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James F.

DeForest
ENG 102W
August 10, 2010

Hamlets Revenge

In Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Shakespeare has Hamlet delay in seeking revenge for many

reasons. The most general (and obvious) reason being that he wanted to have the story develop in a

way that would keep the reader or play-watcher in suspense, awe, and interest peeked. Aside from the

thesis of this paper, I think it important to consider the context and environment in which the play was

presented. This had influence on the way he decided to develop his drama as well. On the surface we

see a story that needs room to breathe, poetry to be delivered, and a canvas large enough to complete

the picture held in his mind's eye. As we dig deeper into the story itself, the details as to why

Shakespeare delays Hamlet's revenge and it's relationship to the plot are unveiled.

In order to better understand the answer to the question, (why Shakespeare has Hamlet delay

revenge) we have to look at some of the details that develop it's answer. The moment Shakespeare has

Hamlet learn of the truths that lead to his fathers death, is also the moment Hamlet begins down his

long unraveling road. “What else . . .” could possibly go wrong with the already corrupt Denmark?

Hamlet's overwhelming mix of emotion is more than he can take as he begs “bear me stiffly up.” The

wheels of his mind are turning, constantly weighing out the integrity of every man and woman around

him, “that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” Shakespeare clearly shows the reason for

Hamlets emotional upheaval here; for this reason, I disagree with A.C. Bradley's perception in Strohn

Woodard's Introduction to Literature syllabus when he writes of Hamlet's “habitual . . . disgust.” We

simply do not have enough information on Hamlet's life, prior to this circumstance, to make such a

judgment call and to do so would be “psycho-analyzing a fictional character,” as Woodard puts it.

Hamlet was faced with cold truths that spun him into confusion, doubt, and self-reflection, hardly a

situation that would justify calling him habitual.

In contrast, Arnold Kettle's perceptions in Strohn Woodard's Introduction to Literature syllabus,


more effectively answer the question of Hamlet's dilemma, causing delay. Kettle still err's in

“describ[ing] Hamlet as a man . . .” rather than looking through the eye of the author. Shakespeare has

created the perfect conflict, with new problems arising from every potential solution and as if that

weren't enough, he does so by encompassing all three aspects of the human life: mental, physical, and

spiritual. I'm not rabbit trailing here, I'm going somewhere with this, so bear with me.

First, he goes for the spiritual approach, “I am thy father's spirit,” and the rest of the “Ghost”

dialog through line 24, eludes to purgatory and such. This is enough to cause a conflict within the

audience itself; he's captured their attention. The spiritual conflict continues throughout as he has

Hamlet struggle within himself, debating what is or is not after death. “To be, or not to be, . . . [truly

is] . . . the question.” Hamlet goes 'round and 'round on it and I'm not sure he really gets anywhere. If

Hamlet carries out his revenge upon his step-father-uncle-bastard at this point, would that mean giving

the king his spiritual and physical freedom? Would it be more profitable a punishment to let the king

squirm in misery of his guilt, knowing that his sins had found him out? Although the spiritual conflict

continues to thread through the story, I do not have the time nor space to elaborate.

Secondly, he digs hard into the mental conflict, added to the spiritual. Hamlet, “pale as his

shirt,” comes back from his encounter with the Ghost “knees [a'] knockin['] . . . . The kingdom's

concluded his insanity, with his following rash actions, “wherein now he raves.” He may have gone

crazy, and rightfully so, but not mad. Again, back and forth with not only spiritual, but mental

confusion to top it off. This guy is so twisted up over the current events that he is not able to be the

level headed, thoughtful and well-liked prince.

Lastly the physical aspect, while not a large part of the conflict, definitely makes the mental and

spiritual harder for him to sort out. He can't trust what he sees with his eyes, from his father to Ophelia,

to the kings counsel. What he does see doesn't add up with what he can't, and what he can't see isn't

adding up with what he believes. This is why the infamous soliloquy is so pinnacle, and trodden upon.

“To be, or not to be,” often misinterpreted, is paramount in the core of every human being; this is why
Shakespeare spends the time to develop Hamlet's plot. Shakespeare has precisely targeted the human

dilemma, and must in turn have Hamlet realistically struggle, conflict within conflict, within conflict.

Truth, lies, heaven, hell, ethics, morality, and guilt-less killing. He has Hamlet delay in seeking revenge

so that he can effectively develop an accurate picture of mankind's own conflict. This has nothing to do

with Hamlet as a person, rather Shakespeare wanted to progress and include more life situations to

better relate to the people. In turn, he would be getting more sales and repeat audience members

because he has set up the perfect scenario; a question that is inherent to our nature about spirituality,

life and meaning. This is what the people wanted and still want today, and this is the reason for delayed

revenge.