Hamlet: Theories Of Hamlet’s Delay In Killing Claudius Essay, Research Paper
Hamlet: Theories Of Hamlet’s Delay In Killing Claudius
There are several theories about why Hamlet, the main character of Shakespeare’s
masterpiece, Hamlet, delays in killing his Uncle, King Claudius. As the son of
a murdered noble, Hamlet is obligated to avenge the death of his father.
However, the act is never performed until the end of the play… quite some time
after Hamlet discovered Claudius was his father’s killer. Some historians and
literary experts would say Hamlet’s strong religious bonds prevented him from
performing the sinful deed. Others would have it that Hamlet was a melancholic
and therefore was too intellectual to kill his uncle. Infamous psychologist,
Sigmund Freud, felt Hamlet suffered from an Oedipal complex and could not kill
Claudius because he himself wished to be in Claudius’ place.
Hamlet delays in killing Claudius not only because he’s suffering from an
Oedipal complex but also because he is far too sane or practical to commit an
act of murder. In other words, basic sanity keeps him from killing Claudius.
In society we are taught that those who commit murder are sick or insane.
However, Hamlet’s society believes the son of a murdered noble is responsible
for avenging his father.
When the ghost of King Hamlet appears and tells his son Claudius killed him by
pouring poison in his ear, Hamlet does not act upon the word of the specter. He
takes time to think about what the apparition told him. He contemplates whether
it is a good ghost or a bad ghost. He plans things out; analyses situations.
When the actors came to town, Hamlet implores one of them, “Dost thou hear me
old friend? Can you play The Murder of Gonzago?” (88) The player agrees that
he can indeed perform the play. “We’ll ha’t tomorrow night. You could for a
need study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines which I could set down and
insert in’t, could you not.” (88)
Here Hamlet has devised a scheme to discover whether his Uncle truly murdered
his father. The play which Hamlet wishes to be performed is one involving a
murder similar to that which the ghost described. “The play’s the thing wherein
I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” (90) Hamlet ’s famous quote means he
will study Claudius while the play is being performed. Should the King’s manor
change in accordance with the play, Hamlet will know the ghost’s story is true
through his well thought out scheme.
Another example of Hamlet’s cleverness is displayed when he switches the notes
unbeknownst to Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. Claudius, realizing Hamlet is
pontentially dangerous, sends him away to England. The King also writes a
letter which he entrusts to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The letter is
addressed to the King of England and asks him to see that Hamlet is killed. The
trio boards a ship on the voyage to Britain and Hamlet switches the note with
one which orders the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Unfortunately,
there is not proof of this in the text. The movie, however, does show Hamlet’s
stealthy maneuver and lends support to the idea that Hamlet is a melancholic.
The other theory I can believe is Sigmund Freud’s. Freud published a paper on
Hamlet suffering from an Oedipal complex. An Oedipal complex is a theory Freud
developed from Sophicles’ play, Oedipus Rex.. When a boy does not lose his
“lust” (for lack of a better word) for his mother past a certain age, that
individual suffers from an Oedipal complex. This is best proven at the end of
the play. In the final scene, Queen Gertrude drinks poison and Hamlet kills
Laertes. Now, Hamlet’s mother has died and it so happens that this is the time
when Hamlet chooses to dispose of the traitorous King Claudius. Hamlet was in
love with his mother and when she died, it was as though he didn’t have much
left to live for. He lost his sanity much the way William Wallace did in
Braveheart. After Wallace’s wife died, a peace loving man was turned into a
vicious warrior. It was as if Hamlet’s Oedipal complex came to an abrupt halt.
No mother; no secret passion. He delayed in killing Claudius because he could
understand to a point why Claudius wanted King Hamlet out of the way. For
Hamlet too had wished on more than one occasion that he could have his mother
for himself. He also may have not wanted to emotionally hurt his mother by
Hamlet is an intriguing story… and an intriguing character. I understand now
why Hamlet is perceived as one of the most complex literary characters of all
time. Why does Hamlet put off avenging his father’s death for so many months?
He’s a melancholic and he suffers from a severe Oedipal complex.