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Just Do Something, Hamlet
Action plays an important role in drama, and is well modified by dialogue. In
Shakespeare's Hamlet, there is much talk of action. Unfortunately, there is mostly talk of
action on Hamlet's part and very little action taken. This becomes frustrating for the
audience because Hamlet constantly tortures himself and others with his thought process
and never really intentionally acts on it until it is too late.
In the first act of the play, Hamlet's grief of his father's death is what keeps him
inactive. "Together with all forms, moods, [shapes] of grief, That can [denote] me truly.
These indeed seem, For they are actions that a man might play, But I have that within
which passes show, These but the trappings and the suits of woe.] (I.ii, 82-86). He is
mourning his father's death at the beginning of the play without knowledge of his father's
murderer. The audience begins to think that Hamlet might actually do something when he
is confronted by his father's ghost. The ghost tells him that Claudius is his murderer
demands revenge for his death. Hamlet is enraged, but still completely inactive. He talks
makes references to action throughout the play, but does nothing for the first three acts.
"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and
moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like
a god!" (II. ii, 303-307). Hamlet speaks of how much he appreciates quick action, but
does nothing. Another good example of this is in one of Hamlet's many soliloquies. In
Act II, Scene II, he talks of his problem. "What would he do Had he the motive and [the
sue] for passion That I have? He would drown the stage with tears, And cleave the
general ear with horrid speech, Make mad the guilty, and appall the free, Confound the
ignorant, and amaze indeed the very faculties of eyes and ears." (560-566). Hamlet speaks
of what he wants to do, but he still does absolutely nothing. He acknowledges that later in
the speech, and admits his delay. He is afraid of becoming a coward (II.ii,571), but his
lack of movement is obvious. "But I am pigeon-livered, and lack gall To make oppression
bitter," (II.ii, 577-578) he confesses to himself of his cowardice. Before he finishes this
soliloquy, he devises a plan. Hamlet then decides to stage a play that would illustrate his
father's murder. He then promised himself that if the king flinched, he would be sure of his
uncle's guilt and then kill him. Upon this speech, the audience is again under the
impression that Hamlet might actually execute his plan. Of course, the audience is again
wrong. The king is bothered by the play and withdraws into his prayers. Here, Hamlet
has the perfect opportunity to strike Claudius. "A villain kills my father, and for that I, his
sole son, do this same villain send To heaven" (III.iii.76-78). Just as it seems Hamlet's
revenge will finally be complete, he comes up with excuses not to go through with it.
"And am I then revenged, To take him in the purging of his soul, When he is fit and
season'd for his passage? No!...When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,...Then trip him,
that his heels may kick at heaven, And that his soul may be as damn'd and black, "(III.ii,
84-87, 89-93). Again Hamlet delays what needs to be done, and the audience is once
again left frustrated.
Hamlet's lack of action might be accounted for by his fear of death. Hamlet speaks
of the uncertainty of afterlife as "The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn No traveller
returns, puzzles the will...and lose the name of action," (III.i,77-86). He is afraid of action
because of conscience. His conscience is his biggest burden, and thus becomes the
audience's biggest burden. He only admits that to himself, though. To Ophelia, for
example, he claims to be a man of action. He describes himself to her as "proud,
revengeful, ambitious," which might be true, but then he adds "with more offenses at my
beck than I have thought to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act
them in" (III.i,123-126), which is obviously not an accurate description of the Hamlet that
the audience has seen. The odd thing is is that Hamlet understands the importance of
action, which may be why he was always tearing himself apart. He
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