Hamlet S Impractical Thinking As An Obstacle To Quick Revenge Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
Shakespeare s Hamlet revolves around the title character s undeniable obligation to immediately avenge his father s death by killing Claudius. Yet much time elapses before Hamlet finally does slay his evil uncle, leading to a fundamental question: what causes the hero to delay before eventually managing to salvage some retribution? The answer is that Hamlet s reoccuring state of impractical contemplation renders him incapable of any decisive action that could have brought quick revenge.
A key moment in the play comes in the first act, when the ghost of Hamlet s father informs the prince of his duty: If thou didst ever thy father love/…Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. [1.5: 29, 31] With these words, the Ghost puts the play in motion, for the rest of the story will be governed by Hamlet s quest for this revenge. Furthermore, the spirit emphasizes the need for Hamlet to act quickly:
I am thy father s spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night
And for the day confined to fast in fires
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. [1.5: 14-18]
The message is clear: if the prince is to truly ease the suffering of his father s spirit, he must avenge the murder immediately.
Hamlet initially meets his challenge with zeal, promising the Ghost that he will produce quick results:
Yea, from the table of my memory
I ll wipe away all trivial, fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, by heaven! [1.5: 105-111]
Yet despite this stirring vow to sweep to revenge, one major obstacle lies ahead: Hamlet s impractical thinking.
Our first experience with Hamlet s tendency to wander into the realm of the abstract comes even before he meets the Ghost. In Act I, Scene iv, as Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus await the spirit, they observe Claudius, who is drunk. His scholarly mind always searching for new intellectual morsels, Hamlet uses the king s seemingly commonplace actions as the springboard for a discussion of the causes of evil in men. What stands out is how quickly he forgets about practical matters +in this case, meeting the spirit of his dead father+ in order to ponder over a vague, philosophical question. As the play develops, it is this very trait that prevents him from achieving the prompt revenge he has promised.
A telling moment comes in Act II, Scene ii, when Hamlet is approach by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet s ability to determine his friends true motives is impressive; within a few moments, the prince realizes that Claudius has sent these two men as spies:
You were sent for, and there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to color. I know the good king and queen have sent for you. [2.2: 300-304]
At first, Hamlet uses this knowledge to his advantage, as he strategically instructs his friends as to what they should tell Claudius and Gertrude. Unfortunately, his momentum is derailed by another spell of impractical contemplation when he proclaims that the universe has turned to evil, and subsequently examines the importance 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: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals +and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? [2.2: 327-332]
This burst of abstract thinking distracts Hamlet from more immediate concerns, and it seems afterward that the prince has completely forgotten about the role of his old friends as spies. Whereas earlier it had seemed as though he was willing to exploit this role, now he fails to act decisively on the matter, demonstrating the negative effect of his impractical reflections.
As the play continues, Hamlet appears transformed by the player s speech about Priam, Pyhrrus, and Hecuba. Moved by the actor s emotions, Hamlet resolves to act more decisively without allowing his words and feelings to get the best of him:
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murdered,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words
And fall a-cursing like a very drab,
A scullion! Fie upon t! Foh!
About, my brains!… [2.2: 611-617]
In this moment of passion, Hamlet decides to stage a play that will determine whether his uncle is truly guilty. If Claudius demonstrates any unusual signs during the play, the prince will murder him soon after. From now on, Hamlet promises, he will not let his thoughts interfere with his quest for quick revenge.
Unfortunately, Hamlet s call for action is hindered in the very next scene, as once again, despite his promise, he lets thoughts get in his way:
To be or not to be +that is the question:
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them. [3.1: 64-68]
In direct contrast to the previous scene, when he spoke and acted impulsively and with confidence, Hamlet has had time to fully think over his situation, and the result is a speech marked by indecision and confusion, both of which combine to impede his attempt at revenge.
Ironically, Hamlet seems to be well aware of his major problem, criticizing the debilitating effect of too much thought:
…The native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. [3.1: 92-96]
While Hamlet knows that he must subdue his thoughts if he wishes to act quickly, he is unable to do so, probably because he is more of a scholar than a soldier or hero.
By the end of the third act, Hamlet has essentially failed. The only real progress he has made is that he knows from the play that Claudius is definitely the man who killed Hamlet, the elder. Meanwhile, the king, who unlike Hamlet focuses more on realistic actions than impractical thoughts, has sensed danger in his nephew. When Claudius sends Hamlet to England, the prince has failed in his quest. It is no longer possible for him to achieve quick revenge, ensuring that the Ghost of his father will continue to suffer.
In the end, Hamlet does kill Claudius, but this revenge is bittersweet, for it comes too late. Hamlet s tendency to think more about impractical matters than practical ones thwarts his attempt to ease the pain of his tormented father. The prince s numerous soliloquies, though immortalized and treasured in literary history, render him incapable of any decisive action, prolonging his bid for quick revenge.