Friday, 16 August 2013

Hamlet's Delay and Procrastination


Hamlet has been a source of endless speculation to critics and readers and the main interest has been almost exactly fixed on the problem of delay. Why does Hamlet delay carrying out the task entrusted to him by the Ghost? Stoll is of the opinion that if at all there is any delay, it is Shakespeare’s, not Hamlet’s, for he believes if Hamlet had killed Claudius at once there would have been no play at all. Bradley strongly objects to this opinion and says, ‘certainly there is delay. Two months elapse and Claudius still lives’. Even the critics, who agree that there is delay, disagree about the causes of delay. Both external and internal causes account for Hamlet’s delay.

External Causes

The external causes of Hamlet’s delay are physical difficulties in situation. Claudius is not a weak king. He is a shrewd man who does everything to protect his life from unforeseen attacks. He is not only surrounded by courtiers but also strongly protected by Swiss body-guards. Hence Hamlet would find it difficult to meet his enemy alone. Also he does not in the beginning have any strong proof of Claudius’ guilt except the Ghost’s story. With this he cannot hope to win the people’s help in deposing the king.

However, these external difficulties are not major hindrances. Hamlet himself does not speak as if there were external difficulties in the way of killing Claudius. In act III, scene III, when he sees Claudius at prayer, he postpones the idea of killing saying that he will kill him,when he is drunk asleep, or in his rage’.

Shakespeare shows Laertes easily raising the people against Claudius. If Laertes could do that, Hamlet, as a popular prince, could more easily have raised the people against Claudius. Hence the external difficulties do not account much for this delay.

Internal Causes

Internal causes which make Hamlet delay his action are within his own character. Most of the time he is torn between Christian scruples and the obedience to fulfill his father’s desire. In his soliloquies he wishes to commit suicide, To be or not to be, that is the question’.

But he puts aside this thought on the ground of Christian ethics that committing suicide is a sin. We notice, however, that Hamlet hesitates to kill Claudius not on the ground of Christian spirit but because of a most revengeful thought that his soul should go to hell straight and not to heaven. In addition he feels no remorse at the deaths of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. So this theory also does not account for his delay.

Some feel that the cause of his delay is irresolution, which is due to an excess of thinking and reflection. The energy that should have gone out as an action is spent in the process of cogitation.                     

Delay Related To Theme And Subject

Hamlet is a procrastinator. Faced with the imperative act of bloody revenge, his intellect, his philosophical bent, his morality and his own emotional instability, it is impossible for him to act swiftly and decisively. He has to be sure of Claudius’ guilt. When everyone at court is pretending to be what they are not, it is difficult to distinguish between appearance and reality, and this inhibits action.

If however we analyze the action of Hamlet, we find the cause of delay linked to the theme of the play. Hamlet is not merely concerned with Killing of his father’s murderer. In doing so he feels he must set right the decay in the world around him and in the heart of man.              

The time is out of joint, O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right.

Shakespeare has endowed Hamlet and the action of the play with a complexity in the context of which the delay is understandable and inevitably has tragic consequences.

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