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 standsapart from other Shakespeare’s heroes in his today much discussed innocence. Is thissupposed tragic hero maybe an ideal hero – one without the tragic flaw, which has beena part of the formula for the tragedy since the Golden age of Greece?; is a question thathas been the field for many literary critics’ battles.
The main, and, most often, the onlyflaw that has been attributed to Hamlet is his delay. This seems to constitute the centralpart in Hamlet. Critics seem to cling to this detail, as if trying to save the status of Hamletas a typical Elizabethan tragedy of revenge. By the definition of tragedy, there shouldexist a flaw in the character of the main hero, who is a great personality that is engaged ina struggle that ends catastrophically (Stratford, 90). If Hamlet had no flaw, what kind oftragic hero is he? No doubt, Hamlet is a tragical drama, for it has many characters “fromthe top” ending up losing their lives.
But the play wouldn’t lose its tragic tone if Hamletwas a an ideal hero instead of tragic one, which is exactly the case. If just all criticrealized this, maybe today we wouldn’t have that much trouble trying to “decipher”Hamlet’s character, just like Elizabethan audience never raised any questions concerningHamlet’s delay. It was only in the last two centuries, that the audience and theirperceptions have drastically changed, which causes this confusion concerning thecharacter that was created by Shakespeare for common people, some ignorant onesamong them, perhaps. Hamlet is like a soldier that is thrown into a war where he has todo some things he rather would avoid doing, but under the given circumstances he biteshis teeth and carries himself well (Stratford, 128). In this war, the circumstances broughton by Claudius’s murdering of King Hamlet are Hamlet’s enemy. His dead father is thedestroyed 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 seekrevenge and bring justice back in the royal court. The whole play would be very simple ifthis murdered was an open assassination. But no, Shakespeare made sure that thisassassination was secret, that no one, except maybe Claudius, knew about it. This putsin a completely different context the play that was written by Thomas Kyd, a play titledUr-Hamlet, which Shakespeare used as a basis for his Hamlet (Grebanier, 111).Thisway, Shakespeare accomplished very different development of action, and ultimately oneof the best plays in the history. Along with that, Shakespeare created disagreementconcerning reasons why Hamlet waited so long before killing Claudius. A careful readercan notice that more than two months pass between Hamlet being told by the Ghostabout the evil deed, and Hamlet following through his plan. One can argue that from thisfollows that Hamlet procrastinated, having that one flaw – being passive, not daring toact. But Shakespeare never payed attention to this time interval. An audience wasn’taware of it, because Shakespeare didn’t want it to be – the rather large time interval wasof no consequence, and truly one cannot notice this without a conscious calculation(Grebanier, 179). More critics, especially during popularity of Freud, have tried toexplain Hamlet’s delay exclusively from psychological point of view. But how can onepsychologically analyze a character that doesn’t exist in physical world; whose existenceis dependent merely on his actions and reactions to the events and other characters fromplay? J. Dover Wilson summarized it by saying that Hamlet is a “character in a play, notin history” (Weitz, 107). From the point of view of these critics, it follows that characterpreceded the plot, thus shaping it for its needs. But Shakespeare, not to mention all theother play writers, followed Aristotelian view that drama is imitation of life, of the actionsof 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 deducedfrom knowing that Shakespeare adopted plot of Ur-Hamlet, and changed it just slightly.
A slight change in the plot, however, hardly slightly affects the characters. But one shouldnotice 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 ascribedexclusively to the situation. That would mean eliminating every element of tragedy, andeven drama, from Hamlet – Hamlet would thus have become a mere collection offate-dependent events that accidentally so happened not to have a happy ending. So, thereasons 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’sreactions. Looking at Hamlet’s reactions, one detail cannot be overlooked: Hamlet doesnot 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, Shakespearewould have dedicated to it more then some 100 lines, tends to affect the reader’sevaluation of Hamlet’s delay. Why didn’t he kill the King? Understanding this scene iscrucial today in understanding Hamlet’s delay, for we seem to be puzzled by it (if wewere 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 nameone critic, who holds that Hamlet “loses a sense of fact” because he puts every eventthrough his mind, filtering it until every deed seems to have an alternative – in not doingthe deed, but evaluating it even more (Bloom, 66). Coleridge and Goethe would agreewith this, holding that Hamlet’s soul is too philosophical and it lacks ability to instinctuallyact on impulse, and that he is “too sensitive to avenge himself” (Grebanier, 159). But ifone only reads what goes on in the play, Hamlet could by no means be called toosensitive or passive. After the Ghost appears, he ignores the fears of his friends, is strongenough to break off their restraining hold, and follows the ghastly apparition. In theQueen’s closet he follows his impulse and puts his sword to action. In the battle with thepirate ship, he manages to win over the whole crew without anyone’s help. He is knownin the kingdom as a brilliant fencer, and shows his skill in the match with Laertes, afterwhich he is able to cut the king and take the glass of poison from Horatio’s hand, all thatwhile dying of deadly poison. What then is the reason for his delay of action? DidShakespeare 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 fromfinding an “external model or a simple solution for conduct,” so that he must dependmore on thinking, and less on acting (Stratford, 105). He realizes that killing a King is agreat crime. In seventeenth century, kings have divinity about them, and hurting a kingfrom that period cannot compare to hurting a politician today. The proof of this is in thelast scene – even after Laertes speaks out and lets everyone that was present know thatthe match and poison were only King’s plan, the crowd yells, as if having an instinct todefend their King: “Treason! Treason!” (Shakespeare, 27). Even if it wasn’t thatpunishable to assassinate the King, Hamlet would still not kill him in the church. He mighthave taken the sword out, but one thing then went through his mind: ” If King ismurdered, the truth is murdered too, and King Hamlet’s assassination would beimpossible to prove”. His aim is not to kill the King and get the throne. He is primarilyconcerned with punishing the murderer of his father, punishing him under the shelter ofjustice (Grebanier, 111-113). So, Hamlet does delay, according to Stoll, but withpurpose to create his deed momentous when the right moment comes. This is what’sbehind his “procrastination” in the church. Until he has the proof, he must be patient. Hiswords in church, then, are not at all excuse for delay when he says that he must wait forKing to be in act that “has no relish of salvation in’t” (1). Rather, he speaks to himself inattempt to force himself not to use violence, but to be patient. So, instead of showing aflaw in the church, Hamlet shows virtue, his prudent patience. He is now absolutelydetermined 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 scenewhen he orders Horatio to let everyone know the truth, and what went on in thekingdom in the last two months. Hamlet is the only Shakespeare’s tragic hero whodoesn’t have a tragic flaw, which makes him an ideal hero, instead a tragic one. Hamletthe 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 thatsurrounds 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. Hamletactions as a synthesis of character and plot 7. The scene in church – most importatnt forthe notion of delay 8. Delay because Hamlet is passive and too emotional 9. Murderingthe King is murdering the proof 10. Virtue of patience rather than procrastination flawIII. Conclusion Works Cited 1. Hamlet. The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter6th Edition, editors Bain, Beaty, Hunter, New York: W.W. Norton ; Company, 1995.
2. Weitz, Morris. Hamlet and the Philosophy of Literary Criticism. Chicago: Universityof Chicago, 1964. 3. Hamlet. Stratford-Upon-Avon Study. London: Edward ArnoldLtd., 1963. 4. Grebanier, Bernard. The Heart of Hamlet, The Play Shakespeare Wrote.
New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1960. 5. Hamlet. Editor Harold Bloom.NewYork: Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Maine Line Book Co., 1990. Bibliography:
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