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Essay/Term paper: Hamlet delay

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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Everyone contains a tinge of Hamlet in his feelings, wants,
and worries, and proudly so, for Hamlet is not like the other tragic
heroes of his period. He stands apart from other Shakespeare's heroes
in his today much discussed innocence. Is this supposed tragic hero
maybe an ideal hero - one without the tragic flaw, which has been a
part of the formula for the tragedy since the Golden age of Greece?; is
a question that has been the field for many literary critics' battles.
The main, and, most often, the only flaw that has been attributed to
Hamlet is his delay. This seems to constitute the central part in
Hamlet. Critics seem to cling to this detail, as if trying to save the
status of Hamlet as a typical Elizabethan tragedy of revenge. By the
definition of tragedy, there should exist a flaw in the character of
the main hero, who is a great personality that is engaged in a
struggle that ends catastrophically (Stratford, 90). If Hamlet had no
flaw, what kind of tragic hero is he? No doubt, Hamlet is a tragical
drama, for it has many characters "from the top" ending up losing their
lives. But the play wouldn't lose its tragic tone if Hamlet was a an
ideal hero instead of tragic one, which is exactly the case. If just
all critic realized this, maybe today we wouldn't have that much
trouble trying to "decipher" Hamlet's character, just like Elizabethan
audience never raised any questions concerning Hamlet's delay. It was
only in the last two centuries, that the audience and their perceptions
have drastically changed, which causes this confusion concerning the
character that was created by Shakespeare for common people, some
ignorant ones among them, perhaps.
Hamlet is like a soldier that is thrown into a war where he
has to do some things he rather would avoid doing, but under the given
circumstances he bites his teeth and carries himself well (Stratford,
128). In this war, the circumstances brought on by Claudius's murdering
of King Hamlet are Hamlet's enemy. His dead father is the destroyed
country, painful truth which leaves so much hatred and resentment in
his heart. Being a loyal prince and son, and one whom entire kingdom
respected, he should seek revenge and bring justice back in the royal
court. The whole play would be very simple if this murdered was an open
assassination. But no, Shakespeare made sure that this assassination
was secret, that no one, except maybe Claudius, knew about it. This
puts in a completely different context the play that was written by
Thomas Kyd, a play titled Ur-Hamlet, which Shakespeare used as a basis
for his Hamlet (Grebanier, 111).This way, Shakespeare accomplished very
different development of action, and ultimately one of the best plays
in the history. Along with that, Shakespeare created disagreement
concerning reasons why Hamlet waited so long before killing Claudius.
A careful reader can notice that more than two months pass
between Hamlet being told by the Ghost about the evil deed, and Hamlet
following through his plan. One can argue that from this follows that
Hamlet procrastinated, having that one flaw - being passive, not daring
to act. But Shakespeare never payed attention to this time interval. An
audience wasn't aware of it, because Shakespeare didn't want it to be -
the rather large time interval was of no consequence, and truly one
cannot notice this without a conscious calculation (Grebanier, 179).
More critics, especially during popularity of Freud, have tried to
explain Hamlet's delay exclusively from psychological point of view.
But how can one psychologically analyze a character that doesn't exist
in physical world; whose existence is dependent merely on his actions
and reactions to the events and other characters from play? J. Dover
Wilson summarized it by saying that Hamlet is a "character in a play,
not in history" (Weitz, 107). From the point of view of these critics,
it follows that character preceded the plot, thus shaping it for its
needs. But Shakespeare, not to mention all the other play writers,
followed Aristotelian view that drama is imitation of life, of the
actions of man. Plot is a way to organize the action, and thus, plot
precedes character in Hamlet (Grebanier, 108). This, without even
knowing Aristotelian method, can also be deduced from knowing that
Shakespeare adopted plot of Ur-Hamlet, and changed it just slightly. A
slight change in the plot, however, hardly slightly affects the
characters. But one should notice that "preceding" means "comes before
the other one", and it does not mean "eliminates the other." Therefore,
the cause of Hamlet's fall cannot be ascribed exclusively to the
situation. That would mean eliminating every element of tragedy, and
even drama, from Hamlet - Hamlet would thus have become a mere
collection of fate-dependent events that accidentally so happened not
to have a happy ending. So, the reasons for Hamlet's actions should be
understood as a synthesis of original situation, Hamlet's reactions to
it, and then again of situation that was affected by Hamlet's
reactions. Looking at Hamlet's reactions, one detail cannot be
overlooked: Hamlet does not kill Claudius in church, while he has the
best chance of doing so up until that point. This little detail, and it
is really a little detail, for if it was more important, Shakespeare
would have dedicated to it more then some 100 lines, tends to affect
the reader's evaluation of Hamlet's delay. Why didn't he kill the
King? Understanding this scene is crucial today in understanding
Hamlet's delay, for we seem to be puzzled by it (if we were in the
audience, the whole scene would have lasted only moments, but as
readers, we have the freedom to ponder about it). At least so was
Professor Dowden, to name one critic, who holds that Hamlet "loses a
sense of fact" because he puts every event through his mind, filtering
it until every deed seems to have an alternative - in not doing the
deed, but evaluating it even more (Bloom, 66). Coleridge and Goethe
would agree with this, holding that Hamlet's soul is too philosophical
and it lacks ability to instinctually act on impulse, and that he is
"too sensitive to avenge himself" (Grebanier, 159). But if one only
reads what goes on in the play, Hamlet could by no means be called too
sensitive or passive. After the Ghost appears, he ignores the fears of
his friends, is strong enough to break off their restraining hold, and
follows the ghastly apparition. In the Queen's closet he follows his
impulse and puts his sword to action. In the battle with the pirate
ship, he manages to win over the whole crew without anyone's help. He
is known in the kingdom as a brilliant fencer, and shows his skill in
the match with Laertes, after which he is able to cut the king and take
the glass of poison from Horatio's hand, all that while dying of deadly
poison. What then is the reason for his delay of action? Did
Shakespeare make it on purpose so that he can fill the five long acts?
(Grebanier, 115).Hamlet is very brave and impulsive Prince, but the
plot seems to prevent him from finding an "external model or a simple
solution for conduct," so that he must depend more on thinking, and
less on acting (Stratford, 105). He realizes that killing a King is a
great crime. In seventeenth century, kings have divinity about them,
and hurting a king from that period cannot compare to hurting a
politician today. The proof of this is in the last scene - even after
Laertes speaks out and lets everyone that was present know that the
match and poison were only King's plan, the crowd yells, as if having
an instinct to defend their King: "Treason! Treason!" (Shakespeare,
27). Even if it wasn't that punishable to assassinate the King, Hamlet
would still not kill him in the church. He might have taken the sword
out, but one thing then went through his mind: " If King is murdered,
the truth is murdered too, and King Hamlet's assassination would be
impossible to prove". His aim is not to kill the King and get the
throne. He is primarily concerned with punishing the murderer of his
father, punishing him under the shelter of justice (Grebanier,
111-113). So, Hamlet does delay, according to Stoll, but with purpose
to create his deed momentous when the right moment comes. This is
what's behind his "procrastination" in the church. Until he has the
proof, he must be patient. His words in church, then, are not at all
excuse for delay when he says that he must wait for King to be in act
that "has no relish of salvation in't" (1). Rather, he speaks to
himself in attempt to force himself not to use violence, but to be
patient. So, instead of showing a flaw in the church, Hamlet shows
virtue, his prudent patience. He is now absolutely determined in his
plan and all of his actions are directed towards one accomplishment -
to justly punish the one who murdered his father. The proof of this is
in the last scene when he orders Horatio to let everyone know the
truth, and what went on in the kingdom in the last two months.
Hamlet is the only Shakespeare's tragic hero who doesn't have
a tragic flaw, which makes him an ideal hero, instead a tragic one.
Hamlet the play still is the revenge tragedy, for Hamlet never lived to
see the full revenge.

I. Introduction
II. Hamlet's Delay
1. The situation of the play that that surrounds Hamlet
2. Ur-Hamlet as a basis of Hamlet
3. Two months delay question
4. Psychological only interpretation of Hamlet
5. Aristotelian definitions of drama
6. Hamlet actions as a synthesis of character and plot
7. The scene in church - most importatnt for the notion of delay
8. Delay because Hamlet is passive and too emotional
9. Murdering the King is murdering the proof
10. Virtue of patience rather than procrastination flaw
III. Conclusion
Works Cited

1. Hamlet. The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 6th Edition,
editors Bain, Beaty, Hunter,
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995.
2. Weitz, Morris. Hamlet and the Philosophy of Literary Criticism.
Chicago: University of Chicago,
3. Hamlet. Stratford-Upon-Avon Study. London: Edward Arnold Ltd., 1963.
4. Grebanier, Bernard. The Heart of Hamlet, The Play Shakespeare Wrote.
New York: Thomas
Y. Crowell Company, 1960.
5. Hamlet. Editor Harold Bloom.New York: Chelsea House Publishers, a
division of Maine Line Book
Co., 1990.

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