Cause Of Hamlets Delay

  • Category: English
  • Words: 1287
  • Grade: 90
The Cause of Hamlet's Delay
Hamlet is a magnificent play that is complicated and intricate. Ever since it first appeared readers, critics, spectators, actors, directors, and producers have been puzzling about the play, trying to solve it's riddles, to figure out it's problems, to understand it's ambiguities, and to fathom it's greatness. One of the central questions of the play is; why doesn't Hamlet kill Claudius immediately upon hearing the ghost's accusation? Lawrence Oliver answered this question like so; "this is a tragedy about a man who could not make up his mind." Oliver believed that Hamlet's delay of avenging his uncle was due to his problem of thinking too much. This does seem to be the main problem since throughout the play Hamlet's body and mind constantly question one another and never are able to reconcile.
        The duel between that mind and the body begins with Hamlet's perception of the ghost. The ghost appears in form and as Horatio describes, it is a "a figure like Hamlet's father, armed at all points exactly/ I knew Hamlet's father; these hands are not more like" (1.2.199-211). When Hamlet first meets the ghost, he immediately calls the ghost his father and follows it to where it beckons. In response to the ghosts claim that " the serpent that did sting thy father's life/ Now wears the crown," Hamlet answers, " O my prophetic soul!", revealing that Hamlet has already contemplated this probability (1.5.35-40). The ghost need to do little to persuade Hamlet of the cause of his father's death because Hamlet already conceived this notion in his great distrust and dislike for Claudius.
Although Hamlet reacts with anger, thirst for vengeance, and grief, Hamlet is now confused about the ghost's origin. He begins to wonder if the ghost is a devil, a benevolent supernatural force, an expression of his madness, or a sign of his intellect. For example, Hamlet says "the spirit that I have seen/ May be the devil and the devil hath power/ To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps/ Out of my weakness and my melancholy, / as he is very potent with such spirits/ Abuses me to damn me" (2.2.610-615). Fearing deception, Hamlet has doubts, which therefore extend his inaction. In order to test his senses, he devises a scheme to perform a play to "catch the conscience of the king"(2.2.617). Hamlet's inaction results not only from his distrust of his senses but also from his mind's inability to enable his body to take action. Hamlet expresses his incompetence in the soliloquy, "O, what a rouge and peasant slave am I!"(2.2.560). In it he grieves that even a player can control his senses well enough to "force his soul so to his whole conceit/ With tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect," for a fictional Hecuba, while he, called to action in the name of justice and family, cannot unite his mind and body to act (2.2.560-565).
Hamlet seems to be dedicated to finding out the truth and figure out what he knows and how he knows it. Is a ghost's word alone sufficient warrant to take a man's life? If not, can its claims about Claudius be? These can be the things that were going through Hamlet's mind and he knows he must find proof of this unwitnessed crime. One may get the feeling that Hamlet has more than a casual interest in the truth. He wants to be absolutely sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Claudius is guilty of killing Hamlet's father. Moral questions deeply engage Hamlet and is apparent to us every time he is alone on stage speaking in soliloquy. He soliloquizes about all types of moral questions such as his mother's remarriage, the appeal and terror of suicide, and the bearing of passion on action. Hamlet cares about integrity and righteousness of his action, a care the ghost recollects when he says to Hamlet, "Taint not thy mind" (1.5.85). Hamlet realizes that few taints are more permanent than the murder of an innocent man and if Claudius is guilty, he wants to carry out his revenge properly. Hamlet has no wish to turn himself into Claudius' replica: the cold blooded slaughterer of a relative, the sort of man that sneaks up on a sleeping man in a garden and pours poison in his ear. All of this thought is what caused Hamlet to delay so much in the action that he promised to take.
After Hamlet puts on the play within the play and reveals his uncles bad conscience he knows it is right and necessary to take revenge on him. Here it becomes clear that when Hamlet thinks he has finally made a decision, thinking about it causes him to change his mind or simply put it off. The one time that Hamlet has the opportunity to kill Claudius and achieve his revenge is when Claudius is confessing his sins. Here, Hamlet does not kill him because he thinks about it and comes to the conclusion that if Claudius dies at that moment he would have gone to heaven. Hamlet would rather see the man who is guilty of his father's death alive than kill him and think that he may be in heaven.
I do not think that the fact that Hamlet thinks about all of the consequences before he takes action is a flaw in his character. He seems to be very educated and comes up with adequate excuses as to why he does not act. Hamlet's education at Wittenburg has its implications in his move back to Elsinore. At school his life was probably very structured and he was probably accustomed to attending lectures, engaging in debates, and as he notes in Act 2, Scene 2, frequently amused himself at the theatre and avidly read reviews of productions. By contrast, Elsinore is a hotbed of political intrigue, a castle of rumor and spying. The lack of availability of any of the arts is apparent from the greeting the Players receive when they arrive.
At school, Hamlet would also have been exposed to creative writing, which allowed him to write lines to insert into the Murder of Gonzago. He also has the experience of how live drama affects an audience, and employs this skill to gage Claudius' guilt. With such an education, it would be impossible for Hamlet to undertake so serious an action as the assassination on a present king without exploring all his options and their contingencies. When he does act in haste, the result being the murder of Polonius. He knows full well that he has procrastinated, but makes the conscience decision to act only when he deems the time to be right. Taking this into consideration it seems to be acceptable educated thinking rather than a flaw of Hamlet's personality.
Although I do not believe that thinking was a flaw of Hamlet's, I believe that his inability to act was his problem. He thought about things a little too much and never succeeded in what he wanted to accomplish. In Act 3, Scene 1 Hamlet restates the theme, "To be or not to be, that is the question-". The answer escapes Hamlet throughout the play, perhaps because it is the wrong question. Hamlet is alive and to be alive means "˜to do', not merely to be. It is his inability to do, his tendency to reflect rather than act, which poisons Hamlet's resolution and causes his tragic death.
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