The character of Hamlet is one of the most intensely debated questions in literary criticism. In part this is because the famous soliloquies of psychological meditation, like “to be or not to be” speech, suggest a person of great psychological complexity. Then there is the many-sidedÂ nature of the character: in Hamlet Shakespeare combines a series of stock theatrical figures: revenger, philosopher, satirist, aristocratic and so on, and yet at the same time he manages to make him seem a single individual. Hamlet is a noble prince always polite, elegant and brave. But he is also a revenger: savage, obsessed, single-minded, and at the same time a “malcontent”: a satirical critic of the corruption of the world. He is an ambitious man disappointed in his hopes, or a rejected lover, who speaks in an ironic tone about the futility of human life and he is often dressed black.
Hamlet is also a complex figure because he does notact, or at least not immediately. There are a lot of theories about Hamlet’s delay. Early audiences probably admired Hamlet as the heroic man of action who has the courage to speak with the ghost when his friends advise him to keep away; the cunning revenger who traps Claudius through the “mousetrap”plot; the fencer who defeats the expert Laertes.
Romantic critics, on the other hand, saw him as the archetype of inaction. Romantic theories tend to overlook moments in which Hamlet is very far from philosophical detachment: in his savage refusal to kill Claudius at prayer, because his soul might escape damnation; in the killing of Polonius or of Rosencrantz and Guildestern, in his escape from the ship and his dramatic challenge to laertes at the funeral of Ophelia.
A more convincing interpretation is that Hamlet wants to behave in a noble way, to be seen to be noble: he is concerned about what others will think of him. Infact his last words are instructions to Horatio to tell his story: at all costs his reputation must be saved.