Passages reflecting

Hamlet's Delay


John Gielgud as Hamlet
Hamlet is commanded by the Ghost to revenge his father's "foul and most unnatural murder" (1.5.25). Hamlet promises that when the Ghost tells the story of the murder, his revenge will follow: "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge" (1.5.29-31). However, at the end of the scene he doesn't seem to be in a big hurry. He exits saying, "The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!" (1.5.189). [Scene Summary]
By the time the players come to Elsinore, it's been a while since Hamlet promised the Ghost that he would take revenge. Then the First Player weeps as he tells the story of Queen Hecuba's grief for her murdered husband. This makes Hamlet ask himself (in his second soliloquy) why he hasn't carried out his revenge. To Hamlet it seems that First Player feels more strongly about Hecuba than Hamlet does about his father. Hamlet then calls himself a coward, and tries to work himself up into the white heat of hatred. But as he is calling King Claudius a "bloody, bawdy villain," Hamlet realizes that he's still talking, rather than doing:
O, vengeance!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A stallion! Fie upon't! foh!   (2.2.581-587)
Despite all of this, Hamlet decides that instead of taking revenge right away, he will find out if the Ghost is really telling the truth. This is the first time he has expressed any doubt about the Ghost, so it looks like he feels that he ought to take revenge, but doesn't have his heart in it. [Scene Summary]
At the end of his third, and most famous soliloquy ("To be or not to be"), Hamlet comments on what he has just been doing: "And thus the native hue of resolution / Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, / And enterprises of great pith and moment / With this regard their currents turn awry, / And lose the name of action" (3.1.83-87). A few minutes ago, at the end of the second soliloquy, Hamlet had a definite plan, and said "the play 's the thing / Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king" (2.2.604-605), but now all that seems forgotten, and it appears that he can't even decide whether he wants to live or die. [Scene Summary]
Standing behind the kneeling King Claudius, sword in hand, Hamlet says to himself: 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" (3.3.73-75). But, given this opportunity, Hamlet thinks rather than acts. What he thinks is that he'll wait until he can catch Claudius in the middle of a sinful act, and take revenge then. And then Claudius will go to hell, not heaven, so the revenge will be perfect. [Scene Summary]
Do you not come your tardy son to chide, / That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by / The important acting of your dread command? O, say!" (3.4.106-108). Thus Hamlet cries out to the Ghost, who suddenly appears as Hamlet is angrily trying to make his mother ashamed of her sexual relationship with King Claudius. The "dread" command, must be the command to take revenge described at the top of this page. [Scene Summary]
How all occasions do inform against me, / And spur my dull revenge!" (4.4.33) This is the opening of Hamlet's last soliloquy. On his way to board the ship for England, he speaks with a Norwegian Captain in the service of Fortinbras, who is on his way to fight for a little patch of land held by the Poles. Hamlet compares himself unfavorably with Fortinbras, who is fighting for next to nothing because his honor is at the stake. Fortinbras pushes on in the face of great danger because his sense of honor is keen, but Hamlet's desire to take revenge is "dull." And to be "dull' is to be unfeeling, less than human, as the Ghost warned Hamlet early in the play, when he told Hamlet that if he didn't take revenge, "duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed / That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf / Wouldst thou not stir in this" (1.5.32-34). [Scene Summary]
After he returns from the sea voyage that was supposed to end with his death in England, Hamlet tells Horatio about his adventures. He concludes the story by asking Horatio a rhetorical question:
Does it not, think'st thee, stand me now upon--
He that hath kill'd my king and whored my mother,
Popp'd in between the election and my hopes,
Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
And with such cozenage--is't not perfect conscience,
To quit him with this arm?    (5.2.63-68)
"Quit" means "to pay back"; in this context, it means "to take revenge." Of course, now is the time to do it, but Hamlet doesn't do it, or make any sort of plan to do it. Instead, he agrees to a recreational fencing match with Laertes. [Scene Summary]