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Why Does Hamlet Delay?

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Why Does Hamlet Delay? "Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord." I want to attribute the cause of Hamlet's procrastination in carrying out the noble mission, top this fantastic theory, which exercised a major influence on the earlier Elizabethan revenge plays beginning from Gorboduc to The Spanish Tragedy. Of course, I do not over simplify the idea to say that Hamlet delays in taking revenge because Fate makes him do so; what I would state is that in Hamlet Shakespeare tried to give a new dimension to the traditional revenge theme by subjecting it to human consideration, philosophic speculation and ignoring the authority of Providence. It is, I think, the Renaissance, which inspired the playwright to emphasize the human viewpoint by focusing on the greatness of man - "What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god ......" But to his disillusionment he found that human endeavor is not enough; man cannot execute revenge to establish justice willingly; it is the business of Providence - "Ay, heaven will be reveng'd of every ill." [Thomas Kyd: The Spanish Tragedy (III: xiii)] Shakespeare shows this human failure by picturing Hamlet as a modern man - a man of complex psychology, reflective philosophy and existentialist apathy. ...read more.


Earlier he says - "Hold, hold, my heart, And you, my sinews, grow not instant old, But bear me stiffly up ........." He feels that his mind has already became dull and inert; time and again the external urges hammer it to rouse but only in vain. So, the problem is quite internal; Hamlet has no external difficulty; even the reasons, which he himself offers arte mere excuses and, therefore, bear no weight; because we hear him saying - "Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means To do't." [Seventh Soliloquy - IV: iv] Many critics interpret this internal phenomenon to be his indecision, which results from his excessive speculation on the issue - its probable consequences, which delays his mission. Hamlet says - "Now whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on th'event - ....I don't know ...." [Seventh soliloquy: IV: iv] Even he himself is ignorant of the exact cause of his delay. Indeed we cannot deny that Hamlet's philosophic thoughts carry him so fart that he visualizes the world to be full of evil and he, unknowingly, undertakes the role of a savior: "Time is out of joint. O cursed spite That ever I was born to set it right." ...read more.


Interestingly, this is the point where he drops his enterprise; never again do we find him thinking of revenge. Having failed, despite his "capability and godlike reason" to play the avenger, he leaves the task to be carried out by Providence. Now that he places himself in the hands of Providence; the weariness of life, the 'to be or not to be's are gone; no more soliloquy, no more conflict. In fact, Providence enters into the play much earlier in the killing of Polonius - "But heaven hath pleased it so." Hamlet leaves for England with the belief that - "There's a divinity that shapes our ends Rough hew them how we will." [V: ii] And the fact that he discovers the King's commission that contained his death warrant is a mere chance. Providence appears with more authority in the denouement of Hamlet. The Queen's death is purely accidental. Hamlet could have died without fulfilling his mission what would happen if he drank the poison kept for him, or if Leartes poisonous attack caused him a more serious wound? Before the fencing match begins, Hamlet tells Horatio - "There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow." [V: ii] This is the key note in the play, which at once takes me back to "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord". Does not it override the human enterprise for revenge and establish the divine supremacy? ...read more.

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