The desire for revenge and the need to exact vengeance on a deceitful and cunning family member is of course a primal plot mechanism that Shakespeare utilizes within one of his most famous place – Hamlet. Readers and analysts of William Shakespeare have long considered some of the primal reasons for why the character Hamlet hesitates when the pivotal opportunity to kill Claudius presents itself. Whereas there are a variety of opinions, it is the understanding of this particular student that there is only one relevant opinion that can be applied for Hamlet’s actions. Accordingly, it will be the purpose of this brief analysis to consider this rationale and by corresponding textual evidence of why it is relevant and meaningful to a further understanding of this particular play.
As the desire for vengeance and/or revenge is of course a primal and motivating emotion that defines almost each and every one of Hamlet’s actions, it comes as nothing short of shocking that Hamlet hesitates when the perfect opportunity seemingly is presented. Shakespeare describes in scene three of act three the exact moment in which Hamlet finds this golden opportunity. Says Hamlet “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; / And now Ill dot” (3.3.73-4). And yes, even as this perfect opportunity comes and goes, Hamlet does not capitalize upon this opportunity; hesitating instead and allowing the moment at which Claudius is kneeling before him in prayer, completely unaware of the potential assassination that Hamlet chooses to stay his hand. Some individuals that have analyzed this particular opportunity have determined that Hamlet was somehow afraid, nervous, or otherwise considerate of the prostrate nature in which Claudius is depicted. However, it is the understanding of this analyst that these factors are not the most important considerations that should be made with respect to why and what ultimately chooses not to end the life of Claudius at that exact moment.
Instead, Hamlet understands that by taking Claudius life at the moment in which he was engaged in prayer and supplication with the Almighty would ultimately create a situation in which Claudius was guaranteed eternal salvation; something that Hamlet was uniquely interested in denying. This particular motive and rationale for why Hamlet decides not to striking down at the moment in question is effectively denoted within the following quote: “When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, / Or in th incestuous pleasure of his bed; / At gaming, a-swearing, or about some act / That has no relish of salvation int” (3.3.88-92). Within this line of reasoning, Hamlet determines that the despicable nature of Claudius will effectively seal his fate; not only with respect to the fact that Hamlet chooses to kill him – but also with respect to the fact that his eternal soul will be damned to eternal hellfire is the result of the decisions you made it past.
Another rationale for why Hamlet does not in Claudius life at this exact moment has to do with the fact that Hamlet does not want to provide Claudius with dignity of having died in prayer. Aside from the reasons that have been provided above and the relationship that this has with salvation and eternal life, Hamlet reasons that his own father was struck down in complete cowardice and in a manner completely unbecoming of a king to die. Within this line of reasoning, Hamlet states: “took my father grossly, full of bread, / With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May; / And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?” (3.3.80-82). Within this representation, Hamlet is keenly aware of the desire not only to end Claudius life but also to ensure that she is humiliating his own death; preferably either in gluttony, sexual lust, or caught in many of the other crimes that Hamlet has determined him to be fully culpable for (Cardullo 27).
Rather than a cowardly figure that is hesitant to act on impulse, Hamlet is instead a calculating and keenly intelligent character that seeks to exact his revenge; not only in a way that ensures the death and suffering of his victim but also one that considers the means by which vengeance is established and ensures that the eternal soul of the victim will also be damned as well as his own memory. This level of calculation presents the reader with the understanding of the fact that Hamlet is not an individual that is hesitant to perform the action in question. Instead, is merely awaiting the right moment in which all of these factors can come together to ensure the perfect end to the way in which Claudius has thus far behaved and wrong.
Cardullo, Robert. “Delay In Shakespeares Hamlet.” Studies in Literature 84.1 (2012): 26-32. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.
Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Washington Square Press, 2002. Print.