Procrastination of Hamlet

Hamlet’s Delay Everyone contains a tinge of Hamlet in his feelings, wants, and worries,
and proudly so, for Hamlet is not like the other tragic heroes of his period. He stands
apart from other Shakespeare’s heroes in his today much discussed innocence. Is this
supposed tragic hero maybe an ideal hero – one without the tragic flaw, which has been
a part of the formula for the tragedy since the Golden age of Greece?; is a question that
has been the field for many literary critics’ battles. The main, and, most often, the only
flaw that has been attributed to Hamlet is his delay. This seems to constitute the central
part in Hamlet. Critics seem to cling to this detail, as if trying to save the status of Hamlet
as a typical Elizabethan tragedy of revenge. By the definition of tragedy, there should
exist a flaw in the character of the main hero, who is a great personality that is engaged in
a struggle that ends catastrophically (Stratford, 90). If Hamlet had no flaw, what kind of
tragic hero is he? No doubt, Hamlet is a tragical drama, for it has many characters “from
the top” ending up losing their lives. But the play wouldn’t lose its tragic tone if Hamlet
was a an ideal hero instead of tragic one, which is exactly the case. If just all critic
realized this, maybe today we wouldn’t have that much trouble trying to “decipher”
Hamlet’s character, just like Elizabethan audience never raised any questions concerning
Hamlet’s delay. It was only in the last two centuries, that the audience and their
perceptions have drastically changed, which causes this confusion concerning the
character that was created by Shakespeare for common people, some ignorant ones
among them, perhaps. Hamlet is like a soldier that is thrown into a war where he has to
do some things he rather would avoid doing, but under the given circumstances he bites
his teeth and carries himself well (Stratford, 128). In this war, the circumstances brought
on by Claudius’s murdering of King Hamlet are Hamlet’s enemy. His dead father is the
destroyed country, painful truth which leaves so much hatred and resentment in his heart.

Being a loyal prince and son, and one whom entire kingdom respected, he should seek
revenge and bring justice back in the royal court. The whole play would be very simple if
this murdered was an open assassination. But no, Shakespeare made sure that this
assassination was secret, that no one, except maybe Claudius, knew about it. This puts
in a completely different context the play that was written by Thomas Kyd, a play titled
Ur-Hamlet, which Shakespeare used as a basis for his Hamlet (Grebanier, 111).This
way, Shakespeare accomplished very different development of action, and ultimately one
of the best plays in the history. Along with that, Shakespeare created disagreement
concerning reasons why Hamlet waited so long before killing Claudius. A careful reader
can notice that more than two months pass between Hamlet being told by the Ghost
about the evil deed, and Hamlet following through his plan. One can argue that from this
follows that Hamlet procrastinated, having that one flaw – being passive, not daring to
act. But Shakespeare never payed attention to this time interval. An audience wasn’t
aware of it, because Shakespeare didn’t want it to be – the rather large time interval was
of no consequence, and truly one cannot notice this without a conscious calculation
(Grebanier, 179). More critics, especially during popularity of Freud, have tried to
explain Hamlet’s delay exclusively from psychological point of view. But how can one
psychologically analyze a character that doesn’t exist in physical world; whose existence
is dependent merely on his actions and reactions to the events and other characters from
play? J. Dover Wilson summarized it by saying that Hamlet is a “character in a play, not
in history” (Weitz, 107). From the point of view of these critics, it follows that character
preceded the plot, thus shaping it for its needs. But Shakespeare, not to mention all the
other play writers, followed Aristotelian view that drama is imitation of life, of the actions
of man. Plot is a way to organize the action, and thus, plot precedes character in Hamlet
(Grebanier, 108). This, without even knowing Aristotelian method, can also be deduced
from knowing that Shakespeare adopted plot of Ur-Hamlet, and changed it just slightly.

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A slight change in the plot, however, hardly slightly affects the characters. But one should
notice that “preceding” means “comes before the other one”, and it does not mean
“eliminates the other.” Therefore, the cause of Hamlet’s fall cannot be ascribed
exclusively to the situation. That would mean eliminating every element of tragedy, and
even drama, from Hamlet – Hamlet would thus have become a mere collection of
fate-dependent events that accidentally so happened not to have a happy ending. So, the
reasons for Hamlet’s actions should be understood as a synthesis of original situation,
Hamlet’s reactions to it, and then again of situation that was affected by Hamlet’s
reactions. Looking at Hamlet’s reactions, one detail cannot be overlooked: Hamlet does
not kill Claudius in church, while he has the best chance of doing so up until that point.

This little detail, and it is really a little detail, for if it was more important, Shakespeare
would have dedicated to it more then some 100 lines, tends to affect the reader’s
evaluation of Hamlet’s delay. Why didn’t he kill the King? Understanding this scene is
crucial today in understanding Hamlet’s delay, for we seem to be puzzled by it (if we
were in the audience, the whole scene would have lasted only moments, but as readers,
we have the freedom to ponder about it). At least so was Professor Dowden, to name
one critic, who holds that Hamlet “loses a sense of fact” because he puts every event
through his mind, filtering it until every deed seems to have an alternative – in not doing
the deed, but evaluating it even more (Bloom, 66). Coleridge and Goethe would agree
with this, holding that Hamlet’s soul is too philosophical and it lacks ability to instinctually
act on impulse, and that he is “too sensitive to avenge himself” (Grebanier, 159). But if
one only reads what goes on in the play, Hamlet could by no means be called too
sensitive or passive. After the Ghost appears, he ignores the fears of his friends, is strong
enough to break off their restraining hold, and follows the ghastly apparition. In the
Queen’s closet he follows his impulse and puts his sword to action. In the battle with the
pirate ship, he manages to win over the whole crew without anyone’s help. He is known
in the kingdom as a brilliant fencer, and shows his skill in the match with Laertes, after
which he is able to cut the king and take the glass of poison from Horatio’s hand, all that
while dying of deadly poison. What then is the reason for his delay of action? Did
Shakespeare make it on purpose so that he can fill the five long acts? (Grebanier,
115).Hamlet is very brave and impulsive Prince, but the plot seems to prevent him from
finding an “external model or a simple solution for conduct,” so that he must depend
more on thinking, and less on acting (Stratford, 105). He realizes that killing a King is a
great crime. In seventeenth century, kings have divinity about them, and hurting a king
from that period cannot compare to hurting a politician today. The proof of this is in the
last scene – even after Laertes speaks out and lets everyone that was present know that
the match and poison were only King’s plan, the crowd yells, as if having an instinct to
defend their King: “Treason! Treason!” (Shakespeare, 27). Even if it wasn’t that
punishable to assassinate the King, Hamlet would still not kill him in the church. He might
have taken the sword out, but one thing then went through his mind: ” If King is
murdered, the truth is murdered too, and King Hamlet’s assassination would be
impossible to prove”. His aim is not to kill the King and get the throne. He is primarily
concerned with punishing the murderer of his father, punishing him under the shelter of
justice (Grebanier, 111-113). So, Hamlet does delay, according to Stoll, but with
purpose to create his deed momentous when the right moment comes. This is what’s
behind his “procrastination” in the church. Until he has the proof, he must be patient. His
words in church, then, are not at all excuse for delay when he says that he must wait for
King to be in act that “has no relish of salvation in’t” (1). Rather, he speaks to himself in
attempt to force himself not to use violence, but to be patient. So, instead of showing a
flaw in the church, Hamlet shows virtue, his prudent patience. He is now absolutely
determined in his plan and all of his actions are directed towards one accomplishment –
to justly punish the one who murdered his father. The proof of this is in the last scene
when he orders Horatio to let everyone know the truth, and what went on in the
kingdom in the last two months. Hamlet is the only Shakespeare’s tragic hero who
doesn’t have a tragic flaw, which makes him an ideal hero, instead a tragic one. Hamlet
the play still is the revenge tragedy, for Hamlet never lived to see the full revenge.

OUTLINE I. Introduction II. Hamlet’s Delay 1. The situation of the play that that
surrounds Hamlet 2. Ur-Hamlet as a basis of Hamlet 3. Two months delay question 4.

Psychological only interpretation of Hamlet 5. Aristotelian definitions of drama 6. Hamlet
actions as a synthesis of character and plot 7. The scene in church – most importatnt for
the notion of delay 8. Delay because Hamlet is passive and too emotional 9. Murdering
the King is murdering the proof 10. Virtue of patience rather than procrastination flaw
III. Conclusion Works Cited 1. Hamlet. The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter
6th Edition, editors Bain, Beaty, Hunter, New York: W.W. Norton ; Company, 1995.

2. Weitz, Morris. Hamlet and the Philosophy of Literary Criticism. Chicago: University
of Chicago, 1964. 3. Hamlet. Stratford-Upon-Avon Study. London: Edward Arnold
Ltd., 1963. 4. Grebanier, Bernard. The Heart of Hamlet, The Play Shakespeare Wrote.

New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1960. 5. Hamlet. Editor Harold Bloom.New
York: Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Maine Line Book Co., 1990.
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