Hamlet’s Procrastination and CowardiceIn William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Hamlet is a loyal prince who vows to avenge his father’s murder. When Hamlet discovers the painful truth about his father’s death, he is left with feelings of hatred and resentment in his heart towards the murderer, Claudius. Although Hamlet is a very noble and sophisticated man, he struggles with the issue of avenging his father’s death. He swears his revenge will be quick, however, this is not the case. Since Hamlet is more into philosophizing than action, he thinks about his intention to kill Claudius.
The more he thinks about his intention, the less he is able to execute it. The tragic flaw that Hamlet possesses is his inability to act. He vows that he is going to kill Claudius but backs out of it several times before the deed is actually done. Hamlet’s first sign of procrastination and lack of action begins to show through his character at the very beginning of the play. The ghost informs him about Claudius’ evil doings. Hamlet is prompt by replying: “Haste me to know’t; that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.
This passage shows how Hamlet decides to avenge his father’s death. In fact, he declares that he will be committed to nothing else but the revenge against Claudius: “I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there; And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmix’d with baser matter: yes, by heaven! ” (Shakespeare, p. 69). At this point, there is no doubt present in Hamlet’s mind; he is determined to kill the King.
His attitude soon changes when he realizes that he is plotting to commit treason and the enormous burden that comes along with that. He is scared. The reason for his first delay of action, according to Hamlet, is that he is doubting the existence of the ghost and whether it really was the spirit of his late father or just an evil spirit. Hamlet’s excuse for doubting the ghost is displayed in his actions; “Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d, Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, Be thy intents wicked or charitable, Thou com’st in such a questionable shape” (Shakespeare, p. ).
Because Hamlet doubts the ghost, he cannot and does not kill the King at this point in the play. Time continues to pass by as Hamlet is indecisive. The conviction and determined attitude that Hamlet possessed earlier has now been lost and his procrastination becomes quite evident. He engages in meaningless activities, such as conducting small talk with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He starts to argue points to ridiculous lengths by saying things such as, “Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars shadows” (Shakespeare, p. 109).
He is asking meaningless and absurd questions. Hamlet realizes his lack of action and knows that Claudius should already be dead. Again, he swears he will kill the King: “I should have fatted all the region kites With this slave’s offal. Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless, villain! O vengeance! (Shakespeare, p. 125) However, this determined attitude fades and he begins to think about the murder some more. Hamlet now feels that he needs more substantial proof of the King’s guilt before he can take action. He puts on a play which delays any action from happening.
When Claudius storms off during the play, Hamlet is reassured of the King’s guilt. Hamlet becomes enraged because he knows the truth now. The days turn into weeks since Hamlet first learned of his father’s murder. Hamlet gets the perfect opportunity to kill the King, yet he still does not take it. Because of Hamlet’s new proof of Claudius’s guilt and his now blood-thirsty mood, he acts as though he is ready to kill Claudius and will take any chance he gets to do so. The king is kneeling down to pray. Hamlet draws his sword but feels that this is still not the right time to do his task.
Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent: when he is drunk asleep, or in his rage” (Shakespeare, p. 183), Hamlet says to himself as he pulls up his sword. He did not kill King Claudius because he wants him to suffer in hell, he will not go to hell if he is praying before he is killed. More time has slipped by, this time many more weeks have gone by since the ghost appeared. For the two months since Hamlet saw the ghost he has, until now, been unable to commit his vowed revenge; unable to explain himself for his long delay. Hamlet’s anger finally peaks. He kills Polonius in a fit of rage.
He kills Laretes in a fencing match that was originally set up so that Hamlet would lose. The Queen drinks the poison that was intended for Hamlet and dies. Hamlet’s procrastination and lack of action caused innocent victims, that managed to get caught up in the middle of this tragedy, to be killed. If Hamlet had listened to the ghost in the first place, the play would have ended quite differently. Instead, Hamlet was indecisive and spent much of his time debating and procrastinating the killing of the King. Hamlet’s inability to act is the tragic flaw that brought him to his death.