An exploration of why Hamlet delays the act of revenge
Hamlet is a human being, and he is an emotional human being. He feels guilt, remorse and has responsibilities, yet at the same time he feels pride and a sense of duty. He is quick, in Act one, scene five to take on his role of avenger
Haste me to knowt, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.
Hamlet is passionate about his role and swears to wipe away all trivial fond records and to solely concentrate avenging is fathers death. However he does seem concerned with his mothers betrayal
O most pernicious woman!
This was not the key subject his father spoke of, yet Hamlet troubles himself with the thoughts of his mothers marriage to his uncle.
Hamlet jumps into his role without thinking, he idolized his father so much that he would do anything to make him happy, to be the perfect son. However towards the end of the scene when his emotions are less fired up, Hamlets thoughts about his role relent and start to become less positive and self assured,
The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Although he feels its his duty, he says cursed spite he is resentful of his apparent fate, and he may be seeing this revenge act as an awesome and problematic task.
Hamlet is a man of philosophy rather than heroic action, he thinks deeply about his feelings and actions, which he sees as a fault, think too precisely on the event. Hamlet seems to be a very aware person, he is conscious of his procrastination and accuses himself of being a John-a-dreams in act two scene two after he has heard the players speak.
Hamlets antic disposition could be regarded as a sub conscious way of delaying the revenge by using it as displacement behaviour. Hamlet may be so enveloping himself in convincing everyone that he is in fact mentally unstable rather than submerging himself in plotting revenge. Although at first Hamlet feels the idea of the antic disposition is a good one, it becomes apparent that even Hamlet doubts his genuine sanity, it may be the case that he cannot differ from how he is acting to how he naturally is. It seems unclear to the audience at times, if Hamlet is speaking in the act of insanity or when what he is displaying to the audience is his real self, particularly in act 3 scene 4 when Hamlet argues with his mother. His attitude towards her was already that of accusing her of treachery and when talking to his mother he seems threatening, Gertrude becomes scared
Though wilt no murder me?
When Hamlet murders Polonius he still seems to be obsessed with his mothers betrayal.
A bloody deed-almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king and marry with his brother.
Even now, when Hamlet has killed in cold blood, in the heat of an argument, he is more concerned about his mothers behaviour and suggests that she was complicit in the murder of his father. He has been haunted by his mothers actions since the marriage. Hamlet idolised everything, he idolised his father, describing him as a satyr almost omnipotent, his parents relationship he put on a pedestal so his mothers sudden betrayal seemed cataclysmic to Hamlet. His attitude towards his seeming virtuous mother also projects onto Ophelia, telling her to get thee to a nunnery. He also seems to mistrust Ophelia, casting her into his view of all women, frailty, thy name is women.
God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another
There is a continuous theme of hypocrisy and deceit within the play and it is something Hamlet feels strongly about. His mothers love for his father he perceives as false, thus her mourning for him being so too. He saw his grief as genuine but no one elses. His Uncles deceit and complete betrayal of his father seems to take a back seat in comparison to the actions of his mother. This idolisation of his mother being completely overthrown may have plunged Hamlet into a state of depression; his experience of female inconsistency would no doubt have affected his mental state. Coupled with the death of his father and the sudden marriage is enough to make anyone melancholy, so for Hamlet, who is a very philosophical and deep character these events may have tipped him into pathological behaviour. Hamlet has a continuous idea that the world is corrupt and diseased, his imagery of his surroundings in Act two, scene two,
It appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours
Again in the same speech, his imagery of man,
And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?
All these disturbing images suggest depression. Hamlet feels so uprooted and detached from the world that he almost projects himself into a world of his own. His great depression could mean that Hamlet doesnt have the mental capability to deal with such a decision of whether or not to kill his uncle. His sensitive maybe even fragile nature and state of mind could continuously hinder him from carrying out his requirement, he hints at it himself in act three scene two with his talk of suicide To die, to sleep-No more.
When Hamlet has the player speak his role in a play in which he must revenge the death of his father, Hamlet cannot understand why he is not as strongly emotional as the player is. He sees this player display huge pangs of grief and thirst for revenge yet these emotions are paralysed in Hamlet. He compares himself to the player, making himself feel inadequate.
What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?
Hamlet is battling with his conscious, he has become more aware of his sense of morality; he seems torn between what is right and wrong, what he feels he should do and what he has been told he should do and what has been bestowed upon him. Hamlet lives in a society where it is deemed wrong to kill, even for revenge, ecclesiastical law prohibits it, but he also lives in a society where duty and personal honour prevails. Hamlet tries to inflame his hatred for his uncle by speaking in harsh language, calling him a bloody, bawdy Villain and a remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain. Shakespeare uses alliteration to emphasise Hamlets spitting hatred for Claudius. The words seem to have more of a powerful image and tone it also adds some violence to Hamlets tone of speech.
Hamlets play within a play again denotes some procrastination, there is no physical action taking place on Hamlets part, however this could also be Hamlet searching for some sort of truth in what he has been asked to do. In seeing Claudiuss reaction to the play that Hamlet has had prepared Hamlet has some authenticity. He has contributed to the discovery of the murder; he now has the advantage of a further revelation of the reality of the murder. The ghost of his father, an apparition, has only told Hamlet of the murder. Hamlet may want some concrete evidence; maybe he thinks that to see the recreation of his fathers death before him will make him completely believe it, thus giving him more motivation.
Despite all this, when the play is performed and Claudiuss reactions confirmed, Hamlet resists the reflexive action of sweeping to [his] revenge, this could be because it is important to Hamlet to be himself, whoever that may be, and maybe he feels that if he had killed his father straight after this confirmation, then he would only have been an instrument to his father, rather than a loyal son. Hamlet may want the death of Claudius to be his own, to be something he manipulated instead of a task given to him by his father. Perhaps Hamlet spends the majority of the play trying to fashion a sense of truth and justification, or reason onto the deed so he can achieve it honestly, and not just because his father told him to.
Hamlet has yet another ideal situation in which he can kill Claudius when Claudius is praying in the church, however, Hamlet is astute and realises that if he were to die now, he would go straight to heaven as he has been purged of all sins. Although at first this idea seems far-fetched Hamlet as usual reads further into the situation giving the impression of wanting absolute perfection in the act or of blatant procrastination.
A villain kills my father, and for that
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
He wants Claudius to suffer the same fate as his father did, he realises that with the forgiveness Claudius has asked for he will end up in heaven.
Hamlet had huge religious aspects to consider as well, he is already aware that by low, to kill an anointed King is considered a serious offence but Hamlet also has to consider what will happen to him in the after life if he were to murder the king. The king told Hamlet to leave her to heaven when speaking about his mother, and Hamlet may wonder that if it Heavens right to deal with Gertrude then surly its heavens right to deal with Claudius. In Christian belief it is thought that everyone gets what they deserve and that ultimately Claudius will suffer the consequences. Hamlet could also me unsure whether the acct of revenge would be look upon with empathy n heaven. What Hamlet has been asked to do is not the request of a god, or deity it is the personal request of a manifestation that never reached heaven.
If Hamlet were to commit the crime his is condemning, be it for revenge sake or no, he would be a murderer and surely suffer the same fate as Claudius.
Isnt not perfect conscience and isnt not to be damned to let this canke of our nature come in further evil.
Hamlet realises that the deed of murder is evil under any circumstances and again Hamlet is being philosophical and questioning the rights and wrongs of the revenge.
Although Hamlet does finally kill Claudius it is the death of his mother that is the catalyst of the murder of Claudius. Hamlet is so enraged and passionate about the death of this women, for whom it could be argued he had an unnatural oedipal love, the demise of the object of his passion (mother) leaves Hamlet with nothing left to live for and there is no longer any reason to procrastinate as he has nothing left to loose.
In conclusion I think the lack of resolve stems from his personality, which was too uncertain off anything including his own feelings to commit himself to action, he had too many internal conflicts and his basic sanity of knowing that killing is fundamentally wrong. Hamlet also became more and more aware of complexity of the human condition and the constant conflict between heart and mind and soul and so suffered paralysis of action, like a feather caught in a cross current.
(On the other hand he was probably just a procrastinating Libra, most probably with Scorpio rising!)