How far do you agree that Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius in Act Three is underpinned by religious reasons? Of all the different motives Shakespeare presents for Hamlet’s lack of action, which seems to be the most important?
Critics have attempted to explain Hamlet’s delay in avenging his father for centuries and the most relevant scene to illustrate Hamlet’s hesitation is in Act Three when Hamlet has the opportunity to kill Claudius but doesn’t. Hamlet says at the time that he does
“this same villain send
It could be said that Hamlet is deliberately delaying his revenge for fear of actually committing it. However, religion was a focal part of people’s lives at the time the play was set and at the time it was written, one would be justified in claiming that Hamlet genuinely didn’t want to kill Claudius while he was praying to prevent him from going to heaven.
Furthermore, it is possible to propose that Shakespeare merely uses this scene to provoke irritation and consequently suspense from the audience. If Hamlet wasn’t given this opportunity to kill Claudius we would have not this insight into Hamlet’s indecisiveness, possible cowardice and inability to kill Claudius in cold blood. It is probable to suggest that through this soliloquy we are shown that Hamlet’s initial passion for revenge after the Ghost’s visitation has faded as the play progresses to merely thinking about killing Claudius.
This scene is in fact a visual representation of Hamlet’s problem throughout the play, this focal problem is open to two different interpretations: either Hamlet has the ability and passion to kill Claudius but he doesn’t have the right time to do it, or Hamlet doesn’t have the self-assurance and courage to do it even when an opportunity is presented to him. It seems unlikely that Hamlet lacks the self-assurance and certainty of Claudius’ guilt as this scene is directly after the scene in which Claudius is overcome with guilt when Hamlet senior’s murder is played out before him. Hamlet discusses Claudius’ reaction to the play with Horatio and says:
“I’ll take the ghost’s word for a
In other words, he believes the ghost’s accusation. This leaves Hamlet as being a coward or as a fervent revenger without opportunity.
Another interesting thing that happens at this part of the play is that the Player King unintentionally refers to Hamlet’s inaction:
“What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.”
The Player seems to be saying that Hamlet only made his pledge to avenge his father on the spur of the moment when he was blinded by passion and that now that immediacy of the ghost’s accusation has faded he lacks conviction.
Shakespeare sprinkles subtle lines alluding to Hamlet’s apparent cowardice and failure as a classical revenger. In addition to this, Shakespeare may intentionally delay Hamlet’s revenge and remove emphasis from his passion to break the trend of...