Revealing Of Hamlet's Procrastination

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Waiting around will always end up costing one more. Hamlet is a play written by William Shakespeare. The play recounts the tragic story of how protagonist Prince Hamlet is faced with the task of exacting revenge on his uncle Claudius for assassinating his father, marrying his widowed mother, and successfully obtaining the throne. Hamlet is approached by the ghost of his father one night and is asked to murder Claudius to bring justice to Denmark. Hamlet agrees to fulfil his father’s request and kill Claudius, but procrastinates to such a degree that the audience is left wondering whether or not he plans to avenge his father’s death at all. Hamlet’s inability to act propels the plot and leads to the deaths of most of the characters in the play.

Had Hamlet avenged his father’s death at the beginning of the play instead of procrastinating, the story would have ended much sooner and the plot would have lacked substance. For the entirety of the play Hamlet is reluctant to act and he puts off his revenge by pretending to have gone mad. He spends a great deal of time making observations and contemplating the meaning of action rather than actually taking action himself. After watching a travelling player perform a moving speech, Hamlet criticizes himself for his reluctance to act, saying,

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“O, what a rogue and peasant slave am i !/

Is it not monstrous that this player here,

But in a fiction,/ in a dream of passion,

Could force his soul so to his own concert/

That from her working all his visage wanned,/

Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,/

A broken voice,/ and his whole function suiting with forms to his conceit-and all for nothing!”

(2.2 545-52).

After listening to this speech Hamlet begins to wonder, if an actor is able to weep over a fictitious character then why is he incapable of avenging his own father’s death, something he was initially eager to do; when the ghost confronted Hamlet at the beginning of the play and assigned him his task, Hamlet accepted it enthusiastically, “Haste me to know’t; that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thought of love, May sweep to my revenge” (1.5.29-31). In this quote he explains how he imagines the death of Claudius, he goes on to say that he seeks his death like an avenging angel, hence the metaphor “wings as swift” and “sweep to my revenge”. Hamlet does not question the legitimacy of the ghost or task until later when going over the task in his head. Hamlet says, “The spirit that I have seen May be a devil, the devil hath power T’assume a pleasing shape” (2.2.596-98). The fear of deception prompts his inaction and he becomes scatterbrained, lapsing into meaningless activities such as arguing points to unreasonable lengths and asking irrational questions. In attempt to prove the validity of the ghost and “catch the conscience of the King” (2.2.603), Hamlet devises a play to be performed portraying the murder of his father. After it is successful and he is sure of Claudius’ guilt, Hamlet enters Claudius’ private altar and finds him alone, praying. Hamlet recognizes a perfect opportunity to murder Claudius but fails to act yet again, “Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent: When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage” (3.3.89-90). Hamlet decides not to kill Claudius while he is praying because he believes that he will be sending him straight to heaven, he claims he will execute his revenge when Claudius is committing some immoral act. Hamlet then begins to analyze every detail regarding philosophies about life to the extent of a psychotic breakdown. By becoming intertwined in his own thoughts, Hamlet hinders himself from taking action, once again furthering and adding importance to the plot. Throughout the play, Hamlet had several opportunities to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius, however there always seemed to be something delaying him. There are countless reasons as to why Hamlet consistently failed to act, whether it be fear of consequences, doubts over the validity of the ghost, fear of hurting his mother, etc. All of these reasons contribute to the substance and length of the play because had Hamlet successfully avenged his father’s death from the very start, the entire plot would be missing.

Hamlet’s procrastination caused the deaths of Gertrude, Laertes, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and most importantly, himself.  


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