In Shakespear’s Hamlet, the reader gets to know what has been called the “two Hamlets in the play,” the first who is considered to be the sensitive intellectual who is able to express himself through poetry and who comes across as being dedicated to truth. The other, barbaric side of Hamlet who treats Ophelia so cruelly with no empathy, slays Polonius and speaks of dragging his guts into another room, and who sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths without any remorse. However, most interpreters of Hamlet see him as a “tragic hero” with a clear and sacred obligation to kill Claudius but due to his being a victim of great external difficulties, is unable to do so right away. Shakespeare purposely makes Hamlet out to be a procrastinator for one very important reason, if Hamlet would have quickly pursued this revenge, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes, and of course Hamlet himself would have survived and Shakespeare would not have achieved tragedy in this play. There are many explanations for Hamlet’s long delay, some of which include the physical act of being unable to commit the murder and what held him back, the fear of what would happen, the moral dilemma of taking the life of his uncle, his disbelief in the ghost, and his fascination with death.
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The most important reason being that which physically held him back from committing the act. If Hamlet were to carry out what the Ghost told him and carried out immediate revenge, how would Hamlet have been able to convince the people that he justifiably executed an act of revenge. Another reason Hamlet procrastinates is that his psychological feelings confuse his ability to “confront his destiny.” Hamlet’s dilemma has little to do with what decisions he should take, but rather whether he will be able to make any decisions at all. Perhaps due to his excessive melancholy Hamlet became morally weakened and therefor lost his desire for revenge. As Hamlet states “my weakness and my melancholy”(II.ii.630) and his “wild and whirling words”(I.v.133) his mood shifts from deep depression to elation, which might explain his indecisiveness throughout the play. Hamlet is a man of talk. He is imply unable to carry out actions which he wants to. In his own words, “. . .the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”(III.i.84-85)
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 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 if Claudius were to die right then, he would have gone to heaven. Something which Hamlet does not want to see happen.
Of course, there are also moral roadblocks which prevent Hamlet from immediately acting upon the Ghost’s orders. According to Goethe’s interpretation of Hamlet, he is “lovely, pure, and moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero.” However, Goethe’s compatriot, Schleger sees Hamlet having “no firm belief either in himself or in anything else, in the resolutions which he so often embraces and always leaves unexecuted, his weakness is too apparent. His far fetched scruples are often mere pretexts to cover his want of determination. . ..” Hamlet becomes the “creature of mere mediation” because of his overbalanced cognition. Hamlet always finds a way out of what he was about to do because he ends up thinking about it for too long. This leads him being known as a character whom is full of purpose, but lacks the quality required to accomplish that purpose. Most of these issues are simply due to Hamlet’s over analyzation of morals. When Hamlet sees how promptly Pyrrhus acted towards the death of his father in scene II, he promptly denounces himself as a coward and cries out for vengeance:
it is at this point where Hamlet reveals his plan to “catch the conscience of the King.” Again, however, even though he vows to sweep to his revenge, weeks pass and he has not even made an attempt.
Perhaps it is because of Hamlet’s disbelief in the honesty of the Ghost which causes such hesitation in Hamlet’s actions. Hamlet is called upon to execute private vengeance, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, even though this is contrary to all Christian teachings. Hamlet therefor, gets erratic because he is a man that believes in heaven and hell and whose ideals tell him that any man who defies divine ordinance ultimately must face judgement. Also, according to Shakespeare, a Ghost is “a spirit damn’d” which would lead tot he idea that Hamlet should not take vengeance into his own hands. When Hamlet does accept what the Ghost tells him to be true, he ponders his thought for a long period of time, expecting to do the deed immediately, but instead drags it on until the end of the play. In the stress of powerful emotion, Hamlet makes a positive identification of the Ghost as “King, father; royal Dane.”(I.iv.45) Hamlet’s hasty decision to accept the Ghost as his father, give him second doubts later on in the play.
Hamlet’s fascination with death played a large role in the delay of the death of Claudius. In act I scene ii, when Hamlet is alone he expresses his innermost thoughts and were it not against God’s law, he would commit suicide, because according to him, his world has become “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable,” but not only because he has just lost a king and a father, but because his mother has just married a man much inferior to King Hamlet, who got married less than two month after his death. In Hamlet’s famous soliloquy he discusses how death would be the brave thing to do;To die; to sleep;-
To sleep? Perchance to dream! . . .(III.i.64-68)
Yet at the same time Hamlet makes it sound almost like a fear;
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will . . ..(III.i.78-80)
Then again if Hamlet has talked to the Ghost who has told him of the necessary purgatory why does he question it? Or perhaps, if Hamlet truly believes that death is an escape, he does not want to let Claudius escape, instead forcing him to live with himself and what he has done.
Hamlet’s fear does not play a vital role in the procrastination of taking revenge. The only major fear in Hamlet is that of being discovered. For this reason he plays the role of a madman so that whatever words flow from his lips will be easily disregarded. He must even convince Ophelia of his insanity in order to make sure nothing is foretold.
You should not have believ’d me, for virtue cannot
So innoculate our old stock but we shall relish it.
I loved you not.(III.i.118-120)
Hamlet’s fear drives him to explain how all of man is corrupted. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, no one can escape corruption. This fear drives him to obtain what he feels must be obtained; revenge. Fear is also what prevents him from acting upon the Ghost’s wishes. He is afraid that if he acts too quickly, he will be unable to obtain enough evidence that he has justifiably acted upon revenge.