Everyone contains a tinge of Hamlet in his feelings, wants, and worries, and proudly so, for Hamlet is not like the other tragic heroes of his period. He stands apart from other Shakespeare’s heroes in his today much discussed innocence. Is this supposed tragic hero maybe an ideal hero – one without the tragic flaw, which has been a part of the formula for the tragedy since the Golden age of Greece? ; is a question that has been the field for many literary critics’ battles. The main, and, most often, the only flaw that has been attributed to Hamlet is his delay.
This seems to constitute the central part in Hamlet. Critics seem to cling to this detail, as if trying to save the status of Hamlet as a typical Elizabethan tragedy of revenge. By the definition of tragedy, there should exist a flaw in the character of the main hero, who is a great personality that is engaged in a struggle that ends catastrophically (Stratford, 90). If Hamlet had no flaw, what kind of tragic hero is he? No doubt, Hamlet is a tragical drama, for it has many characters “from the top” ending up losing their lives.
But the play wouldn’t lose its tragic tone if Hamlet was a an ideal hero instead of tragic one, which is exactly the case. If just all critic realized this, maybe today we wouldn’t have that much trouble trying to “decipher” Hamlet’s character, just like Elizabethan audience never raised any questions concerning Hamlet’s delay. It was only in the last two centuries, that the audience and their perceptions have drastically changed, which causes this confusion concerning the character that was created by Shakespeare for common people, some ignorant ones among them, perhaps.
Hamlet is like a soldier that is thrown into a war where he has to do some things he rather would avoid doing, but under the given circumstances he bites his teeth nd carries himself well (Stratford, 128). In this war, the circumstances brought on by Claudius’s murdering of King Hamlet are Hamlet’s enemy. His dead father is the destroyed country, painful truth which leaves so much hatred and resentment in his heart. Being a loyal prince and son, and one whom entire kingdom respected, he should seek revenge and bring justice back in the royal court.
The whole play would be very simple if this murdered was an open assassination. But no, Shakespeare made sure that this assassination was secret, that no one, except maybe Claudius, knew about it. This puts in a completely ifferent context the play that was written by Thomas Kyd, a play titled Ur-Hamlet, which Shakespeare used as a basis for his Hamlet (Grebanier, 111). This way, Shakespeare accomplished very different development of action, and ultimately one of the best plays in the history. Along with that, Shakespeare created disagreement concerning reasons why Hamlet waited so long before killing Claudius.
A careful reader can notice that more than two months pass between Hamlet being told by the Ghost about the evil deed, and Hamlet following through his plan. One can argue that from this follows that Hamlet rocrastinated, having that one flaw – being passive, not daring to act. But Shakespeare never payed attention to this time interval. An audience wasn’t aware of it, because Shakespeare didn’t want it to be – the rather large time interval was of no consequence, and truly one cannot notice this without a conscious calculation (Grebanier, 179).
More critics, especially during popularity of Freud, have tried to explain Hamlet’s delay exclusively from psychological point of view. But how can one psychologically analyze a character that doesn’t exist in physical world; whose existence is dependent merely on his ctions and reactions to the events and other characters from play? J. Dover Wilson summarized it by saying that Hamlet is a “character in a play, not in history” (Weitz, 107). From the point of view of these critics, it follows that character preceded the plot, thus shaping it for its needs.
But Shakespeare, not to mention all the other play writers, followed Aristotelian view that drama is imitation of life, of the actions of man. Plot is a way to organize the action, and thus, plot precedes character in Hamlet (Grebanier, 108). This, without even knowing Aristotelian method, can also be deduced from nowing that Shakespeare adopted plot of Ur-Hamlet, and changed it just slightly. A slight change in the plot, however, hardly slightly affects the characters. But one should notice that “preceding” means “comes before the other one”, and it does not mean “eliminates the other.
Therefore, the cause of Hamlet’s fall cannot be ascribed exclusively to the situation. That would mean eliminating every element of tragedy, and even drama, from Hamlet – Hamlet would thus have become a mere collection of fate-dependent events that accidentally so happened not to have a happy ending. So, the reasons for Hamlet’s actions should be understood as a ynthesis of original situation, Hamlet’s reactions to it, and then again of situation that was affected by Hamlet’s reactions.
Looking at Hamlet’s reactions, one detail cannot be overlooked: Hamlet does not kill Claudius in church, while he has the best chance of doing so up until that point. This little detail, and it is really a little detail, for if it was more important, Shakespeare would have dedicated to it more then some 100 lines, tends to affect the reader’s evaluation of Hamlet’s delay. Why didn’t he kill the King? Understanding this scene is crucial today in understanding Hamlet’s delay, for e seem to be puzzled by it (if we were in the audience, the whole scene would have lasted only moments, but as readers, we have the freedom to ponder about it).
At least so was Professor Dowden, to name one critic, who holds that Hamlet “loses a sense of fact” because he puts every event through his mind, filtering it until every deed seems to have an alternative – in not doing the deed, but evaluating it even more (Bloom, 66). Coleridge and Goethe would agree with this, holding that Hamlet’s soul is too philosophical and it lacks ability to instinctually act on impulse, and that he is “too sensitive to avenge imself” (Grebanier, 159). But if one only reads what goes on in the play, Hamlet could by no means be called too sensitive or passive.
After the Ghost appears, he ignores the fears of his friends, is strong enough to break off their restraining hold, and follows the ghastly apparition. In the Queen’s closet he follows his impulse and puts his sword to action. In the battle with the pirate ship, he manages to win over the whole crew without anyone’s help. He is known in the kingdom as a brilliant fencer, and shows his skill in the match with Laertes, after which he is able to cut the king and take the glass of oison from Horatio’s hand, all that while dying of deadly poison.
What then is the reason for his delay of action? Did Shakespeare make it on purpose so that he can fill the five long acts? (Grebanier, 115). Hamlet is very brave and impulsive Prince, but the plot seems to prevent him from finding an “external model or a simple solution for conduct,” so that he must depend more on thinking, and less on acting (Stratford, 105). He realizes that killing a King is a great crime. In seventeenth century, kings have divinity about them, and hurting a king from that period cannot compare to hurting a politician today.
The proof of this is in the last scene – even after Laertes speaks out and lets everyone that was present know that the match and poison were only King’s plan, the crowd yells, as if having an instinct to defend their King: “Treason! Treason! ” (Shakespeare, 27). Even if it wasn’t that punishable to assassinate the King, Hamlet would still not kill him in the church. He might have taken the sword out, but one thing then went through his mind: ” If King is murdered, the truth is murdered too, and King Hamlet’s assassination would be impossible to prove”. His aim is not to kill the King and get the throne.
He is primarily concerned with punishing the murderer of his father, punishing him under the shelter of justice (Grebanier, 111-113). So, Hamlet does delay, according to Stoll, but with purpose to create his deed momentous when the right moment comes. This is what’s behind his “procrastination” in the church. Until he has the proof, he must be patient. His words in church, then, are not at all excuse for delay when he says that he must wait for King to be in act that “has no relish of salvation in’t” (1). Rather, he speaks to himself in attempt to force himself not to use violence, but to be patient.
So, instead of showing a flaw in the church, Hamlet shows virtue, his prudent patience. He is now absolutely determined in his plan and all of his actions are directed towards one accomplishment – to justly punish the one who murdered his father. The proof of this is in the last scene when he orders Horatio to let everyone know the truth, and what went on in the kingdom in the last two months. Hamlet is the only Shakespeare’s tragic hero who doesn’t have a tragic flaw, which makes him an ideal hero, instead a tragic one. Hamlet the play still is the revenge tragedy, for Hamlet never lived to see the full revenge.