Hamlet fits in a literary tradition called the revenge play, in which a man must take revenge against those who have in some way wronged him. Yet Hamlet turns the revenge play on its head in an ingenious way: Hamlet, the man seeking revenge, can't actually bring himself to take revenge. For reason after reason, some clear to the audience, some not, he delays. Hamlet's delay has been a subject of debate from the day the play was first performed, and he is often held up as an example of the classic "indecisive" person, who thinks to much and acts too little. But Hamlet is more complicated and interesting than such simplistic analysis would indicate. Because while it's true that Hamlet fails to act while many other people do act, it's not as if the actions of the other characters in the play work out. Claudius's plots backfire, Gertrude marries her husband's murderer and dies for it, Laertes is manipulated and killed by his own treachery, and on, and on, and on. In the end, Hamlet does not provide a conclusion about the merits of action versus inaction. Instead, the play makes the deeply cynical suggestion that there is only one result of both action and inaction—death.
Action and Inaction ThemeTracker
Action and Inaction Quotes in Hamlet
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
That he should weep for her?
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.