The question of why Hamlet delays in taking revenge on Claudius for so long has puzzled readers and audience members alike. Immediately following Hamlet's conversation with the Ghost, he seems determined to fulfill the Ghost's wishes and swears his companions to secrecy about what has occurred. The next appearance of Hamlet in the play reveals that he has not yet revenged his father's murder. In Scene two, act two, Hamlet gives a possible reason for his hesitation. "The spirit that I have seen / May be a devil, and the devil hath power / T' assume a pleasing shape" (2.2.627-629). With this doubt clouding his mind, Hamlet seems completely unable to act. This indecision is somewhat resolved in the form of the play. Hamlet comes up with the idea of the play that is similar to the events recounted by the ghost about his murder to prove Claudius guilty or innocent. Due to the king's reaction to the play, Hamlet attains the belief that the Ghost was telling the truth the night of the apparition.
In Hamlets mind, it is now his duty to avenge his father'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 he sees the King kneeling in prayer. He wonders if this is the time to kill him and get it over with, but decides not to. He claims that he does not want Claudius to go to heaven, so he would rather kill him when he is committing a sin. If this is the case, then why doesn't he simply wait till Claudius has completed his prayer, accuse him of the murder and kill him in his sin of denial. Instead, Hamlet goes to the chamber of his mother and passes up his best opportunity at revenge. The argument can be made, however, that it is not a fear of killing that causes this inaction. He does not display an inability to end someone's life when killing Polonius. He neither hesitates nor capitulates in sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their executions. Why then would the prince of Denmark hesitate to kill the one man he most justly could? Many literary believe that his inaction is the result of a vicarious Oedipus complex. Those who concur with this theory say that Hamlet, in his subconscious mind, has a desire to do exactly what his uncle has done; that is, get rid of the king so that he can have Gertrude for himself.