The Indecisive Nature of Hamlet’s Revenge in William Shakespeare’s Play Hamlet

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William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is widely considered one of the greatest dramas ever written, in part, because so much of the play is open to multiple interpretations. One such ambiguous aspect is the indecisive nature of Hamlet’s revenge. Since the play’s conception over four hundred years ago, intellectuals have put forth numerous theories attempting to identify and explain the forces that inhibit Hamlet from slaying his fratricidal uncle. In this paper, I would like to introduce my theory to this age-old debate, which will hopefully provide new and intriguing lenses with which to interpret this magnificent work of literature In short, my argument is that the paradoxical nature of his obsession and his profound will to live are the primary underlying forces behind Hamlet‘s indecisiveness. The opening scenes of the play present a mourning Hamlet, who, having just lost his father, has recently spiraled into a deep depression.

Additionally, he is genuinely contemplating suicide, for he is convinced that his life no longer has any purpose. However, in Actl Scene V, a blunt transformation occurs. When the ghost of his late father commands him to exact revenge by killing Claudius, Hamlet responds with the following declaration: From the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmixed with baser matter. In this excerpt, a plethora of rhetorical devices are employed to emphasize the fact that Hamlet’s life instantly goes from being meaningless to being monopolized by a singular pursuit. The first example is the oxymoron in the second line: “trivial fond records” Trivial is generally used to describe something of little value, whereas fond is generally used to describe something of great value.

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Therefore, Shakespeare uses this contradictory phrase to establish that everything that was once important to Hamlet is now utterly insignificant The last three lines of the excerpt compliment this notion with the use of strong dictioni The two key phrases are “all alone” and “unmixed with baser matter,” because they both explicitly demonstrate that Hamlet is willing to abandon everything and redirect all his energy toward avenging his beloved fatheri In essence, his life once again has a purpose. Significantly, however, Hamlet’s subsequent actions do not match his previous enthusiasm He becomes exceedingly indecisive, idealizing his revenge, rather than doing anything to actually accomplish it i contend that this discrepancy arises from the paradoxical nature of his obsession. He becomes so obsessed with vengeance that it evolves into his sole purpose for living. Consequently, Hamlet cannot kill Claudius simply because killing Claudius is his life.

Therefore, if he were to actually murder his uncle, he would essentially be murdering himself because he would be extinguishing his only reason for living. The source of meaning in his life is also the means by which his life may, once again, become meaningless I believe that this internal struggle originates from Hamlet’s profound will to live. In his illustrious ”to be or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet completely rules out suicide as a viable option, for he rather endure his miserable life on Earth than face a potentially worse life in some unknowable afterworld (3156-88) If he weren‘t so determined to persevere with his unpleasant existence, Hamlet could easily kill Claudius and then kill himself, knowing he succeeded in the only pursuit of his life, Therefore, the aforementioned paradox must arise from the fact that Hamlet is determined to live. He knows that if he were to kill Claudius, his life would revert back to being meaningless.

Since Hamlet cannot bare the thought of living a meaningless life and since he cannot escape said meaningless life by means of suicide, he is content to procrastinate while he still has a purpose in this world He chooses to be indecisive because it provides him with the unique opportunity to be constantly consumed by his revenge without taking any decisive steps toward actually accomplishing it. Although Prince Hamlet is suited well by indecisiveness, the final scene of the play does bear witness to him making the transition to decisive action The impetus behind this transition is the certainty of death. Once he learns that he has been stabbed with a poisonous sword, Hamlet immediately attacks Claudius: “The point envenomed too? / Then venom, to thy workt / [Wounds the King,]”.According to this text and stage direction, there is no delay between his realization of imminent death and his subsequent treasonous attack on the king.

Additionally, Hamlet kills Claudius just five lines later, implying an unprecedented lack of hesitation. I believe that this synthesizes quite nicely with the fact that the certainty of death guarantees Hamlet that he will not have to live a meaningless life after getting vengeance, As a result, it is enough to compel him to take decisive action for the first time. Shakespeare emphasizes Hamlet’s paradoxical predicament by juxtaposing him with Laertes, who has also conveniently swore to avenge his father. When he confirms that Polonius has died, Laertes passionately says, “I dare damnationt To this point I stand, /That both the world I give to negligence, / Let come what comes, only I’ll be revenged / Most thoroughly for my father”. Significantly, Laertes claims that he is not afraid to die in the process of avenging his father, which stands in stark opposition to Hamlet’s feelings about death.

This juxtaposition can be used to explain why Laertes is able to act decisively while Hamlet is not. Specifically, since Laertes is unencumbered by a paradoxical obsession and a profound will to live, he is able to go about his revenge with much more alacrity, As soon as he finds out that his father has been murdered, he assembles a mob and is prepared to storm the royal castle to kill the King of Denmark (because he doesn’t know who killed his father but thinks that Claudius is responsible). There have been numerous opposing explanations for Hamlet’s indecisiveness. One such explanation is that Hamlet is uncertain murdering his uncle is the right thing to do. The following excerpt is often cited for evidence of this: “The spirit that I have seen/ May be a devil, and the devil hath power / T’assume a pleasing shape”. The fear of the ghost being an apparition of the devil may have put some doubt in Hamlet’s head, and it could very well have been the source of his initial apprehension.

However, even after Hamlet stages the play-within- the-play and concludes, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Claudius is guilty and that murdering him would be justifiable, nothing changes. He still continues to procrastinate When faced with an unprecedented opportunity to complete his vengeance, specifically, when Claudius is on his knees with his eyes closed, Hamlet provides a rather poor rationale for not following through with the execution. He claims that if he were to kill Claudius while he’s praying, he would be sent to Heaven, and justice would not be served If Hamlet were genuinely concerned about this, he easily could have waited for Claudius to be finished praying. However, since he does not take advantage of this opportunity, it can be logically deduced that Hamlet’s indecisiveness is unrelated to doubts about his uncle’s guilt.

Thus, this theory falls. Moreover, it’s also important to note that Hamlet certainly has the wherewithal to end another human being’s life. He stabs Polonius and shows no remorse. Additionally, he sends two close childhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to their imminent deaths and explicitly says that he does not feel guilty about it. Hamlet does not have a problem with murdering people; he just has a problem with murdering Claudius, implying that the source of his indecisiveness is much more complex than a sense of morality. As I mentioned in the introduction, Hamlet is one of the greatest plays because so much of it is open to multiple interpretations. However, I contend that my analysis of the indecisive nature of our protagonist’s revenge can be used as a lens with which to examine some of the major ambiguities in the text.

As a preface, I would like to say that I am not trying to present the following claims as facts, but rather as plausible and logical extensions of my theory I am well aware that it is exceedingly difficult to make infallible assertions about any important aspects of Hamlet; I‘m just simply trying to add to the collection of reasonable interpretations.  The first examinable ambiguity of the play is whether or not Hamlet actually goes insanei Consider, that for the duration of the play, Hamlet fought the contradictory urges of wanting to kill Claudius but also wanting to live a meaningful life. An internal struggle such as this one could drive any man insane. Therefore, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that Hamlet’s antic disposition was a byproduct of the daunting task of his revenge.

This is slightly ironic, considering he initially thought it would be best for him to feign insanity in order to accomplish it. The play is ambiguous partially because it does not contain many clear takeaway aphorisms. However, when Hamlet is interpreted through the lens of my theory, it can be argued that William Shakespeare wrote it to warn his viewers against the dangers of being too singular in their pursuits. In essence, they play is a tragedy solely because Hamlet‘s life becomes dominated by one thing. The direct consequence is that he is driven to insanity, The indirect consequence is plenty of collateral damage: specifically, the deaths of Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Ophelia, Laertes, and Gertrude. Thus, understanding that the indecisiveness of l-larnlet’s revenge can be explained by the paradoxical nature of his obsession and his will is critical to the understanding of Hamlet as a whole.

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The Indecisive Nature of Hamlet’s Revenge in William Shakespeare’s Play Hamlet. (2023, May 11). Retrieved from

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