The answer to the question why Hamlet delays taking revenge on Claudius, could be a complex answer as we know that Shakespeare wants to emphasize this aspect. The whole tragedy hinges on this delay. During the play, Hamlet is postponing his revenge. What is clear is that Shakespeare insists in Hamlet’s inaction. One of the most important reasons forHamlet’s delay could be due to external difficulties that Hamlet finds during the play. The truth is that we might not have noticed the delay if Hamlet himself had not brought it to our attention. Shakespeare stresses the point that Hamlet is delaying. Thus, it is meaningless to argue that Hamlet is not responsible for the delay when Shakespeare clearly wants us to see that he is.
We candifferentiate between internal and external reasons to justify Hamlet’s delay. External reasons could be, for example the first time that the Ghost appears, and Hamlet urges him to reveal the reason for his wanderings: “Speak; I am bound to hear”, to which the Ghost replies: “So are thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear” (I.v. 6–7). The dead King literally ‘orders’ Hamlet to revenge his death. We know thatHamlet has a strong dislike for Claudius, so his father’s orders should pose no problem to him. However, we also know that he is a sensitive and reflexive Renaissance man who not only needs proof of the real nature of the ghost, but also considers the social and moral consequences of revenge. He wants justice, but he fears the consequences of revenge. The ghost will repeat the word ‘revenge’ morethan once while Hamlet is listening to him. This repetitive order will remain deeply imprinted in Hamlet’s mind and soul. In Act I scene v. the word ‘revenge’ is repeated many times. For example, when the ghost is talking to Hamlet he issues the command: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”. The ghost refers to Claudius who poisoned him. (I.v. 27-28). During this conversation referencesto revenge continue to add intensity to the situation. As when Hamlet says:”[...]May sweep to my revenge” (I.v.34). As has been mentioned before, the ghost said to Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother Claudius. These are the Ghost’s words: “[...] The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.” (I.v. 41). Thus, we can say that the Ghost orders Hamlet to take revenge onClaudius which may be considered as an external reason for Hamle’s delay. The Prince is shocked by the Ghost’s words and command. He needs to pull himself together before taking action.
Another external reason is when Hamlet is blaming to his mother for marrying a murderer and the Ghost appears to remind Hamlet that he has to take revenge on Claudius, not on his mother. He pronounces these words: “Donot forget: this visitation/ Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose. But, look, amazement on thy mother sits: O, step between her and her fighting soul: Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works: Speak to her, Hamlet.” (III. iv. 120-125). The Ghost has sobered Hamlet who tells her that he is not mad, he is only pretending to be crazy. He also tells his mother that he has to be scourge andminister, he has to do his revenge because Claudius killed his father, for his reason he has to do justice but on the other hand, he is scourge because he has to kill a person so he will be punished. “[...] I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so, /To punish me with this and this with me, /That I must be their scourge and minister. /I will bestow him, and will answer well /The death I gave him. /So,again, good night. /I must be cruel, only to be kind: /Thus bad begins and worse remains behind. /One word more, good lady. (III. iv. 186-193).
Although the reasons for Hamlet’s delay in taking revenge have both external and internal aspects, we have seen that some of them are ‘more external than others’. Whereas, the Ghost’s orders constitute a clear example of external reasons because they...