Is there a plausible explanation for the hesitation by Hamlet in carrying out the ghost’s request in Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
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 question of Hamlet’s delay ought, I believe, to be considered in light of this dilemma. To a man alienated from his society’s most basic symbolic modes, who finds all speech and action mere seeming and hypocritical playing, comes an imperious demand to speak and act – to express himself in deed his father’s son. The ghost’s stress upon ritual modes indicates that the expression demanded must not be just “a kind of wild justice,” but an expression ordered and meaningful. Hamlet’s difficulties at the linguistic level – his puns and “antic disposition,” the lack of commensurate values between him and the rest of the court – are reflected in his difficulties at the level of action (72).
In “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging” Ruth Nevo explains how the protagonist is “confounded” in both the prayer scene and the closet scene:
In the prayer scene and the closet scene his [Hamlet’s] devices are overthrown. His mastery is confounded by the inherent liability of human reason to jump to conclusions, to fail to distinguish seeming from being. He, of all people, is trapped in the fatal deceptive maze of appearances that is the phenomenal world. Never perhaps has the mind’s finitude been better dramatized than in the praye...
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...xcerpted from Stories from Shakespeare. N. p.: E. P. Dutton, 1956.
Danson, Lawrence. “Tragic Alphabet.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare’s Drama of Language. N. p.: Yale University Press, 1974.
Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.
Nevo, Ruth. “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging.” 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.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html No line nos.
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