Literary Essay Sample: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Published: 2022-06-06
Literary Essay Sample: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Shakespeare Hamlet
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1158 words
10 min read

One of the features that distinguish humans from other beings is their ability to act on their free will. They use their willpower to make decisions when confronted with numerous choices. However, the rate at which decisions are made differs from one person to another. There are those who are quick to act while others have a high level of indecisiveness. History is awash with cases of some of the most indecisive characters; real and fictional but none matches the indecisiveness of Hamlet, the lead character in William Shakespeare's tragic play "Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark." The play centers around his inability to make a quick decision in avenging his father's death caused by Claudius, his uncle. Even when time and chance allowed, Hamlet was still indecisive in the revenge. And, this has led to what is commonly known as the "Hamlet problem," where people try to come up with various reasons as to why Hamlet delayed in avenging his father's death. While personal flaws contributed towards Hamlet's delay, other reasons that could explain the delay include an intentional plan by Shakespeare to extend his plot and steer the play towards a tragic end.

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One of the theories put forward as to why Hamlet delays in his revenge are attributed to his melancholic and weak character. According to psychologists, individuals who possess such characters are known to be contemplative and indecisive. They have to ponder much about their choices before making a decision. And, it is in this moment of pondering that they fail to act. For instance, in the famous soliloquieys, readers of the play Hamlet are introduced to this self-confession by Hamlet about his weak character in scene 2 of Act 2 where he states: "Yet I, A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, And can say nothing-no, not for a king, Upon whose property and most dear life (Shakespeare 2,2,525)." The statement points towards his admission of flaws in his character and how it affects his decision-making process. Therefore, leading to his delay in killing Claudius, the man responsible for his father's death.

Hamlet's failure to kill his uncle, Claudius is attributed to his pragmatic approach towards life. He feels it is impractical and absurd to believe in ghosts and thus contemplates against killing his uncle. This is in stark contrast to what he had sworn to the ghosts about the course of action he was to take after learning that it was Claudius who had killed old Hamlet. In scene 5 of the first Act, Hamlet states "Haste me to know't that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge Shakespeare 29-31." The statement shows his willingness to act but upon thinking about the ghost's statement and practicality of the event of ghosts telling tales, he hesitates. This is evident in Scene 2 of Act 2 where his thoughts are put forward for readers to share in his practicality: "The spirit that I have seen/ May be a devil, and the devil hath power/ T' assume a pleasing shape (Shakespeare 2.2.627-629." With such thoughts clogged in his mind, Hamlet becomes indecisive as he doubts the authenticity and practicality of the ghosts being sources of evidence. And, this results in him resorting to a practical approach towards ascertaining the guiltiness of Claudius through the dramatic play that mimics the nature of events as narrated by the ghost. It is for this reason that Hamlet delays his revenge till he can get a practical and plausible reason proving that Claudius was the murderer.

Hamlet might have delayed in killing Claudius despite having the chance to do that because of his belief in waiting for the perfect opportunity that would pain Claudius. This is because of his superstitious belief in the divine forgiveness of any mortal who dies when praying. This is well depicted in the instance where Hamlet finds Claudius praying alone and unarmed. His superstitious beliefs clog his mind with doubt as depicted in the quote below:

"Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;

And now I'll do it. And so he goes to heaven,

And so am I reveng'd. That would be scann'd.

A villain kills my father; and for that,

I, his sole son, do thus same villain send to heaven.

Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge (Shakespeare 3.3.55!"

In this moment of superstitious beliefs and doubts, Hamlet feels that killing Claudius in a moment of prayer would guarantee his father's murderer a ticket to heaven. And, he thus feels that would not have served his revenge mission. And, thus decided to wait for the perfect opportunity. This explains his indecisiveness throughout the play and waits for a perfect opportunity to carry out his mission in a way that would make Claudius feel pain for his selfish actions.

While various reasons have been pointed at why Hamlet delayed in his quest for justice for his father, it is plausible that Shakespeare's intent to satisfy the Elizabethan audience's quest for a tragedy. During that period, tragic plays were popular and the move could have pushed Shakespeare towards a similar path. This is best depicted by the nature of Hamlet's indecisiveness in acting. For instance, Shakespeare makes it known to the readers of his play that Hamlet knew of his indecisiveness but failed to amend things. In his soliloqueys, he points at the anger he harbored against his uncle, Claudius. And, despite all the anger and bitterness Hamlet had against his uncle, he always found himself failing to act. At times, his failures were brought intentionally through his flaws and through forces beyond him. This makes him a perfect fit for an Aristotelian tragic hero and how his inherent flaws led him to suffer emotionally and psychologically. The revenge does not come intentionally but by mere chance hence indicating Shakespeare's dedication towards revolving and crafting a plot around Hamlet's indecisiveness to create a tragic play.

It is evident that the Hamlet problem is caused by various reasons. Among them were personal reasons and others beyond his reach. The personal reasons are those he had full control over them but chose not to act. For instance, his weak and melancholic character is one thing he could change and act but he failed to do that. Additionally, his superstitious beliefs and wait for a perfect opportunity that would lead to a painful and ruthless death for Claudius robbed Hamlet the chance to avenge his father. While all the reasons are personal, Shakespeare might have contributed to the delay by ensuring that the plot of the play revolves around Hamlet's indecisiveness and inability to act. All this was to ensure that the play ends up as a tragic play in the Aristotelian sense. Tragedies were popular during the Elizabethan age. And, this could explain why Shakespeare wanted Hamlet to end up in such a manner.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ripol Klassik, 1888.

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