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Hesitation and Indeterminacy of Hamlet Essay

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Updated: Sep 1st, 2022

Current essay deals with some issues presented in the Shakespeare’s great tragedy Hamlet. The main problems addressed in current research are possible reasons for Hamlets hesitation and indeterminacy. By means of detailed analysis of Act 3 where these hesitations become the most evident we will try to understand whether the abovementioned features of character are peculiar to Hamlet or whether they are somewhat alien and superficial.

There is no denying the importance of the fact that the whole fabric of Shakespeare’s tragedy unfolds in Hamlet subjective perception and interpretation of his uncle and mother’ treason. The more he asserts himself in his desire to revenge Claudius the more he embitters himself to the outside world which appears to him as totally hypocritical and false. Hamlet’s subjectivity twists apart and he can’t see the sense of life where money, vanity, treason, hypocrisy are wide-spread among people. Nobody can’t understand these changes in Hamlet as he becomes more closed and unsociable.

The split in Hamlet’s personality represents the split between two epoch which in Hamlet’s own words he is chosen to unite. The indeterminacy and deep alienation of Hamlet’s personality can be described as something that represents not Hamlet’s particular features of character but a spirit of new time which broke traditional flow of life.

Hamlet perceives life and reality as false and fake: they are not good place to live, hence famous dilemma ‘To be or not to be’ – is a central dilemma of Hamlet. To put it plain the revenge that Hamlet plots is not central to Shakespeare’s tragedy. The practice of vendetta was quite spread in aristocratic nations of that period and its description would be banal today if it was the central theme and problem Shakespeare posed. If all was about revenge Hamlet could just make it in ‘good’ aristocratic traditions without asking difficult questions and not thinking of eternal problems. The thing is that Hamlets regards Claudius treason and the ugly picture of Dutch court that it revealed as the symptoms of great crisis that makes it impossible to Be. Polonius, Ofelia, Laertus, Gertrude, all these people are the markers of this crisis. Everything had merged in one dark picture.

These facts partly explain why Hamlet hesitates to kill Claudius in Act 3 Scene 3. We see that Hamlet having possibility to kill Claudius hesitates to do it as he see him praying: Now might I do it pat, now he is praying/ And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven/And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d: A villain kills my father; and for that,/ I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven./ O, this is hire and salary, not revenge’ (Act 3, Scene 3).

Here we see that Hamlet’s hesitates on the religious grounds claiming that if he kills uncle during prayer Claudius will come to Heaven. Instead Hamlet reassures himself that the revenge will be committed in better conditions ‘When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage/Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed/ At gaming, swearing, or about some act/That has no relish of salvation in’t/ Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven/And that his soul may be as damn’d and black/As hell, whereto it goes’. This indeterminacy shouldn’t be regarded as cowardice or some faint-heartedness but instead even can be characterized as some rational calculation of consequences.

Two moments can be defined to understand this delay. First of all, though being determined to kill Claudius from the start Hamlet wanted to convince himself that it was really his uncle who killed his father. To this end he organized the theatrical play depicting the same plot as he saw in his apparition.

As he understood that all is not only about killing his father but about total demise of world he lives in, the destruction of his ideals and hopes, more he became desperate and depressed. The second moment which explains this delay is his hesitation concerning mother. He couldn’t believe that she participated in the plot against his father consciously and believed that it was not true. These two factual moments in Shakespeare’s tragedy partly explain why Hamlet delayed his revenge. But it should be mentioned that these moments are motivational and relate mainly to the play’s narrative structure, links and passings between composition elements.

As it was already mentioned above the hesitation is not simply determined by some factual moments: such interpretation is positivist one neglecting the symbolical meaning of Shakespeare’s tragedy. It should be interpreted in subjective-objective way. It means that what may seem to be hesitation and indeterminacy peculiar to Hamlet personality are in fact some important markers of epoch which is characterized by deep split of existing values and subjective perception of the world.

More about Hamlet

The scene where Hamlet blames his mother for treason postulates the fact that Hamlets does not afraid to revenge, to be killed or simply to die. He kills Polonius which hid under the carpet thinking that he is killing Claudius: ‘Lifts up the array and discovers Polonius/ Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better: take thy fortune’ (Act 3, Scene 4). Hamlet does not feel remorse but says: ‘take thy fortune’.

To sum it up, it should be noted that the delays which are evident in Act 3 and in other episodes of tragedy should not be understood as mere features of Hamlet’s personality as hesitation, faint-heartedness etc., but rather as the realization of Shakespeare’s greater artistic ideas.

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IvyPanda. "Hesitation and Indeterminacy of Hamlet." September 1, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hesitation-and-indeterminacy-of-hamlet/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "Hesitation and Indeterminacy of Hamlet." September 1, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hesitation-and-indeterminacy-of-hamlet/.


IvyPanda. (2022) 'Hesitation and Indeterminacy of Hamlet'. 1 September.

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