Hamlet’s Hesitation to Seek Revenge
fIn William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet is commanded by his father’s ghost to avenge his murder at the hands of his uncle Claudius. Hamlet does not act immediately to get his revenge, even when he is presented the perfect opportunity to do so. Throughout the play, it is demonstrated that the young prince’s hesitation is reasonable.
He doubts the story that the ghost has told him and he wants to discover the truth before he acts. He is not a man of action and it is in the nature of his character that he hesitates. Moreover, he wants to get a perfect revenge so that Claudius will be truly punished. In the play, Hamlet’s hesitation is justified because his morality prevents him from doing evil, his intellect causes him to think before acting, and his practical nature leads him to plan for a perfect revenge.
Hamlet is a morally good person who does not want to become evil, which justifies his hesitation. When the ghost first commands him to get his revenge on Claudius, he does not act immediately because he does not trust the ghost completely: “Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d.” (1, 4, 40) He cannot allow himself to act immorally. He wants to first make sure that Claudius really murdered his father. Hamlet goes to elaborate lengths to see if the king is guilty. The young prince arranges to observe Claudius’ reaction to the play that he organized, and determine from this his guilt or innocence.
…I’ll observe his looks;
I’ll tent him to the quick; if he but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and, perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds
More relative than this. The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. (2, 2, 594-603)
In Hamlet’s eyes, Claudius’ reaction confirms his guilt. As a fair minded and just individual, Hamlet must be certain before passing judgement. Now that his deliberation has allowed him to be certain of the king’s guilt, Hamlet is morally prepared to act, and his hesitation has thus been rewarded.
As an intellectual, Hamlet is not given to being decisive; he is contemplative, which shows that his hesitation is justifiable. By hesitating, Hamlet is acting in perfect accord with his nature and is true to himself. A man who utters, “To be, or not to be…” (3, 1, 57), cannot be expected to take any important action or make any important decision without first weighing every possibility and considering every consequence.
I am very proud,
revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck
than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to
give them shape, or time to act them in. (3, 1, 124-127)
Hamlet gives a lot of thoughts to his actions, and it is consistent with his character. When Hamlet kills Polonius, it happens in a moment of passion, and it is spontaneous. He normally has to think everything through before he acts. It is his character and he should not be blamed for hesitating. Hamlet’s intellect pushes him to be a thoughtful person and therefore, his hesitation is excusable.
Hamlet’s thoughts are practical and he desires a perfect revenge, which rationalizes his hesitation. In one critical episode, where Hamlet is observing the king at prayer, Hamlet’s practical nature is shown. Hamlet does not want to kill Claudius at prayer because if he does, he will send him directly to heaven. This is a fate that Claudius had not permitted King Hamlet. Hamlet decides to wait until Claudius is sinning.
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed,
At gaming, swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in’t:
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven
And that his soul may be as damn’d and black
As hell, whereto it goes. (3, 3, 90-96)
Hamlet’s practical mind in action forces him to hesitate even though he is presented the perfect opportunity to get his revenge. He wants Claudius to be punished painfully, and this would be a better and more complete revenge.
In the play, Hamlet’s hesitation is justified because his morality prevents him from doing evil, his intellect causes him to think before acting, and his practical nature leads him to plan for a perfect revenge. He is very moral and he does not want to become evil. He wants to be certain that Claudius really murdered his father before he kills him. Moreover, the essence of his character delays him in taking actions. He is contemplative and his hesitation is consistent with his character.
Furthermore, Hamlet desires for a perfect revenge that could punish Claudius completely. When the king is praying, Hamlet hesitates to kill him because he does not want to send him to heaven. Throughout Hamlet, the magnitude of the young prince’s practical, intellectual, and moral nature is revealed and therefore, it is proven that Hamlet’s hesitation is fair and justified.