of cowardice."

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In conclusion, while there are multiple instances in the text where Hamlet's actions can be interpreted as cowardly, a closer analysis reveals that his hesitation is a result of his complex character, his desire for justice, and the circumstances he finds himself in. Hamlet's contemplative nature, strategic thinking, and the external pressures he faces all contribute to his delay in enacting revenge. Therefore, it is unfair to label Hamlet as a coward based solely on his hesitancy. Instead, we should view his actions through a more nuanced lens that takes into account the intricacies of his character and the challenges he faces.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Is Hamlet A Coward Analysis. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
“Is Hamlet A Coward Analysis.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
Is Hamlet A Coward Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Jul. 2024].
Is Hamlet A Coward Analysis [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 24]. Available from:
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