The Elizabethan play of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works. In it we see Hamlet, the young heir to the Danish throne struggle with his conscious over the recent death of his father and the events following. He is devastated and also enraged at the promptness of his mothers re-marriage to the new King Claudius, his uncle. When the truth of the situation is revealed Hamlet is livid with his ‘incestuous’ mother and ‘villain’ of an uncle and vows to take his revenge.
However he is not swift in taking his retribution on his uncle, but instead hesitates and re-evaluates the situation many times. Doubts are seen to creep into his head. He begins not only to doubt the validity of the ghost’s revelations, but also has qualms about his own ability and aptitude to carry out his task. There are many reasons that contribute to Hamlet’s procrastination of this significant task. One of the largest issues we see is the concept of humanity. The prince is obviously a man of great integrity and a great scholar who is being asked to perform a task that goes against his moral grain.
Hamlet is seen to doubt his own ability to complete this task in the end of Act One Scene Five, “O cursed spite, That I was ever born to set it right. ” Here Hamlet appears to realise that he may not be able to complete this task set before him, he is a student not a killer. Perhaps the clearest of all examples of this is Hamlets soliloquy in Act Three as he debates what is better, life or death? Moreover, will we actually be better off in Heaven. He shows us his aptness as a thinker and philosophiser. He believes that he is not suited to this task.
On numerous occasions, the prince tries to make sense of his moral dilemma through personal meditations, which Shakespeare presents as soliloquies. In Act Two, Scene Two Hamlet reveals more of his inner character to us through his second soliloquy, “A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause.. ” Here Hamlet curses himself for taking the course of words not action. He curses his lack of fiery spirit, unmoved by his cause, when compared to the actor who could raise his anger and flood his body with emotion over a fictional situation, “.. in a dream of passion, Could force his soul to his own conceit,.. ”
The realisation of his lack of action spurs Hamlet into the mood once again, this may be as a result of his feeling of guilt over his earlier lack of passion of the situation. He rouses his spirit and curses his uncle once more, “Bloody, bawdy villain, Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindles Villain! ” This is another example of Hamlet’s ability to raise his anger over his passiveness. The emotion is short-lived however as soon Hamlet realises that he is still talking and not taking action. “O, vengeance!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murder’d, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words, And fall a-cursing, like a very drab, A stallion! Fie upon’t! foh! ” Here he compares himself to a stallion, a male whore, or a kitchen maid with a loud voice. This is a continuation of the verbal self-abuse that we are witness to throughout this soliloquy. Another perspective of Hamlet’s internal struggle suggests that the prince has become so disenchanted with life since his father’s death that he has neither the desire nor the will to exact revenge.
He is seen to realise his effected and weak state of mint at the conclusion of Act Two Scene Two, “Out of my weakness and my melancholy.. ” He is able to realise that he may have been tricked by the ghost, as the news that it brought him was the news he wanted to hear. He needed a channel for his grief and the ghost was the easy way of doing this. Despite all of this, Hamlet decides that instead of taking revenge right away, he will find out if the Ghost is really telling the truth.
This is the first time he has expressed any doubt about the Ghost, so it looks like he feels that he ought to take revenge, but doesn’t have his heart in it. This deliberation however can be seen in two ways. One, that he is still procrastinating with these thoughts, the other view is that this is an example of his inner character as a planner, a thoughtfull person. He is going to make certain of Claudius’s guilt before extracting his revenge. This perhaps can be seen as another example of his inadequacy for this task.
Although the task of the play is to encourage Claudius to display his guilt it also would be interesting to observe Hamlet’s reaction to it. During the performance the Player King talks about circumstances changing and how that effects what were firm intentions. “Purpose is the slave to memory, Of violent birth, but poor validity,.. ” This can be seen as what has happened to Hamlet. With his changing mental state his intentions are faltering. The lines above describe how thoughts and ideas can be passionate and powerful on creation but do not last.
They last only as long as they are remembered. The Player King continues to say: “The passion ending, doth the purpose lose. The violence of either grief or joy. ” He explains here that once the passion has been lost the purpose will too be lost, and that the strength of Hamlet’s grief will prevent it being translated into action. There is perhaps a more malicious reason for Hamlet not seeking revenge prematurely for his father. When Claudius killed Hamlet 1st he did not allow him to die in a state that would allow him unhindered ascension to heaven.
When Hamlet comes across Claudius prostrating himself at the alter Hamlet realises he cannot kill him now as he is praying and this would grant him access to Heaven, and not the torments of purgatory as Hamlet’s father’s ghost endured. “Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge. ” This shows us that although Hamlet wants to get the task over with and still has doubts, he will nonetheless complete his task thoroughly. It also displays a malicious side to the Prince that we had not seen before. “And that his soul may be as damned and black As hell whereto it goes.
” Hamlet wants his uncle to suffer as his father does. This scene displays to us that Hamlet does have an appetite for murder and although Hamlet is once again putting off his task it seems to be for one of the most prudent reasons yet. He has moved on from the stage of assessment and consideration and is now constructively scheming the line of attack that would best avenge his father’s ghost. It shows his love for his father still controls his thought and his actions, and we are witness here to a display of both Hamlet’s scheming and malevolent sides.
There are other views on the topic of Hamlet’s procrastination shared by both audiences of the play and established critics. For example L. C. Knight explains in his book ‘Some Shakespeare Themes & An Approach to Hamlet’ that Hamlet is the exploration and implicit criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness, that in Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal the complex state of the human mind, made up of reason, emotion, and attitude towards the self. This allows the reader to make a judgment or form an opinion about fundamental aspects of human life.
Shakespeare uses the encounters that Hamlet must face to demonstrate the effect that one’s perspective can have on the way the mind works and the way that Hamlet reacts to these stimuli. This effects his reaction when dealing with the revenge of his father. Hamlet’s apparent delay in seeking revenge for his father’s death plays an important role in allowing us the audience to look at Shakespeare’s view on the human mind, we witness Hamlet traverse the internal struggle raging within himself over the moral implications of his task, and his own ability to exist with them.
We see the love Hamlet has for his mother, the way he is insistent on proving Claudius guilty beyond any doubt, the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ theory and the restraint Hamlet shows over killing the King are qualities making Hamlet a good character, but however it is the same qualities that provide the tragedy for this play. His inability to react on correct impulses such as the ghost’s revelation and his compassion for Ophelia are what makes him inapt for his task and it is my belief that Hamlet realises this and this is why he procrastinates in the way he does for so long. What is the Reason for Hamlet’s Procrastination?