Hamlet, upon his homecoming from University to his father’s murder, is consumed by a moral quandary: He is cognizant of the traditional obligation of revenge, yet his character distinctly opposes the act. Hamlet is thrust into discord as he attempts to at once avenge his father and reconcile his moral compass with killing. He enacts revenge only when spurred by extreme stimuli and not before tragedy transpires. That his disposition is sensitive and pensive renders the Prince flawed and problematic in a situation requiring heroics.
Hamlet bears the duty of avenging his father’s murder, but he is not inclined to retribution. The Prince wishes to know his father’s assassin, seeking “to know’t, that [he], with wings as swift … may sweep to [his] revenge,” yet he curses “that [he] was ever born to set it right” (1.5.35-37; 1.5.211). Hamlet respects revenge and balance and intends to see both unfold, but he stands on so rigid a moral ground that he is unable to act. He holds the evidence for his motives to an impossibly high standard, pondering at length the veracity of his supposed father’s apparition. Incapable of the deed, he asks “am I a coward” (2.2.521). Consciously aware of cowardice, in a mad fit of self-delusion he convinces himself to decipher the conscience of Claudius by the obviously unreliable method of observing for mere “blench” of his uncle at the site of “something like the murder of [his] father” (3.1.547-549). Even as Hamlet eavesdrops on his uncle confessing “his brother’s murder,” he convinces himself not to inflict retribution less he “send to heaven” his