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Hamlet\'s father, the king of Denmark, has died suddenly. The dead king\'s brother, Claudius, marries Hamlet\'s mother and swiftly assumes the throne; a throne that Hamlet fully expected would be his upon the death of his father. Hamlet\'s father\'s ghost confronts Hamlet and tells him that his death was not natural, as reported, but instead was murder. Hamlet swears revenge. But rather than swoop instantly to that revenge, Hamlet pretends to be insane in order to mask an investigation of the accusation brought by his father\'s ghost. Why Hamlet puts on this masquerade and delays in killing Claudius is the central question of the play. But Hamlet did not swear to his dead father that he, detective-like, would investigate. Hamlet swore revenge. And he has more than enough motivation for revenge.
His motivations for revenge are made clear when Hamlet says,
”Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon-
He that hath killed my king, and whored my mother;
Popped in between th\' election and my hopes,
Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
And with such cozenage-is\'t not perfect conscience
To quit him with this arm? And is\'t not to be damned
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil?” (5.2.71-80).
It is this delay in performing the act he has sworn to accomplish which leads to Hamlet\'s death. The poison on the tip of Laertes\' rapier, in a way symbolizes the procrastination that has been coursing through Hamlet\'s system throughout the play. Hamlet\'s thoughts focus upon death rather than upon action. Hamlet states this theme when he says, “To be, or not to be, that is the question/” (3.1.64). The answer escapes Hamlet throughout the play, because it is the wrong question. Hamlet is alive and to be alive means, “to do” not merely “to be”. It is his inability “to do”, and his tendency to question and think rather than to act, which thwarts him from getting a quick revenge, and causes his tragic death.
Some may argue that hamlet had reasons why he didn’t kill Claudius early on in the play when he had a chance. For one if he had killed him off and avenged his father’s death then the play would have ended in Act 1. They might also argue that courtiers and his guards surrounded Claudius so he couldn’t kill him. Hamlet never referred to any external difficulty in approaching and killing Claudius. He states that he has “the cause and will and strength and means To do’t,” (4.4.48-49). And even Laertes who is less popular than Hamlet quite easily raises the people against the king. They could even claim that Hamlet wants to bring Claudius to public justice by setting up the play, “The Murder of Gonzago.” Hamlet arranges the play within the play not to convince others of Claudius’ guilt, but to convince him instead. There is simply no completely provable reason why hamlet did not kill Claudius immediately.
Hamlet\'s tragedy is a tragedy of failure-the failure of a man placed in critical circumstances to deal successfully with those circumstances. In some ways, Hamlet reminds me of Brutus in Shakespeare\'s book Julius Caesar. Hamlet and Brutus are both popular men who live in mysterious times; both are intellectual, and philosophical; both men want to do the right thing; both men intellectualize over what the right thing is; neither man yields to passion. But here the comparison ends, for though both Brutus and Hamlet reflect at length over the need to act, Brutus is able immediately to act, which is shown when he stabs Julius Caesar, while Hamlet is not. Hamlet is stuck "thinking too precisely on th\' event-".
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Characters in Hamlet, English-language films, British films, Hamlet, Prince Hamlet, Ghost, Laertes, To be, or not to be, William Shakespeare, King Claudius, Critical approaches to Hamlet
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