Reasons Hamlet Delays his Revenge
Hamlet as a play and as a person has been analyzed for centuries. One of the main ideas focused upon in this story is why Hamlet delays so long in getting his revenge on Claudius for killing his father. There have been many ideas and many theories for Hamlet’s behavior, but there is probably a plethora of factors that influence Hamlet. Hamlet’s thoughts about the ghost, his Uncle, and his mother, may have all led to his delay.
The first reason for the delay may be that Hamlet was not completely sure that Claudius had killed his father. The ghost who claims to be Hamlet’s father and has some unfinished business on earth asks for Hamlet to revenge his death. The reason that Hamlet is not sure whether or not the ghost is telling the truth is that he feels the ghost may be the devil. This idea is portrayed when Hamlet says, “The spirit that I have seen may be a devil, and the devil hath power t’ assume a pleasing shape.” (I.ii. 611-612) Hamlet is wondering if this is a ghost from heaven or a ghost from hell. No one wants to go to hell, so Hamlet must make sure that he is doing what is right. He does not want to be influenced by the devil in any way. The Christian thoughts of the time stated that vengeance was a sin. Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s death but if he were to kill Claudius his soul may not be saved. Hamlet wants to be a better person than his Uncle, but if he were to become a murderer he would be just like Claudius.
One more place in this play that focuses on the Christian influence is in Claudius’s bedroom. Hamlet argues with himself that he cannot kill Claudius at the end of Act III scene iii. Hamlet surmises that if he killed Claudius while praying he would be sent to heaven. “A villain kills my father, and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villian send to heaven.” (III.iii., 76-78) Hamlet would much rather send Claudius to hell for his crimes, but can anyone go to hell when they are killed while praying. Therefore to kill his Uncle at this point would be pointless. Hamlet wants him to suffer for everything that he has done wrong to the family.
When the ghost of his father tells Hamlet that he was murdered by the person who “now holds his crown,” (I.v., 39) Hamlet would like to revenge that death by killing his Uncle Claudius. Hamlet is also upset with his Uncle for marrying his mother only two months after his father’s death. Hamlet thinks a lot, almost too much. In this instance his mind rambles on and he has thoughts that his mother may have been involved with his Uncle before the death of King Hamlet. He thinks that his father was murdered not only for his crown, but also possibly in order to take his wife, Hamlet’s mother. We understand that Hamlet is upset about this relationship from his very first words of the play. When talking with Claudius he states that he is “a little more than kin, and less than kind!” (I.ii., 64) This manifests to the audience that Hamlet and Claudius are nothing alike even though they are related.
Hamlet has much anger towards Claudius, and has reason according to the ghost to kill him, but Hamlet wants to be sure that Claudius is the man who killed his father. This is when the play within the play comes to be a factor in Hamlet’s thoughts. The play is designed to draw Claudius’s guilt and fear out into the open. By having a play that has a similar plot and a person being poisoned through the ear, but with a slight twist. While watching the play, Hamlet has Horatio watch the new king to see if he will act guilty when certain scenes arise in the play.
As the play moves on, the king becomes more perturbed and acts more like a person who has guilt and something to hide. This idea is brought to a climax when the king ends the play prematurely and says, “give me some lights. Away!” (III.ii., 275) This act alone gives Hamlet more of a reason for revenge because he is pretty sure that Claudius killed his father, but Hamlet hesitates once again.
There must be other reasons for this delay of revenge. Another theory is that Hamlet did not want the responsibility that would come with killing Claudius. The first sign of Hamlet’s fear is when Hamlet states; “I am too much in the sun.” (I.ii., 66) He feels that too many people are looking to see what he does. He is too young to have people look to him for the answers. Hamlet is the next in line to become king. When Claudius dies by Hamlet’s hand, the crown would then be forced upon him. He would have an entire country to lead and would be very much in the sun.
Hamlet does not want to have the responsibility of setting things right in the kingdom yet either. Evidence of this is found when he says, “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!” (I.v., 188-189) That is a lot of responsibility to be thrust on a young man who is not characteristically built that way.
Hamlet is asked to commit murder to revenge his father’s death, but perhaps, that ability is not within him. Hamlet is a scholar, not a soldier. For someone like Othello who had spent his whole life on the battlefield revenge would be easy. Death and killing is nothing new to Othello. He has become immune to the thought of bloodshed. On the other hand, Hamlet has lived a life of books and social well being. He has never been called upon to kill someone. Thus he may have a hard time with the concept and delay his revenge because he does not really know where to begin.
Another reason that Hamlet may have delayed his revenge upon his Uncle may be better dealt with in psychological terms. Freud would say that Hamlet was displaying the classic signs of the Oedipus complex. This theory states that every male has the internal desire to mate with his mother. This would require that her mate, the father would have to somehow get out of the picture. When Claudius killed King Hamlet, his son may have been a little jealous and a little guilty about his feelings. The reason that this is not mentioned in the play; however, is that these were all unconscious feelings. These types of feelings were also considered to be very wrong and thus, Hamlet was torn. In reality Claudius may have done what Hamlet wanted, but Hamlet still felt guilty about thinking that way.
Hamlet’s main concern is that he wants to gain revenge without losing his dignity. Hamlet needs to somehow set things right without being involved in evil. This is the problem. How do you kill someone, without that being an evil act?
It will take much poking and prodding for Hamlet to finally embrace revenge on his Uncle. Hamlet, who is one who thinks through all possibilities, finds that he sometimes he acts rash because he thinks too much.. Hamlet has many things going on in his life and for a young gentleman, some may argue that this is too much.
The burden of his father’s death, his mother’s quick marriage, and the death of Ophelia, all may have contributed the Hamlet’s change of thinking. He has become a very confused individual, but still tries to do what is right for him, his family, and his country.
Hamlet delayed in seeking his revenge for many reasons. Hamlet was confused and unsure of both himself and the situation. Never before had he encountered such a strange situation. While dealing with both death and marriage he was forced to set things right. Hamlet did not want to have this responsibility or the responsibility of running a kingdom just yet. That just was not the type of person Hamlet was. This was a scholar who had never seen bloodshed caused by his own hand. This was a young man who did not know how to kill. Hamlet was also faced with a challenge of being a good Christian. How could he be sure that the ghost of his father was not the devil trying to trick Hamlet into doing evil where his soul could not be saved?
In the end, Hamlet is just a confused individual whose life has been turned upside-down. He becomes lost in his own thoughts and is left to deal with what is right by himself.