In William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, the character Hamlet aspires to kill his uncle and, in doing so, avenge his father. During Act I, Scene V, Hamlets father comes to him as a ghost. The ghost explains that Claudius, Hamlets uncle, murdered him in order to become King of Denmark and marry Hamlets mother, the Queen of Denmark. The ghost of Hamlets father then asks Hamlet to kill Claudius and make his mother feel guilty for allowing his murder to happen. However, Hamlet delays his achievement of this goal for reasons that are not directly confronted in the play.
There are many theories on the matter of why Hamlet continuously waits to avenge his fathers’ murder. Of these theories, the most plausible is that Hamlet simply spends too much time thinking about how he will act rather than actually taking action. Hamlet takes an oath at the end of Act I saying “…thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain…” meaning that all he will think about is what the ghost has told him to do. The problem is that, while Hamlet does constantly think about what the ghost said, he does not do a lot about it.
One thing Hamlet does do is try to confirm that what the ghost said is true. In Act II, Scene II, Hamlet uses a play called “The Murder of Gonzago” to make Claudius look guilty or, as Hamlet says, “The plays the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King. ” Hamlet does this by writing a short speech for the beginning of the play. The speech is a complete recollection of how the ghost described his murder to Hamlet. Everything goes as planned and Claudius outwardly shows his guilt. Now Hamlet has all the evidence he needs to kill his uncle.
However, Hamlet still does not take action in Act III but rather he thinks even more. The difference is that this time he is not trying to form a plan against his uncle but is contemplating life in general. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing end them. ” Hamlet proclaims while wondering if death would be better than dealing with his problems. At this part in the play, Hamlet acts as if he has given up on planning to kill Claudius. In Act IV, Scene IV Hamlet reacquaints himself ith the goal of killing his Uncle.
Hamlet meets with a messenger from Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, who says that the Norwegian army is going to attack Poland for no reason other than retaining honour. Hamlet is taken back by the lack of motivation for action and is ashamed because he has a lot of motivation to kill Claudius but still has not taken action. At the end of Scene IV hamlet says “O, from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! ” The implications of this sentence are that Hamlet had not thought about killing his Uncle very seriously in previous Acts.
In the scenes following Act IV Scene IV, Hamlet becomes more impulsive and acts without thinking more often than he used to and this leads to the accomplishment of his goals. One may argue that there are more plausible explanations than Hamlet over thinking everything. One argument could be that Hamlet was being deterred by things such as the Kings guards or by other outside forces. If this was the case then Claudius would not have been able to kill the previous King so easily. Also, the only time guards are mentioned in the play are when they are outside guarding the walls rather than being personal guards for the King at all times.
We can see this in Act III Scene III when Claudius is praying. If he had guards they would be somewhere close by most likely at the door to whatever room Claudius was praying in. However, Hamlet was able to not only enter the room but be in a position where he would be able to kill Claudius if he had chosen to. Hamlet then leaves the room and, during all of this, not once are guards mentioned or heard from. Another part of this theory states that Hamlet was waiting to have more proof before he acted against Claudius.
This is why Hamlet puts together the ruse to make his Uncle look guilty in Act II Scene II but, even after he has proved Claudius’s guilt, Hamlet neglects taking action. Instead, he continues to obey what Claudius tells him to do like getting on a ship to England. The theory that Hamlet is stopped by external obstacles is invalid because the obstacles stated are either non-existent in the beginning or are removed part way through the play. If we are only looking at this theory, there is nothing left to stop Hamlet and yet he does not act.
Out of all the theories presented for why Hamlet delays his revenge I believe the best choice is that he is overthinking everything. Starting from the beginning of the play, all he does is think about what he should be doing or how he should be doing it and there really is not anything stopping him from killing the King. For his plans to come to fruition, Hamlet needed to become motivated enough that he would act and not stop to think about what he was doing. With this narrow mindedness achieved, Hamlet was able to finally kill the Claudius and avenge his father.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 24 October 2016
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