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Why Does Hamlet Delay?

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Introduction

WHY DOES HAMLET DELAY? Is it possible to take reasonable, effective and purposeful action? In Hamlet, the question of how to act is affected not only by logical considerations, such as the need for certainty, but also by emotional, ethical, and psychological factors. This in turn affects how the revenge is carried out. If we view Hamlet as a 'real' person in the context of Elsinore then one of the reasons why Hamlet delays taking revenge on Claudius may be because he needs to test the veracity of the Ghost. The Ghost tells Hamlet of his murder and demands revenge when he says "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" in Act I scene iv. Hamlet's initial reaction is to act quickly, "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge" (I.4.33-35) whether it may be because he disapproves of Claudius marrying his mother or through a sense of duty and obligation. However by Act II scene i he expresses his feelings of doubt about the Ghost: "the spirit I may have seen may be a devil". This concern leads to Hamlet adopting his 'antic disposition' and using the players in 'The Mousetrap' to confirm Claudius' guilt. ...read more.

Middle

Therefore a contemporary audience would have looked forward to a 'delay'. A modern audience, on the other hand, might not be able to understand what a 'delay' accomplishes: bloodshed, sexual intrigue and action. Therefore an analogy can be drawn with a modern audience going to see a martial arts movie: the audience goes to see it with expectations that the villain will be defeated and the martial arts expert, the hero, will save the day. As clich�d as it may sound, the movie will not be popular unless the hero has achieved his aim: defeated the villain, after appearing to be defeated. Modern critics, particularly since the 20th century, have tried to prove that Hamlet 'delays' by psychoanalyzing him. They do not see Hamlet as 'real' in context of Elsinore but 'real' in human terms. They have come to the conclusion that Hamlet's 'delay' is derived from his nature. In this context, one aspect of Hamlet's nature that accounts for the apparent delay is his fear of acting: Hamlet does not take action despite being told by the Ghost in Act I scene iv until Act V scene ii when his own life is being threatened. Even in the end, we are unsure of Hamlet's reason for acting; whether he is avenging the death of his father, the death of his mother or merely acting in self protection. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, as the play progresses, we see another side of Hamlet surface-and that is his role as the 'revenger'. The 'delay' gives Hamlet five acts for him to transform and we do not see this active side of Hamlet until after his return from England. Yet, even before his departure we see an attempt to portray a brutal avenger: "Now could I drink hot blood And do such bitter business as the day Would quake to look on" (III.2.396-398) But when Hamlet returns from England, he has not only transformed into the 'revenger' but has transformed into "Hamlet the Dane": "This is I, Hamlet the Dane." (V.1.263-264) Hamlet is now sure of who he is and what he is supposed to do. From that moment on, the play moves swiftly and constantly. Even though, ironically, he does not appear to be concerned about taking revenge. I believe that Shakespeare did not make a 'delay' intentional but instead, uses Hamlet's five act procrastination to make his audience, whether it may be a contemporary or modern one, more aware of what an apparent 'delay' brings. The most obvious and probably most important consequence is Hamlet's transformation from a man of cowardice, indecisiveness and melancholy to a man of action and self-worth- and this is what Shakespeare would like us to see. ...read more.

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