William Shakespeare’s Hamlet presents a hero who hesitates to avenge his dead father when given the opportunity – what should be his judgment? This paper examines the decision from various points of view.
Mark Rose, in “Reforming the Role,” comments on how the hero’s hesitation to kill at the propitious moment, coupled with his later hasty decision to kill, have left the protagonist a changed man:
[. . .] the prince who returns from sea is a changed man, resigned, detached, perhaps “tragically illuminated.” Having refused to kill the king when the time was every way propitious – that is, when he found Claudius kneeling in empty not genuine prayer – and then, having chosen his own moment to act only to find that instead of the king he has murdered Polonius, Hamlet seems to have allowed his sinews to relax. He has let himself be thrust aboard ship, let himself in effect be cast onto the sea of fortune that is so common an image in Shakespeare and the Elizabethan poets, an image recalling that “sea of troubles” against which he had earlier taken arms. When the opportunity to escape the king’s trap arises, Hamlet seizes it, leaping aboard the pirate ship, but what he is doing now is reacting to circumstances rather than trying to dominate them wholly. (126-27)
Is there a connection between verbal hesitation and hesitation in action and decisions? Lawrence Danson in the essay “Tragic Alphabet” discusses the hesitation in action by the hero; this is related to his hesitation in speech:
To speak or act in a world where all speech and action are equivocal seeming is, for Hamlet, both perilous and demeaning, a kind of whoring.
The whole vexed qu...
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...g.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Form in Shakespeare. N.p.: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Rose, Mark. “Reforming the Role.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from Homer to Brecht: The European Epic and Dramatic Traditions. Ed. Michael Seidel and Edward Mendelson. N.p.: Yale University Press, 1977.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html
West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.
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