It can be argued that Hamlet, is one of the greatest tragedy pieces written by William Shakespeare throughout his life. The play provides conflict between a variety of personalities all in the pursuit of power or their own interruption of moral justice. It encompasses the themes of deception, manipulation, and malevolence to create the “perfect storm” of exploitation, chaos, and perhaps insanity.
One of the most puzzling elements though of this play is the personality of the protagonist, Hamlet, son of old king Hamlet and rightful heir to the throne. Although he receives supernatural assurance that Claudius secretly murdered his father, and witnesses with the questionable hasty re-marriage of his mother to his uncle, Hamlet remains incapable to take any physical revenge on the behalf of his father.
His own doubts about the ghost, uncertainties of his own ambitions, and his overanalyzing of the world around him are three of the many dissensions which keep him indecisive thus prolong his revenge and resulting in his ultimate dismay.
During the first act of the play, Hamlet’s friends encounter the spirit of Old King Hamlet roaming about the outer ramparts of the castle. Seeing the spirit as a bad omen they quickly report the appearance to his very distraught son, Hamlet.
The spirit explains to him that he had been murdered by his deceitful younger brother, Claudius and that Hamlet must take revenge on the spirit’s behalf. This incident initiates Hamlet’s investigation into his father’s murder; however, it is his doubt in the cause of this apparition that keeps him indecisive and prevents him from taking his revenge.
First, Hamlet almost immediately questions the authenticity of his father’s spirit after its disappearance. “ The spirit that I have seen maybe the devil and the devil hath the power to assume a pleasing shame; yet, and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me.” (II, ii, 596- 601).
Hamlet grows unsure if the ghost’s story holds any authentication as he plunges deeper and deeper into his own melancholy; Hamlet wonders if this is the work of the devil praying on his weak state of mind. This uncertainty prompts Hamlet to test his Uncle Claudius’ conscience because of his own lack of faith in the ghost and himself; which only prolongs this revenge.
Second, because Hamlet is so doubtful about the story told to him by the ghost, he must test his Uncle’s reaction first. “Observe mine uncle, if his acute guilt. Do not itself unkennel in one speech. It is a damned ghost we have seen. And my imagination is on foul as Vulcan’s stithy.” (III, ii, 80- 84 Shakespeare).
This uncertainty in the ghost results in Hamlet prolonging his revenge on Claudius in an attempt to confirm the ghost’s story. This course of action leads to him being called upon by his mother, accidentally murdering Polonius, and then being poisoned by Laertes. Without this additional prerequisite to begin his revenge, Hamlet could have potentially avoided the resulting confrontations and his death.
Third, Hamlet’s trust in the story is only confirmed by seeing his Uncle’s reaction to the play. “O good Horatio, I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound..” (III, ii, 281- 282). Without Claudius’ reaction to the play Hamlet would probably remain in limbo about his own thoughts and the ghost and may never take revenge.
The play is the confirmation for Hamlet’s revenge scheme and its lengthy process was necessary to convince Hamlet of the ghost’s story; Nevertheless Hamlet’s continual indecisive behavior after the play gave Claudius amply time to plot Hamlet’s murder. However, an even greater conflict within Hamlet to prorogue his revenge and keep him unsure is his own doubts of what he really desires in terms of kingship and life in general.
After the loss of old King Hamlet, the people of Denmark are asked to choose between Hamlet or Claudius to rule in place of their lost king. The people choose Claudius to rule over them, who will be succeeded by a much older and perhaps wiser Hamlet. Knowing Claudius killed the old king, Hamlet understands he is the rightful king of Denmark; however Hamlet is unresolved about his desires for that position and makes him hesitant to take any action.
First, Hamlet confesses to Ophelia of traits that he is reprehensible of, one of which is ambitious. “I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it was better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious…”(III, ii, 132- 135). This personality presented by Hamlet provides a contradiction to his behavior. He wishes to remove Claudius from the thrown however states he would rather not be ambitious, about can be assumed, his right to be king.
At this moment it seems that Hamlet is unwilling to be king, which will keep him indecisive and hinder his revenge. Second, Hamlet does however reveal to Rosencrantz he is “distempered” because he “lacks advancement”. “Good my lord, what is your cause of distemper? You do, surely, bar the door upon your own liberty, if you deny your griefs to your friend……….. Sir, I lack advancement.”
Contrary to what he previously states during his conversation with Ophelia, Hamlet now reveals his desire to “advance”. This change in ambition could be seen as the possibility for his revenge to finally transpire, however, Hamlet may not be referring to his succession as king but his plans for his revenge; consequently not knowing if he desires both delays Hamlet from taking his revenge.
Finally, Hamlet tells Horatio of his desire to be king, and the disappointment of being denied this right. “Does it not, think’st thee, stand me now upon– He that hath kill’d my king and whored my mother, Popp’d in between the election and my hopes, Thrown out his angle for my proper life…” (V, I, 69- 72).
This final explanation by Hamlet reveals that he does have the intention to become king and therefore the expectation can be made that he will take his reveal shortly, which he prompted does in the next scene. However, by the time he finally discovers this truth about his ambitions, it is already too late and his murder has already been planned. Furthermore, all of this could have been avoided if Hamlet did not put so much thought into his revenge and just acted upon his feelings.
Throughout the play, Hamlet is constantly overanalyzing the world around him. Every action that he takes, Hamlet tediously examines all the potential outcomes and reasoning behind it. This overthinking of the world around him is a reason for his indecisiveness and consequently his downfall.
First, Hamlet argues to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about the philosophy of what is “good” and “bad”. “Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.” (II, ii, 260- 262). This point made by Hamlet only illustrates how critically he thinks of the world around him.
His insight of the objectiveness of all behavior, made only subjective through perspective displays he is character of deep thought who must analyze a problem from all angles before processing often resulting in him being indecisive on an issue. Second, Hamlet reveals in his soliloquy, his justification of why humans, and himself, fear death and anything related to it.
“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action” (III, I, 91- 95). This over analyzing of death of what makes Hamlet question his right to kill another human and the fear that all humans have toward death.
This scrutinizing of his own plan, only makes Hamlet doubt himself and prolong his revenge even more. It also illustrates that Hamlet does fear killing another and inaction on his behalf is this awareness of his fear. Finally, Hamlet debates to himself what the reasoning behind his inaction on his father’s behalf.
Now whether it be b*stial oblivion, or some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on th’ event…” (VI, vi, 39- 46). This is a realization on Hamlet’s behalf that the cause of his inaction is indeed his overanalyzing of all his behavior just to establish his own excess thought and deliberations. The examination of so many situations of his life causes Hamlet to yet again prolong his revenge and seem indecisive to the reader.
In conclusion, there were many paths Hamlets could have taken throughout the course of the book, which his own indecisiveness prevented him from doing. Hamlet’s dismay is attributed to the hesitant behavior toward his father’s revenge due to several internal conflicts and personality traits Hamlets posses.
From the beginning of the play, Hamlet is in an indeterminate state about the validity of anything occurring around him. Furthermore, Hamlet’s doubts in the truthfulness of his father’s spirit, doubts of his own ambitions, and over-analyzing of the world around him left Hamlet a very indecisive man which ultimately led him to his own death.
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