For centuries, Shakespeare has perplexed his audience with the puzzling issue that Hamlet poses. Taking it upon himself, the duty of exacting revenge on Claudius for murdering his father, Hamlet swears that he will swiftly act. Then, he seemingly neglects his vow to his father, wasting multiple opportunities, in spite of the ghost reappearing before him to remind of his task. Even after escaping from his trip to England, Hamlet seems to have no intention of taking his uncler’s life. When he does finally kill Claudius, in the final moments of the play, he does so with no forethought, contradicting all his previous actions and contemplations. Hamletr’s retribution is too late. If he had done what he promised sooner, the other deaths would not have occurred as unintentional results of his procrastination. Now the question remains, why did Hamlet delay his revenge?
Itr’s meaningless to question Hamlet as he himself is baffled at his own inaction. He criticizes himself sharply in Act 2, after watching an actor mourn with counterfeit sorrow for an imaginary character when he could not weep for his father. The actorr’s display in a dream of passion (II.ii.552) puts Hamlet to shame since his motives and cue for passion (II.ii.561) are genuine, yet all he can do is mope like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of [his] cause (II.ii.568). An entire act later, Hamlet finds himself abashed again for dragging his feet at the sight of Fortinbras and his army marching to fight over a little patch of ground / That hath in it no profit but the name (IV.iv.18-19). He expresses his own bewilderment at his inexplicable impotence through his soliloquy I do not know / Why yet I live to say This thingr’s to do (IV.iv.45-46). He openly admits in the same soliloquy that the reasons for why he continues waiting are implausible. Hamlet reveals his disdain of wasting his ability to reason Sure He that made us with such large discourse, / Looking before and after, gave us not / That capability and godlike reason / To fust in us unused (Iv.iv.38-41).
Hamletr’s ability to act seems to become apparent only when he acts without prior thought, from chasing the ghost instantly as it started to leave, to running his sword through Polonius believing it to be the king. Hamletr’s constant weaving between living and committing suicide to escape his suffering reflect his shortcomings of not only taking revenge, but also taking a life by the Christian objections of his conscience. Yet, he feels no guilt for the deaths of Polonius and his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. A common explanation is that Hamlet is suffering from a psychological dilemma. At the close of the first act, Hamlet had received charge from his fatherr’s spirit and declares that he will put on an antic disposition (I.v.177), claiming that he will act mad as a disguise to expose the secrets that his uncle has kept. This not only exhibits his unreasonable methodology in uncovering a hidden enigma, but also begs the question of his current mental state.
For example, Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman analyzed the contagion of negativity stating that the despair that stems from misfortune grows more rapidly over time than the positivity from positive events. This can explain how his state of mind quickly spiraled out of control after suffering the loss of his father and learning of Claudius malicious ploy to take the throne. Similarly, A.C. Bradley diagnosed Hamlet in his study as a form of melancholic depression, making this assumption from Hamletr’s remark I have of late ’ but wherefore I know not ’ lost all my mirth (II.ii.295-96).
Hamlet losing his mirth, or cheerfulness, has lost his happiness in his life, corresponding to conventional symptoms of depression. On the other hand, others believe the Oedipal complex, a term used by Sigmund Freud, influenced much of Hamletr’s actions. The Oedipal complex is a theory of the desire of a child for sexual gratification through the parent of opposite sex which can be connected to the unconscious source of his suicidal dejection and pathological reluctance to avenge his father. He would feel that killing his motherr’s lover, Claudius, would be killing his secret Oedipal self. But what if Hamletr’s torment in playing the role of the revenger expresses his rejection to a corrupted way of life that tolerates injustice and inhumanity? If everything the audience learns from the play confirms Hamletr’s conclusion that the world is a prison in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, and Denmark being one o th worst (II.ii.245-247), then Shakespearer’s play turns out to be something quite different. It becomes the tragedy of having to live in a depraved world.
From Hamletr’s view, his retreat into the limbo of his feigned madness is his sane response to the insane mess that has manifested itself in his life. In Hamlet, Shakespeare undermines the genre of a revengeful tragedy by creating a main character that refuses to play the role that her’s been given. Shakespeare emphasizes his purpose by juxtaposing Hamlet with Fortinbras and Laertes, two sons who also want to avenge their fathers, but do not falter when doing so.
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