In scene two, Act 2, Hamlet gives a possiblereason for his hesitation. ;The spirit that I have seen, May be a devil,and the devil hath power, T’ assume a pleasing shape" (2. 2. 594-596).
Withthis doubt clouding his mind, Hamlet seems completely unable to act. Thisindecision is somewhat resolved in the form of the play. Hamlet comes up withthe idea of the play that is similar to the events retold by the ghost about hismurder to prove Claudius as guilty or innocent. Due to the king’s reaction tothe play, Hamlet begins to believe that the Ghost was telling the truth thenight of the apparition.
In Hamlets mind, it is now his duty to avenge hisfather’s murder. This is where the real problem of inaction enters the play. Later that night, Hamlet has a perfect opportunity to kill Claudius, when hecomes across the king kneeling in prayer. He wonders if this is the time to killhim and get it over with, but decides not to. He claims that he does not wantClaudius to go to heaven, so he would rather kill him when he is committing asin.
If this is the case, then the question is why doesn’t he simply wait tillClaudius has completed his prayer, accuse him of the murder and kill him in hissin of denial. That answer is beyond me. Instead, Hamlet goes to the chamber ofhis mother and passes up his best opportunity at revenge. The argument can bemade, however, that it is not a fear of killing that causes this inaction.
Hedoes not display an inability to end someone’s life when killing Polonius. Heneither hesitates nor capitulates in sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern totheir executions. Why then would the prince of Denmark hesitate to kill the oneman he most justly could? Many literary believe that his inaction is the resultof a vicarious oedipus complex. Those who concur with this theory say thatHamlet, in his subconscious mind, has a desire to do exactly what his uncle hasdone; that is, get rid of the king so that he can have Gertrude for himself.
Ifthis is true, Hamlet cannot act because he is fighting against his subconsciousself. According to this interpretation, Claudius becomes an embodiment ofhimself, and thus he is unable to kill, in a sense, his other self. Although theoedipus theory is valid, I would like to present another alternative. In myopinion, Hamlet is paralyzed by an interpersonal battle resulting from overevaluation of his situation. Every time he has an opportunity to act, hecounteracts with a doubt or reason for inaction.
For example, he wants hisrevenge on Claudius to take place only when he can be sure he will go to helland not heaven. Furthermore, he spends too much time planning and not enoughtime doing. He plans the play within a play, but seeks no immediate resolutionupon its completion. Instead he becomes more careful around Claudius after theplay because it revealed his guilt to the king. After the play within the play,Hamlet does not act until everybody is dying, including himself. Only in thisfinal tragic moment does he realize that he should not have waited so long.
Butby the time he comes to this realization, it is too late. His father ismurdered, his mother lays dying, he is mortally wounded and all he can do isfinish the tragic killings. With all of his pent-up rage he takes his revenge onClaudius.Shakespeare .