Hamlet- His Procrastination and Its Causes

Topics: Hamlet, William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Pages: 9 (2384 words) Published: March 21, 2004
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, is one of the most celebrated plays in the English language. Throughout the play, Hamlet struggles with the death of his father and the swift remarriage of his mother to his father"'"s brother. In Act I, scene iv, his father"'"s ghost appears, urging Hamlet for revenge over his untimely murder (committed by his own brother). Taken aback by shock, Hamlet agrees with to revenge, '"'...with wings as swift / as meditation or the thoughts of love'"' (I.iv.29-30). After this visitation however, many critics proclaim Hamlet procrastinates action for various reasons. Some relate his delay to his high intellect and over analysis of the situation; others declare his lack of courage caused his inaction. Two of the strangest interpretations include the following: that Shakespeare penned the delayed simply for the purpose of having a five-act play, and that Hamlet was truly '"'a woman is disguise!'"' ('"'Hamlet: His Own Falstaff'"' 12). Regardless of the various reasons attributed to the hesitation, his delay is especially noticeable because it lies in stark contrast to Fortinbras"'" and Laertes"'" passionate desire for their respective fathers"'" revenge. As Curtis Perry articulates, '"'[Hamlet"'"s] hesitation stands out as all the more unusual'"' due to the others unmatched need for vengeance ('"'Thematic and Structural Analysis'"' 22).

Many take a very literal interpretation of the play and maintain that many of that situations in which Hamlet delays were a necessary and essential step in the process of revenge. An example lies in Hamlet"'"s first confrontation with the Ghost. Upon seeing the Ghost"'"s image, Hamlet remarks, '"'Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned, / Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, / Be thy intents wicked or charitable, / Thou com"'"st in such a questionable shape / That I will speak to thee'"' (I.iv.40-44). This quote demonstrates Hamlet"'"s fear that his father"'"s ghost could be a devil from hell sent to pressure him to sin. He brooded over this fear until the traveling players (actors) enter the story. The performance of the play, '"'The Murder of Gonzago'"' presented Hamlet the opportunity to see if the ghost was lying about his murder. He altered a speech in the play to read exactly as the ghost said he was murdered. He planned to watch his uncle"'"s reactions and he believed, '"'if his occulted guilt / Do no itself unkennel in one speech, / it is a damned ghost that we have seen'"' (III.ii.85-87). Many critics use this for evidence that Hamlet delays in the murder of his uncle until he has verification that the ghost is not a demon. However, after his uncle, King Claudius, flees from the room before the plays completion it is obvious that Claudius is the murderer. Hamlet, intent on murdering him, follows him to where he is praying. He once again refrains from the murder because it was a religious belief at the time if a man is killed while praying, his soul is saved and sent to heaven. Hamlet wishes to kill both Claudius"'" body and soul.

William Hazlitt is one of the critics who take an opposing point of view to Hamlet"'"s inaction. Hazlitt views Hamlet as follows:

'"'He seems incapable of deliberate action... when he is most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided, and skeptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost... for this reason he refuses to kill the King when he is at prayers, and by a refinement in malice, which is in truth only an excuse for his own want of resolution, defers his revenge to a more fatal opportunity'"' ('"'On Hamlet"'"s Power of Action'"' 26).

Hazlitt believes that Hamlet"'"s inaction is partly due to his cowardice. Hamlet himself indicates this in his soliloquy in act IV, scene iv, lines 41-46 that although he has all the reasons in the world to murder, he cannot seem to commit himself to the action. As T. McAlindon phrases it, '"'the great hole in the middle of the play is the unwritten...

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