There are many interpretations to why Hamlet was hesitant in fulfilling his duty to avenge his father’s death. “We find it hard, with Shakespeare’s help, to understand Hamlet: even Shakespeare, perhaps, found it hard to understand him: Hamlet himself finds it impossible to understand himself. Better able than other men to read the hearts and motives of others, he is yet quite unable to read his own.';1 “What hinders Hamlet
in his revenge is for him himself a problem and therefore it must remain a problem for us all.';2 Each observer of Hamlet forms their own opinions as what was they believe to be the Hamlet problem. The theory containing the most supportive facts leads to Hamlet being a procrastinator.
William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, is a tragedy. A tragedy is a drama characterized by the downfall of the main character, usually a noble person, due to a fatal personality flaw. In Hamlet, Young Prince Hamlet
is this such noble man
, his fatal flaw being procrastination.
One may ask why did it take Hamlet so long to kill his incestuous uncle, whom he regarded with the utmost repugnance. This has become a very controversial issue. Many critics and readers have different opinions as to why they believe Hamlet delayed the slaying of Claudius. Some believe it is due to Hamlet’s insanity. Others say he was in love with his mother, or that he secretly had sensual
feelings toward his uncle. Some think Hamlet was just simply a coward, and the list goes on. But the most probable reason for Hamlet’s hesitancy is that he was merely a procrastinator. There are many supportive facts to prove this point throughout the play.
A perfect example of procrastination is when one has a job to do which this person despises. For example, cleaning a filthy room. In this case, a procrastinator will find any possible excuse to get out of doing his/her task. Such as: calling an old friend who one may have lost touch with, grabbing a quick bite to eat and somehow it turns into a three hour ordeal, taking one last flip through the channels and it just so happens that one finds his/her favorite movie just started, and so on. So of course these five, maybe ten minute minor setbacks turn into hours. These long delays enable one to even forget the task at hand. And the next thing that winds up happening is this person will put the room off for another day or two. Hamlet shows these same tendencies throughout the play. As Ernest Jones well says in his psychoanalysis of Hamlet,
“Time and again he works himself up, points out to himself his obvious duty, with the cruellist self- reproaches lashes himself to agonies of remorse
and once more falls away into inaction. He eagerly seizes at every excuse for occupying himself with
any other matter than the performance of his duty even in the last scene of the last act entering on
the distraction of a quite irrelevant fencing-match with a man who he must know wants to kill him, an eventuality that would put an end to all hope of fulfilling his task: just as on a lesser plane a person faced with a distasteful task.';3
Another significant fact which is supportive to the idea that Hamlet is a procrastinator is that the grounds for his hesitancy are of little importance. The causes for Hamlet’s delays are contradicting, and therefore not valid enough to postpone the killing of Claudius. His reasons for prolonging the murder also continually change from one time to another. At one instance, he pretends to be too cowardly to accomplish his deed. Then, he goes to question the truthfulness of the ghost. At another moment, when the opportunity to kill Claudius presents itself, he feels the time is not right.4 “When a man gives at different times a different reason for his conduct it is safe to infer that, whether consciously or not, he is concealing the true reason.';5 On this note, the alleged motives for Hamlet’s reluctance can be dismissed as false pretext.6
Another argument that proves Hamlet’s excuses to be groundless is that he knew that Claudius was evil throughout the whole play. After the time the ghost confirms the lingering suspicion in Hamlet’s mind, at no further point did he ever doubt that his uncle was the villain.7 “A little more than kin and less than kind.';8 Due to the fact
that he knew Claudius was malicious, any aspect which may postpone the murder of him was insignificant and should not have stood in Hamlet’s way. Therefore, Hamlet’s causes for reluctance do not stand credible. They are nothing more then excuses to postpone the act he so dreaded to do, murder his uncle.
Since the outer conflicts Hamlet concocted to stall him from performing his task did not prove stable, they can be eliminated. One must now look to the inner characteristics of Hamlet to find what was the true cause of his hesitance. “Hamlet’s hesitancy may have been due to an internal conflict between the impulse to fulfill his task on the one hand and some special cause of repugnance to it on the other, further, the explanation of his not disclosing this cause of repugnance may be that he was not conscious of its nature;...';9 Though Hamlet wanted to seek revenge in honor of his father, he was plagued by chronic procrastination.
The final supportive argument that points toward Hamlet being a procrastinator is when the ghost paid Hamlet a visit in Gertrude’s room. The exact words of the ghost are, “Do not forget. This visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose...';10 The ghost came back to try to get Hamlet back on track. He serves as a reminder of his duty to seek vengeance. “Bradley even goes as far as to make out
a case for the view that Hamlet’s self accusation of ‘bestial oblivion’ is to be taken in a literal sense, his unconscious detestation of his task being so intense as to enable him actually to forget it for periods.';11
Although it is obvious to those who observe Hamlet that he was a procrastinator, it remained unknown to him. Hamlet’s intentions were to follow through with his promise to his father, but he was blinded by his reluctant ways. Perhaps, if he had discovered his fault during his moments of intense introspection he may have prevented his fatal downfall. Unfortunately, his tragic flaw of procrastination prevailed and in the end led to his demise.