I've just re-read Hamlet. There are 8 deaths during the play, incluing his own and the deaths of all those dearest to him (not counting the murder of Hamlet, Sr., which happens before the play begins). Hamlet is directly responsible for at least four of these deaths, and indirectly responsible for all the rest.
How did that happen? How did he, literally and figuratively a prince of a man, starting out as a victim and gaining our strong sympathy from the start, end up being by far the main villain of the piece?
As I see it, his first mistake was to allow himself to be ruled by passions. So your mother conspires to kill your father; that's strong stuff and obviously extremely hard to handle. Within weeks, she marries the man who physically carried out the deed; that's even tougher. But you just don't go all suicidal over it and carry on with whether to be or not to be. To be is an unfathomably glorious gift and suffering is there to teach us wisdom, not to freak out over.
Hamlet' second mistake was to listen to his father's ghost. That should be too obvious to need comment. It's just superstition to suppose that until our bloody thirst for revenge is gratified, a dead person cannot rest in peace. It's we who perhaps cannot.
Third mistake, setting himself up as judge. The simple, sober fact is that we just do not know enough to judge anybody, even supposing we were righteous enough to do it without comdemning ourselves in and by the very process. The first thing we do not know is anyone else's heart. (It's hard enough to know our own.) The second thing we do not know is how much we ourselves have contributed to someone else's sin. This is because our contribution to it is often very indirect, and also because we prefer not to see it. But the truth is, every one of us has added his/her share to the rotten way this world is, so nobody's sin leaves my supposed innocence untouched. The third thing we do not know is what we ourselves would do in the same situation. We think we would NEVER do this or that; we promise ourselves we never shall, but when the challenge presents itself in real life... This is why we pray, "Lead us not into temptation," meaning do not put us to the test– because humility, which is just the correct perception of reality, compels us to admit we may flunk!
And then Hamlet's ultimate mistake was to set himself up as executioner. Do this, thereby placing yourself completely into the hands of the devil, and he whose constant aim is to kill us all will use you to cause more horror than you could ever have imagined.
And that, to me, is what this play is about.
Wonderful site, presenting Shakespeare's original text side-by-side with a modern text.
The one is sublime, the other more accessible, so we get the best of both.