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Before examining Hamlet's qualities when confronted with a moral dilemma or dilemmas, I believe we should have a common understanding as to what strength and a 'moral dilemma(s)' mean. Collins Canadian English Dictionary & Thesaurus defines 'strength' as "the ability to withstand or exert great force, stress or pressure" and I accept that. The definition of a dilemma, however, is not so clear. The most common definition is "a situation necessitating a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives; a problem that seems incapable of a solution... However, according to Gerald J. Hughes, S.J.,(Internet) A dilemma "At its vaguest, means not much more than that someone is not at all sure what they ought to do in a particular situation. But some philosophers have tried to define a moral dilemma much more narrowly: to be in a moral dilemma is to be faced with a situation in which no matter what one does, one does wrong." For the purpose of this exercise, I would choose the former definition (i.e. a dilemma is not much more than that someone is not at all sure what they ought to do in a particular situation.)
If we can accept these definitions then, and if we read the book, we would see that Hamlet's main moral dilemma hinges around the revenge killing of his step-father and Uncle, Claudius.However, even before Hamlet learns of his father's ghostly apparition, he faces his first dilemma; he contemplates suicide as indicated in his first soliloquy:"O that this too too solid flesh would meltThaw, and resolve itself into a dew,Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon 'gainst self-slaughter." (Act 1; Sc. 2; lines 129 - 132) The pain of his father's death, what he considers to be his mother's betrayal of his father by marrying his Uncle so soon after his father's death, and what was considered incest when a man marries his brother's wife was almost too much for Hamlet to bear but he withstands these great pressures even though he is held in check by the Christian belief at the time that suicides go to hell for all eternity. He endures. I think Hamlet is a procrastinator rather than a coward. When, for instance, others were terrified by the ghostly apparition of his father, Hamlet is determined to speak to it showing great courage given the beliefs of the time."I'll speak to it though hell itself should gape And bid me hold my peace... (2.2. 245-246.) And when he does speak to the ghost he learns the terrible truth of his father's death, murdered by hisbrother, Claudius, who moreover incestuously takes his father's wife (Hamlet's mother) as his bride.This sets Hamlet off to seek retribution, to revenge his father. However, at one level even though he knows what he should do, at another level he procrastinates interminably.
He "struggles with his doubts about whether he can trust the ghost and whether killing Claudius is the appropriate thing to do."SparkNotes - Key Facts; Major Conflict.) "If he can convince himself that the ghost who has told him all this is really his father's spirit and not a lying devil tempting him to perdition, then, he says I know my course." (George Bernard Shaw: from Postscript (1945) to 'Back to Mathuselah', 1921). Hamlet simply does not seem able to take action.In Act 3; Sc. 1, in the famous soliloquy To be or not to be..." (3.1.64-98). Hamlet again contemplatessuicide. He asks if it is it worth it "to live miserably or to end one's sorrows with a single stroke? Heknows that the answer would be undoubtedly yes if death were like a dreamless sleep. The rub or obstacle Hamlet faces is the fear of what dreams may come (74), i.e. the dread of something after death (86). Hamlet is well aware that suicide is condemned by the church as a mortal sin."(Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet's Soliloquy Analysis. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (6 Dec. 2012) < http://shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/soliloquies/tobeanalysis.html >.) And so, Hamlet takes no action.
Courage to bear his life or cowardice to take it and risk the 'fire of hell???'Now might I do it pat... (3.3.77-100). "Hamlet has thought himself prepared to "drink hot blood" (3.2.382) and carry out the murder of the King. Now, as he happens upon the unattended Claudius, thetime has come to take action, but Hamlet finds that he is unable to kill. Hamlet's reason for delay is that Claudius is in the midst of praying, and in order for revenge to be complete, the King must be engaged in some sinful act such as sex, gambling, or drinking, and thus be condemned to eternal damnation." (Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet Soliloquy Analysis. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (6 Dec. 2012) < http://shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/soliloquies/doitpatanalysis.html >.)
To me this shows how profound is the hatred Hamlet has for his Uncle-Step-Father. Granted, Hamlet's Uncle murdered his father and deserves justice but if the king is above the law then I think his fate in the after-life should be left to God. "Hamlet's last soliloquy is crucial to our understanding of his character development. By the end of the soliloquy, Hamlet brings to a halt his solemn contemplation on the immoral act of murderous revenge,and finally accepts it as his necessary duty. It is not that Hamlet has presented a solid and reasonable argument to convince himself of his terrible responsibility; rather he has driven himself to the conclusion with intense and distorted thoughts. Hamlet accuses himself of forgetting his father in that "bestial oblivion" (43), yet, he thinks his problem could be "thinking too precisely on the event" (44). (Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet Soliloquy Analysis. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (6 Dec. 2012) < http://shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/soliloquies/alloccasionsanalysis.html >.)
"Thinking too precisely on the event..." That is what Hamlet had been doing throughout the entire play. He thinks too much. He philosophises. He turns thoughts over and over in his mind so much so that one feels like screaming out: "Get on with it man! What further proof need we?" On the other hand, the taking of a human life is no small thing and for those of us who believe in Divine retribution, I think it would be better to think it out again (to paraphrase Fagan in Oliver).And so, finally in 5.2 when all doubt of Claudius' perfidy comes to light ("It is here Hamlet, thou art slain;...The King, the King's to blame" (5.2.314 - 321) Hamlet wounds the King with his poisoned sword and immediately after (5.2.326-329) forces the King's swallow his poisoned drink. One might say the King got his just desserts.