Hamlet Has More to Gain by Delaying Rather Than to Revenge Claudius Term Paper

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Why Shakespeare's Title Character Hamlet is Wise to Wait to Kill Claudius truism about Shakespeare's title character in perhaps his greatest play Hamlet is Prince Hamlet's perceived "tragic flaw" of waiting much too long to avenge his father's death by not killing Claudius; the main architect of the King's premeditated murder, sooner than he does. Despite the fact that Hamlet comes to a bad end his waiting to kill Claudius allows him to at least die with the clarity that he has not just uncovered the mystery of his father's death but discovered, also, the root causes of Denmark's "rottenness" (Reed; McCullen). Hamlet dies trying to put things right, finally destroying what he knows is the main source of that rottenness, Claudius, and with the certainty that Fortinbras will now take the place of his treacherous uncle.

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Hamlet shows causes and results of agonizing indecisiveness on Hamlet's part. Back from school in England Hamlet immediately faces two unpleasant, related facts: first Gertrude has married Claudius; and second, as a result Hamlet is denied his birthright (Reed). What may seem obvious (Claudius's culpability) is initially unclear to Hamlet (McCullen; Reed). Had Hamlet acted sooner to kill Claudius he would have risked killing an innocent man while turning his mother Gertrude against him (Reed) for depriving her (soon after the first King's death) of yet another royal husband and therefore her own right to be Queen. Moreover Hamlet would have been acting on mere suspicion, not convincing evidence of Claudius's and Gertrude's guilt acquired while observing the royal couple's behavior at the dumb show.

In an early scene Bernardo, Francisco, and Marcellus tell Horatio, who at first doubts them, that they have seen Hamlet's father's ghost. Horatio waits with them for the ghost to reappear. When it does he tells the ghost, who does look like King Hamlet, to identify himself. The ghost, feeling offended, leaves ("See, it stalks away! (Act1.1.50), perhaps the first, earliest foreshadowing of the fact that (at least in this play) doubting the presence of, or the words spoken, by a ghost is best discouraged.

Term Paper on Hamlet Has More to Gain by Delaying Rather Than to Revenge Claudius at Once Assignment

Meanwhile, Claudius and Gertrude elaborately pretend to mourn the King. Claudius soon enough declares the national efficacy, however, of getting on with things now that he is himself King and newly married to Gertrude:

With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,

In equal scale weighing delight and dole,

Taken to wife: nor have we herein barr'd

Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone

With this affair along. (Act 1.2.12-16)

Then in Act I, Scene 3 we meet Ophelia, who later drowns herself, convinced, Hamlet has rejected her. As Russell suggests, Ophelia otherwise "could have served Hamlet as a stabilizing figure in this time of crisis" (72). However, as she instead states despairingly before killing herself:

Now see that noble and most sovereign reason

Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;

That unmatched form and feature of blown youth

Blasted with ecstasy: O. woe is me,

To have seen what I have seen, see what I see! (Act III.1. 151-155)

However, it is perhaps not so much that Hamlet actually rejects Ophelia; he is simply confused at this point in the play about everything, including her. Another claim often made about Hamlet is that he lacks sane judgment (Eliot; Levy; Russell); but the fact that Hamlet does not immediately or non-reflectively set out to obey the words of a ghost presents an obvious challenge to that assertion. As Marcellus states early on (even before the ghost of Hamlet's father appears and asks his son to avenge his death): "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (Act 1.4.91).

The ghost of his dead father indeed does appear to Hamlet that night:

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. (Act 1.5.9-13).

The appearance and words of the ghost, however (i.e., is it his dead father or is it not; are his words true, or not?) is Prince Hamlet's initial source of confusion (even if also his call to action). The entire murky new atmosphere of Denmark, and of Elsinore Castle in particular, also serves as a backdrop to increase, all at once, Hamlet's confusions, suspicions, hesitations, and self-doubts, making him hesitate to actually begin seeking revenge.

As Lawall et al. suggest:

The sense of corruption and decadence dominates... The character of Hamlet, his indecision, and his sense of vanity and disenchantment with the world in which he lives. In Hamlet, the relations between thought and deed, intent and realization, is confused in the same way the norms and institutions that would regulate the life of a well-ordered court have been deprived of their original purpose and beauty. (p. 2824).

Young Hamlet indeed almost immediately suspects correctly (based on the ghost's appearance and then its words to him) that his father has indeed died from unnatural causes. Young Hamlet tells himself that:

The time is out of joint.

A cursed spite

This ever I was born to set it right (Act 1.5.187-189).

Hamlet's suspicions are fueled by Gertrude's hasty marriage. The action from here on pivots on Hamlet's indecisiveness about how, when (and, before the dumb show why) to avenge his father.

McCloskey suggests: "The impression of apparent delay in obeying the Ghost's command is mainly due to the contrast between the Ghost's petulant impatience and Hamlet's quest for certainty" (445). Following the ghost's appearance the remaining action culminating in the doubly-fatal duel between Hamlet and Laertes (whose father, Polonius, Hamlet has killed by accident) results from Hamlet's indecisiveness, ending in tragedy for all.

Hamlet's quest to discover the truth about his father's mysterious death and therefore the cause of Denmark's 'rottenness' is what keeps him from trying to kill Claudius until Hamlet perceives Claudius eavesdropping (he is wrong; it is Polonius). But in truth Hamlet's hesitation to simply rush to kill Claudius shows his restraint, until Hamlet can gather enough evidence that Claudius is the man to kill.

Clearly at the play's beginning two key (confusing) factors contribute more than any others to his indecisiveness throughout the rest of the play: first, Hamlet must decide if the ghost is truly that of his father and therefore its request of him valid (and as a result to believe in a ghost).

Second, after Hamlet decides with his friends' encouragement that yes, this is the ghost of his father Hamlet must figure out just how to get even on the deceased King's behalf: there is no way for Hamlet to prove himself a worthy son except by murdering. Further, Hamlet knows he must get it right or otherwise fail to accomplish his father's wish. The latter understanding fuels Hamlet's indecisiveness; he cannot act hastily, without clarity, and thereby risk making matters even worse.

Eliot states, "Hamlet the character has had an especial temptation for that most dangerous type of critic: the critic with a mind which is naturally of the creative order, but which through some weakness in creative power exercises itself in criticism instead" (Sacred Wood 83). As that observation implies, it is not so much that Hamlet cannot make up his mind: it is that he second-guesses himself after he does. Levy suggests, "As a rational animal, a man is one who thinks. But the play problematizes [sic] the proper exercise of thought by which man sustains this identity" (221). Yes and no: Hamlet's hesitation is a problem; but also a sign of his rationality.

But great damage clearly occurs based on Hamlet's failure to act sooner and more decisively. And when Hamlet finally seizes what seems an opportunity to kill Claudius behind the curtain, he kills Polonius instead,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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