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Hamlet – Time Is Of The Essence: Procrastination

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In William Shakespeare’s tragic play Hamlet, the main character Prince Hamlet has an inner struggle with procrastination throughout the length of the play. It is this tragic flaw of procrastination that eventually brings about Hamlet’s downfall. Prince Hamlet is given a number of opportunities Hamlet to kill his uncle/step-father Claudius to avenge his father’s murder. Yet, he fails to do so. Hamlet justifies this procrastination and hesitation to kill Claudius in his own mind and to the audience by assuring the reliability of his father’s ghost claim that he was killed by now King Claudius in an successful attempt to take the throne and the queen. Earlier audiences and critics of this great Shakespearean play were content with this notion that Hamlet must be sure of the credibility of the ghost. In past works of literature, ghosts were common tools of the devil used to deceive men into damnation. (Bevington, 299)

While arguable in the beginning of the play, this theory becomes invalid because Hamlet had more opportunities after his overhearing King Claudius direct confession. Others argue religion plays a large part in his procrastination; in particular, his hesitation after Claudius’ direct confession while praying. Another argument is that Hamlet’s melancholy (his father’s death, his mother’s remarriage, his loss of Ophelia in heart and mind, etc.) causes and “intensifies this inclination.” (Bradley, 100) What seems to be the most likely reason for this procrastination is linked to his background as a student, trained in thought before action. In any case, this flaw caused the end of Hamlet and, in essence, the end to most of the other main characters.

Again, Hamlet justifies his hesitations to take Claudius’ life in early portions of the play because he is somewhat uncertain of the reliability of the ghosts’ claims that he was indeed murdered. However, Hamlet tells the ghost that swift revenge is to come: “Haste me to know ‘t, that I, with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love / May sweep my revenge.” (Shakespeare, I, v, 30-32) It is most likely these words are spoken out of shock and disbelief of the ghost’s confirmation of Hamlet’s suspicion of murder. Yet, even after these words Hamlet fails to act, citing the need for more evidence to satisfy the claims of the ghost. “

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